First of all, let me say that I am a city person. I love being in big cities, and I venture to them nearly every chance I can get. I enjoy the lively atmosphere that cities can provide, the high-quality public space, the cultural attractions, and the fact that both businesses and buses stay up past 10pm. However, I'm currently the resident of a suburb (though a very urban-ish suburb), and I spent most of my childhood in a rural town in the San Gabriel mountains. On this thread, Chewie and I got into a discussion about whether or not rural areas are permanently shackled to the automobile. I say no, and for a few reasons.
First of all, I think there is a misconception about what rural areas look like. In most cases, rural people cluster in towns. Sure, there are some people who live completely isolated, miles from the nearest human being, but they are few and far between. Even in farm communities, where it was once common for farmers to live on their farms, several miles outside of the nearest village, large agri-business firms are increasingly taking over farming duties, and workers at these sites arrive in the morning and leave in the evening. Most of the support personnel- schoolteachers, sales clerks and shop owners, government officials, and other people who serve the local community live in town- and rural towns are often very walkable places. (Even this score is brought down significantly because pharmacies and movie theatres are two of WalkScore's categories- neither of which exist in the town. Check out Delano, CA- a rural farm community big enough to have those amenities.)
Since rural areas are, by definition, lacking in population, rural transit networks serve a different market than urban ones. In cities, transit often takes you to a different part of the city. In a small town that you can walk across in an hour, transit's function changes- certainly, there is some in-town service (like in Delano, or Hanford or Wasco), but the primary goal of rural transit should be to link neighbouring towns, and especially smaller towns to larger ones. In most cases, rural transit that serves both of these roles exists, and it could be improved to the point that it would be a desirable way to get around. In many of these towns in the central valley, the heavily-used Amtrak San Joaquins provides 12 daily trains to points north and south, with connections to Los Angeles and San Francisco.
I also think that car-sharing services will play a key role in small towns in the coming years. Car-sharing is an easy way to get people to transition away from the personal automobile- it allows people to think about a transit-centric life, while keeping access to a vehicle in case they need one.
Anyway, I should return to why I think transit and car-freedom can work in rural areas. Short answer? They will have to. Like our entire civilization, rural areas will have to transition to a post-oil existence over the course of the next century. We must wake up and see what a scarce and precious resource oil actually is, and save what little is left in the ground for those purposes that require it- plastics and modern agriculture- and stop using it to frivolously flit about in single-person cages. Transit in rural towns is never going to be as developed as in cities- Wasco will never need a subway, and Wrightwood will not see trolleybuses any time soon- and some people will remain too far off the grid to ever serve practically. We need, however, to start moving every town of any size off of its auto addiction, rather than keeping this harmful mentality that transit is only a big-city sort of thing. The future of our civilization depends on it.