Remember that German thriller from 1998, "Run, Lola, Run"? In order to save her boyfriend's life, Lola (Franka Potente) has to come up with 100,000 Deutschmarks within 20 minutes. So she sets off running.
She should have taken public transit! Because this is how much of Berlin she could have covered in that time. Berlin, in fact, is the home of Mapnificent, an extremely cool interactive Web site that shows you how far you can expect to get on public transportation in a specified amount of time. It's good not only in Germany but for a large number of U.S. and other world cities as well. At right, for example, is a depiction of how far you can get on public transport in Minneapolis in half an hour. Extra credit if you have a bicycle with you--click on the settings to see how much farther that might get you.
Of course, what you find out when you check out your own city may not please you. Columnist Jason Heid at Frontburner looked at the results for Dallas, for example, and concluded that the infrequency of buses and trains there make public transit unattractive--especially compared to how far you could get in other cities. Transit ridership is rising, especially when gas prices spike--a situation which, as Brad Plumer writes in the Washington Post's Wonkblog, is not unalloyed good news. Ridership may be going up, but funding for public transportation is going down--both because transit funding is heavily reliant on a portion of the gas tax, and because House Republicans are trying to channel money away from transit and toward roads and highways.
PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and father of two. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber.