One distinctive attribute of Amsterdam relative to the American cities I've spent time in is its extensive use of electric trams for mass transit purposes. I don't really understand why we don't see more of this in the United States. From one point of view, we're a country that has preposterously little in the way of mass transit options. At the same time, we seem in some respects to be a bit subway-crazed, with little metro systems popping up in places like LA and Miami and even Baltimore.

There's nothing wrong with subways, of course, but a lot of these systems seem a bit half-assed and consequently don't wind up being very useful, which is really no good for anyone. The problem with building bigger subway systems, though, is that it's obviously really expensive. For the same amount of money, you could build a lot more tram track. Now it's true that a tram line won't let you move as many people as a heavy rail line, but a tram can carry substantially more capacity than a bus, and it's cleaner, quieter and takes up less space as well. And at the end of the day, though the large carrying capacity of subway systems is great for those cities where the system is comprehensive enough to draw a large customer base (New York, Washington, etc.) there's really no point in building a system that a lot of people could use in principle if it doesn't actually have sufficient scope to make the system an attractive option.

Also, though it's hard to quantify this precisely, I think the trams look cool (the ones they have here in Amsterdam, at least, I recall feeling that the trams I saw in Prague and Nizhny Novgorod in the 1990s were ugly) which is nice. And on some level, aesthetics do matter. My impression of the Philadelphia subway system mostly related to the overpowering stench of urine in whatever station I was waiting in.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.