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America’s Transportation History is Full of Mistakes. Let’s Not Make Another One.

Instead of battling it out, cities and private mobility companies have an opportunity to work together and lay the foundation for a multimodal future.
Traffic on Interstate 25 outside Denver, Colorado.
Traffic on Interstate 25 outside Denver, Colorado.David Zalubowski/AP

Public-private partnerships can create monumental change in transportation. In the early 1930s, General Motors and the American Automobile Association formed a coalition called the National Highway Users Conference. Private car ownership was still in its relative infancy, and automakers wanted to ensure that motorists had a bigger role to play in the nation’s transportation future. So the group helped convince the federal government to publicly fund a network of free high-speed roads—48,000 miles of interstate highway—to span the major cities of the United States. Hundreds of torn-apart communities and 263.6 million registered vehicles later, we continue to reap this system’s benefits and grapple with the serious consequences for equity in our cities and our environment.

Today, the auto-centric reality is facing disruption. New mobility services are appearing on city streets every day, including electric bikes, scooters, autonomous shuttles, and more. “We’re in a Cambrian explosion” of new transportation modes, says Emily Castor Warren, the former senior director of policy at both Lyft and Lime. “Despite that, the 900-pound gorilla of private car ownership still dominates.”