I agree with you! I believe that finding solutions will be the challenge for us. I think part of the problem is the flexibility of the automobile. We have become accostomed to providing our own transportation, and our shopping habits and lifestyles are tied to them. Personal transportation is not something we're going to be able to give up easily. I shudder when I think of toting groceries home from the supermarket on public transit (if we had it) or on a bike trailer. It is not impossible, but it would take some detailed planning, that's for sure! And no impulse buying! That'd be the killer!
My point is that transportation solutions are going to have to come from local groups. Wider roads to accomodate bicycles and sidewalks, etc... What works in one place may work in another with some tweaking.
Here in central PA, the populations are not concentrated in the cities, but rather, we're all scattered around. There is a high speed train line from Harrisburg to Philadelphia (and connecting to the North East Corridor) that runs through Lancaster. They have done a major upgrade to the line recently and decreased transit time between Lancaster and Philly by 15 minutes or so, while keeping the ticket price low ($14 one way to Philly, $48 to Penn Station, New York). The decreased transit time meant that more trains could be operated over the two track line, resulting in more frequent (and convinient) service. If I worked in Harrisburg or Philly, that would be a major draw to ride. The trains are highly patronized and ridership is growing. That's good news for that line and selfish me! I have an alternate to the toll roads of PA, NY, and NJ when traveling to see my parents. While it will take me a grand total of 1 hour longer to get to my parents house in CT, I have a more enjoyable trip, and I get one more visit to Grand Central Terminal. When Luke is older, it'll be more practical to take that route. Right now, however, it is the SUV for the weekend road trips. I don't have a trailer and didn't like hauling one that one time I used the suburban to tow 12 tons of stone to the house.
I looked in to riding the bus system here as well (and NO, they are not pulled by mules!!). The problem is that I would have to connect to 4 different busses, and the resulting commute time was something like 90 minutes for a 26 mile commute, all but 5 miles of which is low traffic highway driving. There used to be a railroad line from Lancaster to York. The tracks crossed the Susquehanna River at Columbia/Wrightsville, a mile wide crossing. There are currently two road bridges there, and the old piers for the railroad still exist. The tracks from Lancaster west were double or triple tracked at one point, but it is currently single tracked. Norfolk Southern owns that line and uses it daily. Theoretically, a new bridge could be built on the old piers and a second, dedicated track could be laid adjacent to the NS line in place. Train service to an from York could be possible, but in this area, folks tend to shoot down anything that doesn't benefit them directly. Case in point, Lancaster county voted against a $25/100,000 property assesment tax that would fund libraries. As a result, several libraries closed. Maybe it was the Amish vote, I don't know, but it seems pretty short sighted and foolish to me.
I have started to carpool with a co-worker, and that has worked out pretty well. We have the same hours and drive to the same office (that sounds weird, but we have 4 offices in York).
Part of the problem for me is I got lucky and found an affordable house in the best school district in Lancaster Co (and one of the top 500 in the US). Now that I have been here for 5 years, I am reluctant to move from here so that I could have a shorter commute to work (and theoretically use less fuel).
There's not an easy way to turn the clock back to 1890, unfortunately.