The biggest obstacle to doing mass transit right is the cost. And the cost is high. There’s just no way around it. A well-done mass transit line is expensive. But it really is worth underscoring the point that these are the kind of expenditures that pay off. They’re not worth doing because they’re cheap, they’re worth doing because they’re really valuable. In the DC area, we have a great example of the difference as the Orange Line goes out in Virginia. In distant Fairfax County they built Metro on the cheap, in the I-66 median, and wound up with what amount to park-and-ride venues for a commuter rail network. That’s a useful asset for the county, but it’s nothing compared to what they got in Arlington County where they buried Metro beneath Wilson Boulevard and built a series of relatively close-packed stations, creating an extended corridor of walkable neighborhoods.
Dave Alpert explains that “Arlington’s Rosslyn-Ballston corridor covers only 7.6% of the county’s land area, but generated 33% of its tax revenue.” Impressive. And note that nobody who’s not insane ever walks around New York City and says it’s too bad that they wasted all this money building the Subway.