I do not look favorably on many of the traits common among many European countries (higher taxes to fund broader social programs, shorter workweeks, that kind of thing). However a brief mention of Europe in Transportation Watch reminded me that there is one area where we could learn from Europe. They have learned to make use of transit systems so much that many people have no need of cars. Admittedly their population density almost demands this, but our population density is not decreasing so we should be planning ahead.
California is looking at a high-speed rail line that would make lots of short-distance air travel obsolete between San Diego and Sacramento. Here in the States we love to fly everywhere. It’s so bad that Amtrack is almost useless because we are not willing to take the extra time to ride the train that is slightly cheaper. If California actually puts in the funding to build this high-speed rail line they will have a train that is cheaper than the planes and faster than airport security. If that could be done in a number of other travel corridors as well we would have fewer planes in the sky, less fuel being used, and faster travel through airports due to lower volumes of travelers when most air travel is for longer distances.
Similar benefits could be realized on a smaller scale by implementing good transit options in population centers so that we would not be so reliant on cars for all our local travel. At least on those we can look to some examples of good transit systems here in the States rather than wondering what the rest of the world knows that we have not figured out yet.
UPDATE 5/14/97: I stand corrected – as Hyrum points out, Amtrack is not slightly cheaper than the airlines on cross-country trips.