My capstone topic is on issues around public transportation in the US. I wanted to know why public transportation in the US lags behind other countries. To find out why, I took a multi perspective approach, looking at this issue from several angles. I looked at the historical context to figure out why US public transportation ended up like it did. I looked at other countries, seeing what they did differently and how that affected their status today. I was able to get a much clearer view of precisely what was wrong with US public transportation compared to the rest of the world.

Outside of my research paper, I have created other products to supplement my learning. I created a photo essay showing most of my learning, and I also did a case study on the Seoul Metropolitan Subway on this website. 

You can read more about the history of the Seoul Metro here. To read more about the trains running in the system, click here.

You can see my photo essay here. I created this with Adobe Spark. Instead of just explaining everything in words again like I did in my research paper, I wanted pictures and visuals to better represent the information I learned and want to present.

Here are some important highlights from my research paper below.

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The Boeing SLRV was designed to be the future for all light rail systems in the US. It ended up being a colossal failure that only ended up serving two cities: San Francisco and Boston. I watched the last years of these trains living in Boston.

Before the turn of the 20th century, the US had a solid, established public transportation system. Most of the major cities were connected by rail, and the cities themselves had solid transport systems, primarily made up of streetcars. The introduction of the car, however, would change cities forever. The car revolutionized transport, but it came at the expense of public transportation. Streetcar lines were torn up. The streetcars were slowed down by the increasing number of cars on the streets, straining the transit agencies. Cities moved on from being built along straight, neat streets to a rather chaotic mess of curves. This made it significantly harder to integrate a public transportation system.

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From my research, I have discovered that the planning of the cities also has an impact on its public transportation. Older, pre-war cities like New York City are built with a grid system, allowing for easier integration of public transport. Other cities are built with only the car in mind, which makes public transportation rather inefficient.

Things would only get worse: the massive expansion of highways in the 1950s and 60s set the precedent that the US had committed fully to the car as its main form of transportation. While they were revolutionary for car transport, it permanently damaged the cities themselves. Entire neighborhoods were destroyed or cut off. People started to move out of the cities and into the suburbs. This made it harder to connect the city to its vast suburbs and hurt the tax bases of the cities themselves.

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Downtown Atlanta before and after the construction of I-75, 85, and 20.

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By the 1970s and 80s, ridership in the New York City Subway had hit an all time low. Stations and trains were in desperate need of maintenance. Breakdowns and delays were common. Graffiti covering the insides of the train cars became a notable symbol of this decline.

Today, US public transportation has declined so much that an entire overhaul in every city will be lengthy and expensive. But with the right decisions, things can get better for public transportation. A front-runner in this movement is Seattle, which has worked hard to restore old streetcar lines torn up in the 1920s and improve bus service.

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Seattle has invested $53 million in rebuilding its light rail system. The results were immediate: light rail ridership soared by 51%. It also passed a tax in 2014 to support its bus system. Despite being one of the fastest-growing American cities, overall traffic has gone down.

What happened in the US proves how important infrastructure is to the success of public transportation. Public transportation systems in other countries should be used as examples of how to create a good public transportation system. Countries like Japan, South Korea, and France (Paris) have some of the biggest, most efficient public transportation systems in the world, mostly due to the vast infrastructure and conservation efforts.

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When it comes to efficient, fast public transportation, Japan is the go-to example. Delays are measured in seconds and minutes. The entire country can be traveled from one end to the other in 12 hours or less. 

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Seoul's first subway line opened in 1974, a short 7.8 km line. It was the first subway line in the country's history. Since then, the system has expanded rapidly, how having 23 lines, covering 353.2 km of track. Many lines branch out into neighboring cities outside of the Seoul Capital Area or transfer into regional lines.