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The World's Biggest Free Transit Experiment

Today on CityLab
Also: What’s really behind economic mobility, and the problem with opportunity zones.
Today on CityLab
may 16, 2018

What We’re Following

La vie en route: From its famous pedestrian-friendly streets to its more recent bans on the most polluting cars, Paris has long been an urbanist’s delight. But it might be poised to pull off a real commuter’s dream: making the city’s public transit completely free.

Any city giving away free rides faces questions about how to pay for it and control potential mischief, but France already has more than 30 cities with free public transit zones. As Mayor Anne Hidalgo studies the idea’s plausibility, the central question is whether free buses, trains, and metros can be accomplished at such a massive scale. CityLab’s Feargus O’Sullivan looks at what it could take to make Paris the biggest free transportation experiment in the world.

Andrew Small


More on CityLab

What’s Really Behind Economic Mobility?

The American Dream turns on where we live. But it’s job markets and marriage partners—not schools—that make the biggest difference in who climbs the economic ladder.

Richard Florida

Is Washington Metro's Planned New App a Dinosaur?

Washington D.C. transit officials announced plans to update the payment system for rail and bus with a great new app. But if they don’t go further, this writer says, the speed of transit innovation will soon leave them scrambling.

David Zipper

The Problem With Opportunity Zones

Will tax incentives really encourage investors to help revitalize low-income communities? Research on similar efforts from the past suggests otherwise.

Timothy Weaver

The Rapid, Devastating Decline of the Denver Post

“If we’re continuing on this trajectory, there’s no way in hell we’re going to survive.”

Libby Rainey

The Supreme Court Says Congress Can't Make States Dance to Its Tune

A ruling that invoked the “anti-commandeering principle” to legalize sports betting in states holds implications for “sanctuary city” laws, too.

Garrett Epps


Listen to the Kids

A pothole is pictured.
(Alvin Baez/Reuters)

Each year, EngineerGirl, a website aimed at encouraging girls and women to consider opportunities in engineering, hosts a contest asking girls in elementary, middle, and high school to write essays solving an engineering problem. This year’s contest theme was infrastructure, and our favorite idea might be from the elementary school first-place winner, Aditi Gokhale. The third grader from Scotch Plains, New Jersey, wrote to her town’s mayor and city council about fixing potholes with self-healing roads:

Cracks are formed in the roads due to wear and tear. Potholes are caused when these cracks expand, many times when water freezes into ice during winter. So, if there was a way to fill in the cracks as soon as they were formed, we will be able to avoid the issue of potholes. I wanted to find ways of doing this and so I researched self-healing roads. I found that Dr. Schlangen at Delft University in The Netherlands is working on self-healing asphalt. This is the same material that we use for roads today. He added steel wool and bitumen into the asphalt. Bitumen melts when heated by passing electricity through the steel wool. After melting, it flows into cracks to repair them.

Gokhale also makes a good pitch for long-term infrastructure planning. “I read that the cost of constructing the road is about 25 percent more using Dr. Schlangen’s idea,” she writes. “But the roads would also last for 80 years rather than 50 years.” Look out, transit-oriented teens.


What We’re Reading

It’s time for cities to rethink right turn on red (Streetsblog)

Why don’t people who can’t afford housing just move where it’s cheaper? It’s the social networks. (New York Times)

As Ireland votes on abortion, can cities protect reproductive rights? (The Guardian)

How the booze lobby has barred changes to drunk-driving limits (Mother Jones)


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