Finance President

Warning: We Can't Let the Stimulus Pass Us By

As Robert over at the California High Speed Rail Blog put it this morning, President-elect Barack Obama’s Saturday address again emphasized “roads and bridges” as the basis for stimulus investment and made no mention of public transit or rail funding in the package that will be released in the next few weeks. Once again, we have been disappointed by a candidate who claimed during the campaign to be interested in rebuilding our cities and improving Amtrak.

The incoming administration’s rhetoric – “post-ideological” or “anti-ideological” – is coming dangerously close to meaning nothing more than a continuation of existing policy. The administration’s marked unwillingness to pronounce itself in favor of any big idea, whether national health care, a carbon tax, or in our case, high-speed rail or transit investment, is not “pragmatic,” the word Mr. Obama’s proponents use to defend the President-elect’s conservatism. It is simply conservative.

There are signs that the big changes will come in the transportation bill, due for reauthorization this year, and whose writing is under the guidance of transit-friendly Congressmen Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and James Oberstar (D-MN).

But what is Mr. Obama, with the biggest bully-pulpit in the world, doing to demonstrate his commitment to transit or to the renewal of our degenerated urban areas? When are we going to hear him argue that we have a responsibility to use these stimulus funds responsibly, rather that for the same wasteful, environmentally-destructive highway projects we’ve been sponsoring for more than fifty years? When is public transportation going to get a real chance in the United States?

The stimulus bill is expected to cost American taxpayers upwards of $700 billion. It would be quite a disappointment if the majority of that money simply went to rebuilding highways.

5 replies on “Warning: We Can't Let the Stimulus Pass Us By”

How very unfortunate it would be- for the people of this country, and for the world’s environment- if radical changes are not made to our rail lines. Today, I left Northern Virginia at 11:10 and did not arrive to Durham, NC until around 6:00. In Richmond, we had to get off the train and board buses to Raleigh,due to a freight train derailment somewhere south of Richmond. Then, in Raleigh, we reboarded a train. What a sad state of affairs- our public transit. By car, this trip would have taken no more than 41/2 hours.

This week I rode the amtrak from Greenwood, Ms. To memphis, Tn. The ride was nice, for my first american train ride, but took about the same time as driving. it could have been faster. we had to wait on freight trains. the loading was a bit slow passengers were confused. it was better then the drive though. here is what the thing that was confusing though. they forgot to take my fair, usually they take it up at the beginning of the trip. granted it awas a smalll fair, when i got off the conductor was like, “merry christmas man, dont worrry about it” so i rode for free. for a company near bankruptcy that doesnt bode well…..

Transit advocates have strong arguments, but are politically weak. We spend more time blogging and hoping to convince politicians that we’re right than we do organizing the kind of popular pressure that politicians actually pay attention to.

Every city needs a dedicated group of transit organizers who will sit down and lobby local politicians, put together effective political demonstrations, and perhaps most important, start experimenting with popular education techniques that can change people’s minds about car culture and suburban sprawl. If we can’t get people who live in the suburbs to start supporting pro-transit and anti-sprawl initiatives, the fight for livable streets and environmental sustainability could go on for decades.

Jake, I yield to no one in my call to organize politically however expecting people in the suburbs to oppose sprawl is like expecting prostitutes to oppose sex. The suburbs are sprawl. And continue to insist on it in state government and land-use forums. And they are shocked to find high property taxes. There must be some way to marry property tax relief, better land use regulations and political consolidation of Metropolitan areas.

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