Giving Compass' Take:

• Peter Harkness discusses America's transportation dilemma and the ways in which cities are working - or not working - to improve their traffic situations. 

• How can funders help get cities the funding and support they need to improve their transportation infrastructure? What types of transportation infrastructure would most benefit your city? 

• Learn more about the future of transportation.

France and several other European countries, as well as Japan and now China, are far ahead of the United States in rail service.

The reasons are numerous: Our lower population densities spread out over a much larger terrain, our extensive air traffic system serves even cities of modest size, and our rail lines generally are owned by private freight companies and not the public. But in the end, the overriding reason is our undying attachment to automobiles, which makes it hard for transportation planners to superimpose rail, bus, or even bike and pedestrian infrastructure along the roads and highways that serve cars.

Now, however, we are approaching a policy crossroads because of changing economics, environmental and safety concerns, new technologies, and diminished funding streams. If I were a public transportation executive at any level of government, I would be both perplexed and nervous. I would be especially worried about the federal help that seems to be drying up. The U.S. Department of Transportation has been reluctant to release funds for projects it endorsed months and even years ago.

Ridership on public transit is declining in most of the country.

For evidence of how quality service can lead to more riders, city officials in L.A. and elsewhere need only look at Seattle, one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. The rapid increase in its population does not fully explain the expansion in ridership; most cities, including many that are fast-growing, are seeing declines. Rather, it has more to do with attitude. The Seattle area’s bus service takes an unapologetic “make room for the bus” approach, relying on an increasing number of dedicated bus lanes to ensure efficiency.

There may not be many Seattles emerging anytime soon. But there are some encouraging factors that transportation planners can keep in mind. First, polls continue to show that the public strongly supports investment in public transit. Second is concerns about safety. The obvious chaos on urban streets with masses of young people biking and scooting around town, dodging both auto traffic and pedestrians, is taking a toll.

Read the full article about America's transportation dilemma by Peter Harkness at Governing Magazine.