This is a lot of words about one project in one American city, but it does carry a broader lesson.
It’s relatively easy to look at an example of a foreign country that is doing something well — whether that’s Germany in using apprenticeships to connect young people to meaningful blue-collar work, Finland in supporting new parents, or Paris in building subway tunnels — and say that we ought to do it too. Certainly providing people with quality public services costs money, but the United States is a very rich country, and finding the money for something worthwhile is never impossible.
But this kind of discussion too often elides the real practical difficulties in implementing big domestic policies like those, and the ways in which the US system is uniquely bad and inefficient about doing so. Between the Second Avenue Subway, the $10.2 billion East Side Access tunnel for the LIRR, and the $4 billion World Trade Center PATH station, the New York City region is in fact spending a lot of money on upgrading its mass transit system. The money is simply not going to generate as much transit service as a comparable amount of spending would in Paris or Copenhagen, because New York’s institutions don’t seem up to the task of spending it as effectively. Improving is both possible and desirable, but it would take actual time and skill and effort.