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October 10th, 2008
America in Gridlock
[VIDEO] Driven to Despair

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With gas prices spiking and home values tumbling, people who live in far out suburbs are being forced to rethink the way they live. Blueprint America — with NOW on PBS — travels to southern California where the infrastructure for public transit is limited, and long-haul commuters are facing desperate times.

NOW’s David Brancaccio introduces us to homeowners in Riverside, California, who face a daily 144-mile round-trip commute to their jobs in San Diego. Since gas prices have skyrocketed many Riverside residents find themselves making unexpected economic choices: do they pay for the gas to drive to work or do they

pay the monthly mortgage on their homes? Across the country, Brancaccio reports, exurban neighborhoods are suffering exceedingly high foreclosure rates. Brancaccio talks to local transportation experts about commuting solutions, many of whom applaud California’s new landmark legislation to control sprawl. Will California’s “Smart Growth” initiatives provide a model for the rest of the country? Who will pay for these programs and what do the presidential candidates have to say about federal involvement in transit infrastructure?

Back in the remote outer-suburbs, Brancaccio talks to the families struggling with expensive and arduous commutes. If busses and trains were available, would they take advantage? Their answers will surprise you.

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  • Eric Britton

    The New Mobility Agenda at draws the attention of thousands of international transport thinkers and policy makers work wide in this fled, informing them that. . .

    Here is quite another vision of transport in America, despair and hope. Have a close look at what PBS had to report in their program Driven to Despair which you can reach here at . . .

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  • Peter Black

    Excellent piece. I’ll link to it on my blog, where I’ve created a set of interactive maps that show the geographical relationship between sprawl and foreclosures:

  • jon winston

    Excellent Piece! Its nice to see this meme hitting the mainstream after years of harping on it on my audioblog.

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    We have all kinds of videos about transit/bike/pedestrian issues over at

    This is great, would love to see even more of these kinds of issues tackled in future shows.

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  • Mike Schwab

    They made a movie about this in 2004.

  • Chuck Metalitz

    Interesting documentary as far as it goes, but it didn’t adequately address how transit can pay for itself. Transit service raises land value, and that value provides a more than adequate source of funding to build and operate transit. See, for example,

  • Mattie Stevenson Oulton

    It is amazing how things have eroded so much in these great United States of America. Iguess i never really thought about sprawl and enclosures. But, the transit is a great way of getting around. Most of us don’t think about it because we have our own cars and privacy to sing, listen to the radio as loud as we like, to go and come as we please. But, now that things are getting so bad with gas prices, mortages cost, just about the cost of everything is going up. We need to think of new ways to make ends meet. So to infuse the mass transit industry with fund, to develope and grow transportation, would be a good thing. Especially for people who have to travel long distances for work.

  • Rasheedah

    The lifestyle enclave for Americans is so far removed from a community oriented society. I believe what Bellah was trying to show was the relationship between individualism and the communities in which we live. The terrible transportation options given to the people of California illustrates how much it the American infrastructure has been neglected. Moving to the excerbs is what many Americans did not realizing that there were going to be high transportation costs and sacrifices. In an effort to move towards individualism and self reliance the people have become prisoners in there own home. They cannot afford to go anywhere because of the high gas prices. In addition, these people’s lifestyle enclaves are reliant upon individual choice. They are also an independent whole of society. Their lifestyle enclaves are segmented by each individual and those that have similar lifestyles. The restructure of America’s infrastructure is needed to help Americans become less dependent on the care. This crisis is not only affecting individualism but it is affecting the good for society as a whole. The external influences that are not in our control are a part of the greater whole and are essential to ones development in terms of self reliance and personal growth. If people are forced to move away from what there norm is there is a sense of personal loss. The shifting away from community based culture has reciprocal scenario in terms of what is good for the individual self and what is good for people as a whole. If you take away from one you take away from the other. The possible solution mentioned is to have more public transportation and to make cultural changes. This will move individuals and society in the direction of improvement for self and people as a whole.

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    The individuals interviews in Driven to Despair were good examples of people in society who isolate themselves as Bellah described. The interviewees did not think they needed public transportation when when gas prices were low so they bought homes in the suburbs far from their jobs. They isolated themselves by moving into small private communities away from more populated areas. When gas prices went up they isolated themselves again becuase they had to cut back on extracurricular acrivities to afford gas prices. Therefore they stayed home when they were not at work.Despite the costs of gasoline and the burden it puts on people these individuals, and i;m sure many other, would rather not commute by public transportation if it means being close to strangers. They either never tried it and don’t want to or they have but have become comfortable with the isolated life.

  • Stiles Winterhalder

    It is obvious that America is in its greated recession since the great depression. It just shocks you to see how America once was and what it is today. Many used to view America and Americans as lucky, and that America was thee lifestyle to live. But now a days many view America as confused, unreliable, greedy,and non self reliant. The video above shows how America is in a economic crisis with just gas and oil. Some people will drive an extra few miles just to get gas at a cheaper price. And as stated in the video by one the citizens they interviewed they asked did you ever think about transportation before gas prices went sky high and their answer was no because they never though it would become this bad with transportation. People began to think about transportation like it was their life career, others went about their daily duties without worrying about gas, and some even took immediate action by throwin their keys away and grabbing a bicycle and helmet.
    People are beginning to see things are going to make them become self reliant, or find ways to make more money for a country that is going to raise everything in price to try and get some economic gain. Anything at this point would help, especially public transit such as the train. But most people in America must conform to this becasue we are not used to being isolated to one means of transporation, we are used to being free and doing what we please. So now is the time to act, and now is the time to try and forget about self gain and worry about a society that is struggling to make any gain. If we continue to transport and act the way we do on a daily basis this country is in for a rude awakening.

  • Scott Widomski

    This video shows the common quest for independance shared by Americans…and how futile the quest actually is. When one has to move to the exurbs in order to attain a comfortable or aceptable living conditions…then there is a problem. People have done this for the last 20 to 30 years…myself included. The homes that are close to the jobs have artificially inflated prices due to low interest rates.. These mortgages are not sustainable with the salaries that are paid by the jobs that put them in such demand…so people move further and further away…We all new this was happening…but when people are making money ..they dont care…now the economy has tanked and we wonder why we were so “irrationally exuberant”. Now we expect the Government to save us with central planning? I agree that the transportation system has played a role in the mortgage mess. But I am equally as confident that government interventio will only make things worse

  • Kelly McDermott

    It is amazing how high gas prices were just last memorial day almost a year ago it was just under $5.00.Now gas prices are between $1.87-$1.97.Some people car pool, shuttle or even take the train to save on gas prices.The economy is so bad right now that many people including myself have to drive a half hour or even an hour to work.At the end of the work week it is worth it for the pay check, and half the following week will go towards gasoline.

  • Aaron Coleman

    High Speed Rail is a long term investment. It seems like we should be investing in smaller scale / “higher return” transportation solutions first. Note: The High Speed Rail initiative was passed.

    1) Dedicated or High Speed Bus Lanes / Time stop lights / One way boulevards / Expand service
    2) Expand metro and light rail
    3) And then High Speed Rail between SF and LA

    I know that we are now planning to do all these things. My point is that we should be focusing our efforts on the options with “higher return on investment” first. We don’t want our money and efforst to be spread so thin none of our plans come into fruition.

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