Monday, October 20

Transportation for America now

As much as I admire the concept of various localities having self-determination over their transportation systems, this really hasn't been the case for a long time. As mobility has increased dramatically over the last century, especially since the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956, oversight for the system has also required a wider and wider scope. With the complexity of interactions we now face, it seems that the federal government is the only act in town that can manage the task. Localities may get to tweak the road placement a bit, or push for comparatively more transit, but the essential backbone of our cities and regions has been ordained from above.

That's why the Transportation for America campaign, revealed last week, is so important. How so?

1. Every elected official in the federal government has probably uttered the ominous words, "dependence on foreign oil" hundreds of times over the last several years. Yet, alas, we are as dependent as ever on foreign oil. What's going on here? Maybe we have settled for blithe platitudes instead of doing the hard work of actually charting the course from A to B. Transportation for America has done this work, and the results are very straightforward and workable. Maybe each member of congress should be asked what practical steps they have made toward fulfilling their "energy independence" promises.

2. Lots of indices point to the fact that Americans now want walkability, access to transit, relief from congested and lengthy commutes. We are saying that in surveys, and we are saying that with our investments. The old mainstay of the apologists of surburbia has always been something about the American Dream, the ineluctable need for a huge lawn to play catch in, and some sort of "love affair with the automobile." How ever true that may once have been, it appears that our goals and desires have shifted considerably. Elected officials take note.

3. In the wake of a financial meltdown, our basic need for mobility will simply have to be achieved more cheaply and efficiently. Dragging around at least 3,000 pounds of steel with us everywhere we go will simply not be a feasible prospect even for the middle-class. The Highway Trust Fund is broke. State Departments of Transportation are broke. American families have to devote a growing percentage of their contracting budget to transportation. And digging a hole of further debt is no longer an option. The current course is leading nowhere, and it's time for a paradigm shift.

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