Le Sueur, I think that's a great question. I'll attempt to answer it, although I could see this question taking on its own separate thread. So, why is the issue of transit so divisive?
1. People automatically assume that subsidies are bad no matter what. Again, this is the default starting point. Rarely will people admit that driving is highly subsidized by federal grants, property taxes, bonds, or money from a general fund. Even walking is subsidized! Sidewalks don’t pay for themselves, yet walking is the cheapest form of transportation by far.
2. On the most basic level: all cities must have streets, but not all cities must have transit. Streets must exist (unless we're talking about Venice, however canals still serve the same function) to move people from point A to point B, whether we talk about Byzantium in 200BC or Minneapolis in 2012 AD. All we have done since the Industrial Age is to widen our streets to accommodate motorized transportation.
3. Streets exist to move goods: trucks deliver goods to stores, police, fire, and paramedics use streets to come to the aid of citizens. Playing off the first point, we must have streets to fulfill basic functions of society, so that police, fire, and paramedics can do their job.
4. Transit is marketed as a tool that can be used to: decrease congestion, increase mobility, or jumpstart development. This portrays it as an “add-on,” rather than an essential service. When it is marketed as a congestion-fighting tool, it usually fails by this metric. For instance, the Northstar Line didn’t decrease the number of cars driving on Hwy 10 by 25% and thereby speed up traffic. When anti-transit people found out that Northstar didn’t meet its ridership projections, it gave them more ammo to fight with.
5. Since motoring became popular in the 1930s, and universally-accepted in the US since the 1950s, people’s default assumption is to travel by car. When this is not possible, they borrow a car, rent a car, get a ride from a friend/family member, or take a taxi. However, rarely will they consider transit.
6. The “us” vs “them” mentality: There is an assumption that those who take transit do so out of need rather than desire – they would rather drive if they could. Plus, transit riders are portrayed as being: smelly, non-white, loud, abrasive, and generally unpleasant to be around. With all the anti-welfare type rhetoric going around, its easy to say: “they’re just using the system.”
7. In most cities, most of our decision makers are motorists. Drivers tend to think of driving as a function of getting from point A to point B. However transit serves points: A, B, C, D, E, F, G. Many riders don't just go from point A to point G, they go from point C to point F, or some other permutation. When talking about the Central Corridor I noticed people frequently think that its “just an expensive way to move people from one downtown to another.” However, it can do that, AND move people from the University to downtown Mpls, AND from the Midway District to Frogtown, AND from the Raymond Station to the Lexington Station, etc…
As far as finding a common ground on transit? I think this might help to answer that question a little: http://www.humantransit.org/human-trans ... ction.html