Earlier this month, I went to a professional conference in London. One of my immediate observations is that while the US has been in the economic doldrums for the last few years, much of the world has dusted itself off and gotten back to work. The presentations at the conference are about new and bigger infrastructure improvements going on in cities all over the world… except in the US.
On the first day, one of the presenters told the story of the Docklands Light Rail, which was built to revive the disused Docklands to the east of London. The system opened in 1987 as a two lines that ran single cars. It was enormously successful: today there are seven lines that run 2- and 3-car trains.
Meanwhile, Detroit has been puttering about with the idea of a Woodward Avenue light rail line. They were going to build it, and then they decided to run buses, and now construction has begun on a line expected to carry about 1 million passengers/year when it opens in 2016. (The Docklands, in its first year, carried 17 million, and now carries five times that.)
To be sure, there’s an obvious difference: the Docklands are just east of central London, a dynamic business district that is thirsting for more space. The Woodward Avenue line is in… Detroit.
But the Docklands story was one among many. What are we doing wrong?
One easy answer is: Obamacare. All across the US, employers have been cutting staff and hours in an effort to escape the law’s mandates. Meanwhile, people all over the country are getting sticker shock over the insurance premiums they now have to pay themselves. Not exactly a recipe for a booming economy.
But the problem is broader than that….