Joe Kloc | Newsweek

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In 1995, a nonprofit transit advocacy group in New York, the Brooklyn Historic Railway Association (BHRA), decided to construct a light rail service connecting the underserviced neighborhood of Red Hook to downtown Brooklyn. After obtaining permission and funding through the city in 2000, the group laid down a half-mile of track. But a few years later, in 2003, New York City’s Department of Transportation revoked the group’s construction permit and ripped up its tracks without providing the BHRA with any explanation.

The next year, however, the city received almost $300,000 in federal money—more than it had invested in the BHRA’s trolley—to study whether it was feasible to build essentially the same line. It sat on the money for years before eventually spending only a small portion of it to conclude such a project would be too expensive. Proponents of the Red Hook trolley were confused and angry. “There is an unquantifiable resistance to electric-powered street transit in New York,” says Ray Howell, a BHRA member.

It’s not just New York. Despite the environmental benefits of mass transportation—which saves 37 million metric tons of carbon and 4.2 billion gallons of gasoline each year (about 3 percent of total U.S. motor gasoline consumption)—this resistance exists in cities pursuing light rail projects across the country. Read more