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Transportation

Where Obama's Plan to Improve Urban Mobility Went Wrong

The legacy of interstate policy spoiled any big plans for more livable cities.
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Distant as it may seem today, there was a time early in the Obama administration when Hope felt like more than just a pretty campaign promise. That was especially true for the President's ambitious transportation plans. Calls for "livability" were interpreted as a bold shift away from the car and highway dependence that had defined 20th century urban mobility in the United States. Then-Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood announced an efficient future in which people would run their daily errands "all without having to get in your car."

Fast forward five years since that 2009 pledge, and many of the most hopeful transformations have yet to arrive. A proposed national network of high-speed rail is little more than a wishful map. The Highway Trust Fund, which pays for road maintenance as well as transit programs, will run out of money any month. Streetcars with questionable mobility value represent perhaps the most visible addition to city transport systems. There have been some minor victories — transit use is up in places, and bike systems are robust in others — but many more defeats.