People want big houses on big yards. Most can't afford that close to work, which means they make the economic choice to trade the commute time for that "dream".
That's fine but the problem is that government subsidizes that dream to a ridiculous degree. Urban sprawl has a huge cost in infrastructure, largely borne by the taxpayer.
Low-density urban sprawl largely also makes public transport uneconomic (public transport works best in high density cities and countries).
Lastly, home ownership decreases the flexibility of the labour market. People are less able and less inclined to pick up and move to find work opting instead for lower-paid employment or no employment at all.
Most interesting to me: the long discussion of the research showing the negative effects of commuting.
I live in a rural area about 40 miles from Minneapolis, the largest city around here, pop. about 400k. Normally it would take me well over an hour to get there during rush hour, but I recently discovered that there is a bus that can do it in 22 minutes if the schedule is to be believed. The buses can drive on the shoulder, and of course, use the HOV lanes to get there faster than we can.
I found this out purely by accident because it's really not well publicized. I had to go to Mpls and didn't want to deal with parking, so I looked into the bus route and was astounded that it could do the trip from bus depot to downtown in 20 minutes. The bus stop itself is about 15 minutes from my house, so I could be downtown in less than 40 minutes. I can't believe Metro Transit isn't screaming this from the rooftops!
Of course, life being what it is I made it to the bus stop late, missed the last bus in and had to deal with the 1.5 hour drive into the city anyway :-(
This is the problem with small cities' public transit systems. Temporal flexibility is limited compared to driving one's self to work. Need to stay late? You'll be staying all night, or your spouse must come pick you up.
Other issues (observed as a lifelong Clevelander):
1. The elapsed time savings of using public transit is often quite negative (compared to a city like NYC where it probably is often more time-efficient to take the train).
2. Parking costs are relatively low, so there's no tax on bringing your car with you to work. And, you almost never pay for parking at home.
3. You can't live easily without a car, so the potential savings of public transit is reduced to less usage of your current vehicle. You still have to own one, pay for insurance, etc.
4. Density is so low that your first/last mile issues may literally be that far.
All of this creates a death spiral for these public transit systems: Ridership is low, so vehicle frequency is low. This creates higher costs of public transit for people who have more money than time (how much could you have earned while waiting for the bus?), so these systems end-up serving only those with more time than money. This creates a stigma around using public transit which further reduces ridership. Add in white flight and the fear that extending public transit to the "nice areas" will allow "those people" to invade, and it's hard to imagine how public transit could ever work.
The RTA is very good for getting downtown or to University Circle (and possible Ohio City). Unfortunately the jobs have all moved to around 271/480. I did the 48->7 reverse commuting from Shaker Sq. to Highland Heights when my car was in the shop last year. Let me tell you, that sucked. Nearly an hour and half vs. 30 min driving. And there's only 1 bus the entire day that took the special route I needed.
I am now happily working 1.2 miles from home.
A LOT of people would MUCH rather have large amounts of public dollars spent to improve transit than to, for instance, fund wars, bail out bankers, etc.
The HSR is CA was funded in 2008. It looks like the first leg through Fresno might happen in a year or two. China went from no subway to the biggest subway system in the world in 15 years. They have 5000 miles of HSR. We have zero.
If you really want to get people off the highways, mass transit needs to be made more convenient, not the lesser of two undesirable choices.
Prague: 1,2 million passengers using 60 km of subway, 550 km of tramway and 1815 km of 150 lines buses.
Too many buses, obviously.
why would i take the train for longer distances if my destination will not have buses/subway? i will need my car there anyway, so i might just skip the train and drive.
 I'm aware there are many subsidizes in the US, for instance in agriculture. Still, it seems to be less than in Europe. There are subsidizes for homeownership in Germany but more people live in rented accommodation.
In comparison, buildable land in a European village or small town can be $100,000/acre - not that you can find an acre to buy anyway. Even if you could afford the land, you would then have to find the same amount again to build the house - so it is much cheaper to rent.
Sorry, you wanted a reference. This older story:
It captures some of the US pro-home-ownership arguments lower in the article.
Yeah, there are places in Europe cheaper than Germany, but $700,000/acre does not surprise me. I should have added that construction standards are very different between Europe and the US which also accounts for the low cost of housing. In many (most?) parts of the US houses are made of simple timber frames and hence are simply and quickly erected - I have seen houses (the outer shell obviously) go up in as little as two days. In Europe a lot (most?) of housing is made of brick, a more laborious process.
Around here, $10k/acre is considered expensive.
I'd jump at any chance to buy an acre of land zoned for residential construction for only 100k, even in the most 'rural' areas here ('rural' being relative, even very rural here is still suburban by US standards).
In Europe, they charge very high vehicle and gas tax to make up for the roads and keep people from driving. In the US we allow much less wealthy people to drive. Neither is correct, but we in the US highly subsidize commutes.
And then they wonder why people move out of town as their families grow - SF has one of the lowest proportions of households with small children of any city in the nation.
Big houses and big yards? I've got a bungalow that is smaller than any house I lived in growing up (probably by a factor of two).
Urban sprawl may have a huge cost in infrastructure, but the lack of planning to put in commute alternatives (like trains) are just as damning. In Germany, there are friends that live 30-40min outside of Munich and happily take the train daily. They don't necessarily want to live in the city. Which goes to your argument of "Low-density urban sprawl largely also makes public transport uneconomic" -- in general, sure, but again infrastructure planning can offset this.
This country, unfortunately, doesn't believe in planning for infrastructure. Trains? Unprofitable boondoggles! (or so some think)
Agreed. I live in a flat in semi-central London and I cycle to work in a little more than half an hour. Life is good, but during weekends it really rubs me that I have at least an hours worth of travelling to do before I can get to some uninterrupted countryside.