Thursday, December 17, 2009

Can we be smarter about transit advocacy?

Richard Green, a professor at the University of Southern California who blogs about real estate, has a great little post about how transit advocates sometimes don't do themselves any favors.  The issue in the post is local opposition to a major highway tunnel proposed for downtown Seattle:
Let me stipulate that the project may very well not pass a cost-benefit test. But the line "will only advance the interests of car commuters" reflects both snobbishness and detachment from reality. According to this blog, more than four-fifths of commuter trips and 85 percent of all trips in Seattle are made in private automobiles. Complaining that something advances the interest of auto commuters is like complaining about advancing the interest of, say, children--pretty much every one of us is one, or loves someone who is.

As the Onion so wisely headlined, "98 percent of US commuters favor public transportation for others." 
This sounds uncomfortably familiar to my rantings about a tunnel under my neighborhood:

Cost - surely building tunnels for highways is a very expensive enterprise.  Regardless of whether the state itself pays for the construction (such as with a public-private partnership), when it comes to a comparison for value, this can't be very high.  Those same dollars could be spent on things like the BeltLine or MARTA expansion or commuter rail and provide much more value if you include any measure other than "move more cars from Roswell to Hartsfield faster".
Having said all that, I completely agree that Richard Green has a point.  Obviously I'd prefer to see those state dollars spent on transit projects, but I'd also prefer to see those state dollars be spent on projects with a better payoff - I suspect that toll roads or BRT on the major highways would be a better use of funds.  Hey, go for a northern arc, that honestly doesn't affect me much at all. 

If I'm honest with myself, I'm not very sensitive to the plight of the suburban commuter stuck on the connector or on 316 or wherever.  I should be, though, since these are the folks who the Legislature actually cares about.  I'm pretty sure they are also fellow human beings who are just trying to make it through the day, like me. 

We have to find a way to advocate for transit without being holier than thou.  I include myself in this criticism.


  1. Love the quote from The Onion! Great topic.

  2. Yeah, the people who argue there should be NO car projects are on the wrong track. But I think it's fair to argue against a $4 billion NEW highway project when our public transit system can't even afford to operate its current system.

    We should use transportaion money to make sure we can maintain all of our current roads and transit (fix the potholes, return MARTA to more frequent train times, etc), and then move forward from there with whatever money is left.


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