Wednesday, June 18

Obama mentions transit!

The place that I'm moving into in Charlottesville will be only a five minute walk from an Amtrak station. Since both my parents and my parents-in-law live in towns with Amtrak stations, I became pretty excited at the thought of using the train to visit them. We wouldn't even need our car at all. Or so I thought.

My excitement dampened considerably when I discovered the hassle involved. Even though there is a direct line between Charlottesville, Virginia, and Newark, Delaware, I would have to switch trains in Washington, DC. The trip would only be available once a day. It would take a total of 8.5 hours (not counting waiting times or getting to the stations), and it would cost a whopping $160 round trip, per person. And this is all on the Eastern corridor, where trains really should work. With costs this high, there's no amount of rail enthusiasm that would keep me away from the simple four hour car ride.

High gas prices are squeezing our transportation system from both ends. Airlines are struggling to stay alive, and cars are becoming less and less viable as well. Instead of seeking out more efficient alternatives, politicians are busy shaking their fists at either Exxon or ANWR ... fruitlessly. But Barrack Obama seems to be, timidly at first, speaking out about another way to move ourselves around.

Last month, in a private lunch with a couple from Indiana, he reportedly said,

"We are going to be having a lot of conversations this summer about gas prices. And it is a perfect time to start talk about why we don't have better rail service."

ok. But let's actually start the talk. In an economic policy speech on Monday (in Flint, Michigan, of all places), Obama did give this little blurb while touting his plan for a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank,

"We can invest in rail, so that cities like Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis are connected by high-speed trains, and folks have alternatives to air travel."

This little morsel of goodness is enough to excite some transit advocates, but paving more highways figured more heavily yet in this very speech. And I can't help but notice the "can" qualifier, which was surely carefully chosen to maximize non-commitment.

A similar wave of excitement passed through last week when Barack Obama met privately with a Bicycle advocacy group and pledged to increase funding for bicycle and pedestrian programs.

Is Barack Obama the candidate that will lead the way through the oil-intensive infrastructure we are currently stuck with? I think the verdict is out. But perhaps he is testing the waters with these careful comments. If you're listening, please continue the conversation! I'd love to be able to ride the train to visit my parents.

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