The best investment we could make in improving transport and land use in the US is to take 15,000 transportation engineers, spend $3,000 apiece, and give them a week touring the Netherlands.
This would only cost $45M (well less than many interchanges), and would reap a huge amount of micro- and macro-benefits as the design choice set that was considered possible would increase greatly. If this only saved 8 lives, it would be worth it as a public investment.
We should have a similar program for city officials and planners. Sadly the term “junket” has been given a bad reputation. But some non-profit should be able to come up with resources, without trying to sell anything but the idea of looking at the world differently.
There is nothing better than seeing designs with your own eyes.
Our society has undergone many subtle and not-so-subtle changes in the past few decades. Among those related to driving, safety, and perceived safety, I believe there have been lasting effects.
When I was growing up, and I went for a ride with my mom, I would sit in the front seat of the car. I would wear a seatbelt (a habit formed because of the seat-belt ignition interlock on our Chevy Vega preventing the engine from starting without seat belts (a one-year experiment reviled by the driving public). My children sit in the back seat because of the rise of so-called child safety seats and air bags.
When I was growing up, I would walk down the block alone in pre-school and Kindergarten, and around the neighborhood by 1st grade, and all over town by 3rd grade. I would ride the ColumBus by 4th grade with my Package Plan card (giving me free rides in on the system, a benefit which has since been removed). Today there is a movement for Free Range Kids because such freedom has diminished.
Drivers from other countries in the US are often derided as poor quality. However, keep in mind, they grew up seldom riding in a car at all if ever, and thus never learned the tacit rules of driving that many Americans are accustomed to. Perhaps the driving tests in the US are insufficiently stringent, but there are many things one can learn about driving just be riding in the front seat of a car, which immigrants, and today’s kids, fail to experience.
The net is that when you go through life as a passenger rather than a driver, your motivation for driving is lower, since you are not modeling driving yourself as you would watching through the front windshield, and your quality of driving is lower since you lack experience. These two factors presumably feed on each other, as people like doing what they are good at. I posit this as one of a number of factors that has led to a significant decline per capita travel.