Yes, and they are evenly spread out across the country, right?
What you conveniently leave out, and which turns all these kinds of arguments based on a "total area / total population" numbers into absurd exercises in futility in showing anything useful, is that you have some few mega regions:
Even a country like Germany has extremely uneven population, never mind countries like China or Russia. There is nothing special in the situation the US finds itself in at all - especially not since the enormous population shifts of the 20th century from rural areas to cities.
When I lived in the US (for a decade), the area I lived in was the SF Bay Area, several places. This is far more densely populated than area in Germany where I grew up (former East Germany). And yet, I could not do anything or get anywhere without a car. It has next to nothing to do with population density - in the US you are forced to drive for distances where you would walk, use a bike or public transit in areas with less pop. density in other countries.
Even during my brief first visit to the US end of the last millennium, which was a three month tour of the continental US (NY to Alaska, to Arizona, CA to FL) the "must... use... car!!!" bug got to me too. Towards the end I caught myself getting into the car and driving <200 feet to drop some waste into a wastebasket (from the car window of course) on a shopping mall parking lot... it seemed the natural thing to do, I had to deliberately catch myself and consciously think about what the hell I was doing to recognize the absurdity. After only two months in the country.
Not evenly — but the population in the US is in fact much more geographically dispersed than in most of Europe, India, and East Asia. These measurements are not what you claim ("total area / total population"); here is a map of population density per square kilometer over the globe: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Population_density#/media/File...
It's true that there are a few areas in the US that have high density. But from a federal funding standpoint, the US unfortunately has to contend with the fact that its population is widely dispersed over a large area compared to most other highly developed nations.
It also does not explain the car addiction at all, because it would make much more sense to connect wide-spread centers using trains, for example.
Also, most transport is local - and as far as it is not combining it into larger "packages" (train, ship, large trucks) would be more efficient.
I'm also a bit amazed at your response. Your initial comment, the one I replied to, is only about comparing total area and total population. I find it at least a little bit disingenuous how you dug deep to come up with a new version of the argument.
I find the effort in many comments to point out how the US is "special" and "different" from all the rest of the world very weird. I would not find it as weird if it looked like a detached analysis, but it seems to be mostly emotional. Why? So strange. What's the big deal, what do you lose, if you come to the conclusion that it's of course true that all problems are local and none are completely the same, the variability and the base problems are not actually different? What's the big deal? Isn't it enough to look for "exceptionalism" in the achievements and possibilities, why does it have to also be true for such mundane stuff at any cost (e.g. suffering quality of arguments)?
The US is special because its cities were either built to be pedestrian-hostile, or were made so during the Depression years when the transport companies went bust.
Now, in addition to the mindset shift, I think you'd need to rebuild entire cities/metroplexes to make the public transport work.
Case in point: the South Bay Area, where I live now. Sure, you can add trains (at a huge cost). But once you get off the train station, where do you go? The sidewalks are those narrow strips separating the roadway from the parking lots adjacent to stores, they are no joy to walk on, and it will take you forever.
Where in Europe you have:
[store][sidewalk][roadway, 2 lanes][sidewalk][store]
Here, you have:
[business][parking lot][impenetrable hedge][sidewalk][roadway, 3 lanes][uncrossable median][roadway, 3 lanes][sidewalk][impenetrable hedge][parking lot][business]
Then, due to the zoning regulations you don't have stores and cafes right next to place where people live - you have huge blocks with nothing in them but houses, houses, houses.
Ditto for business districts.
It's not enough to have public transport, one needs to rethink entire cities from ground up to make them walkable, bikeable - and accessible by public transport - even if it exists.
Another case in point: Seattle. Lacking a good train system, they made the buses work with dedicated bus lanes, which make the buses fast - faster than traffic.
This works because the city has not been developed in the sad way I described above.
As for the suburban wasteland, which makes up huge chunks of the US population-wise, you can throw all your trains and buses at it, and it will be but a drop in the bucket.
Disclaimer: lived half my life in the US, half my life in urban Ukraine. Big fan of public transport, but drive most of the time - and when I don't, I bike, outrunning public transportation in most cases on distances up to 6 miles or so.
EDIT: see the urban sprawl point below:
> The US is special because its cities were either built to be pedestrian-hostile, or were made so during the Depression years when the transport companies went bust.
The original argument is based on "nature", things outside of human control. Your argument is 100% under human control, a self-made problem. What perplexes me is that the "nature" (inevitability) argument always comes first, but when prodded (like I did here) there is the attempt to shift it it elsewhere. I don't like that style, as I said, this seems to be mostly emotions-driven and I don't quite get why there is this attempt at any cost to paint the US situation as "special". Everyone and everything is "special" if you dig deep enough. The point is, are the difficulties any worse than elsewhere in magnitude and complexity? I don't think so. You only argued about the US, but the point of "being special" here has the meaning of "it's more difficult", and I don't think that is justified at all.
As for your question:
>are the difficulties any worse than elsewhere in magnitude and complexity?
I firmly think that this is the case - a century of bad urban planning is hard to undo. You don't have that in Europe (cities are old, the layout makes public transport viable and necessary), you don't have in 2nd world countries (a lot of growth happened under central planning that bet big on public transport because it couldn't provide enough cars for its citizens).
Huge cities in the US are different from cities in Europe. Even when a European city has suburbs, taking a train to the city center makes sense because you can get around the city center without a car. That is not the case in Houston or Dallas, for example. You wouldn't want to walk there.
Yes, these problems are man-made - but they are entrenched and systemic to a scale that I'm unaware of.
I guess what I am saying here: we need to understand the scope of the problem. It's not that it's more difficult to make trains running in Dallas than it is in Paris.
It's that we need to rebuild Dallas from ground up for that train to make sense there due to the way it grew in the past 70 years.
TL;DR: screw-ups are hard to undo.
There is plenty of research around public transit indicating the opposite: higher density increases transit viability, because public transit requires high demand per kilometer in order to be financially viable. For example, to quote this  highly cited paper:
"There are well documented empirical thresholds of density below which transit is unpractical for users and financially unsustainable for operators."
Or even just the opening line of the introduction:
"The counterpoint to the correlation between low-density sprawl and automobile dependence is that between high density and more transit use."
Connecting through "nothingness" is not an advantage: it costs actual money to build transit even through "nothingness" — labor and materials are not free, and even what you term "nothingness" is typically owned by someone and land rights still need to be acquired — and no one wants to go there. It would be cheaper to build transit between Popular Point A and Popular Point B if the vast "nothingness" between them was removed altogether — aka, high density.
> They still are just as distributed
You're taking the "sparse population distribution" argument pretty far out of context. The point is that they're sparse, not the total landmass size.
> I find the effort in many comments to point out how the US is "special" and "different" from all the rest of the world very weird. I would not find it as weird if it looked like a detached analysis, but it seems to be mostly emotional. Why? So strange. What's the big deal, what do you lose, if you come to the conclusion that it's of course true that all problems are local and none are completely the same, the variability and the base problems are not actually different? What's the big deal? Isn't it enough to look for "exceptionalism" in the achievements and possibilities, why does it have to also be true for such mundane stuff at any cost (e.g. suffering quality of arguments)?
Thanks, but I think my posts in here have been pretty data-focused and detached.
> You're taking the "sparse population distribution" argument pretty far out of context.
May I suggest a mirror?
> Thanks, but I think my posts in here have been pretty data-focused and detached.
Not at all, unless you think that going out of your way to find any "data" at all and then pretending that it shows what you say it does (which it doesn't do - at all!) is "data-focused and detached".
There is nothing in the US situation that makes it any more difficult than for the rest of the world. No, the US does not have "special" problems that make transportation more difficult than elsewhere, apart from self-inflicted wounds (another commenter mentioned car-oriented city designs). Of course everybody and everything is "special" if you look deep enough, but this was about "special" (as in more) difficulty compared to other places.
Also you keep moving your target. I still take your ridiculous very first comment as setting the tone - after all, it is what you yourself first brought up: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16918557
In response to being called out on that argument you came up with ever more elaborate attempts to disguise what you said and pretend you had a different argument. Own up to having made a very bad "argument" and stop this nonsense. We have a "paper trail" of what you said, stop pretending it ever made sense.