Today’s Headlines

  • Nation’s Transit Agencies Forced to Cut Back as Ridership Booms (NYT)
  • $11B in Tax Breaks for Car Buyers Added to Senate Stim Bill (NYT)
  • NYC Pols Lobby for Transit Mega-Projects as Stimulus (NY1, City Room, Post)
  • Without Funding From Albany, MTA Cuts Will Strand Bus Riders in East New York (News)
  • Family of Chinatown Victims Tell Manhattan DA: Reckless, Negligent Decision Caused Crash (CBS)
  • News Investigates MTA Board Attendance at Fare Hike Hearings
  • Real Time GPS Bus Tracking Coming to Roosevelt Island (Roosevelt Islander)
  • Bronx’s Lower Concourse Headed for Mixed Use Rezoning (News)
  • Transit, HSR Vie for Same Right of Way in Atlanta (Trains for America via Streetsblog.net)
  • SF’s Bike-Share Pilot Too Meek to Succeed (Streetsblog SF)
  • About the mixed-use possibilities for the Lower Grand Concourse: Wow.

    “…the neighborhood was already changing….the city hopes to see vacant loft buildings fill with artists and new businesses…”

    …”proximity to the 2, 4, 5 and 6 subway lines..” “…a waterfront park along the Harlem River … improve public access … create nearly 5.7 acres of open waterfront space.

    “They’ll have a park you can literally see from the Grand Concourse,” said Ronda.”

  • Car Free Nation

    So 11 billion to pay for cars for the rich (it’s a tax break, the more you earn, and the more expensive the car, the more we, the taxpayers, pay), but nothing for maintaining mass transit for the rest of us.

    I thought the Democrats won.

  • D.A. Morgenthau is running for re-election this year (as are Brooklyn D.A. Hynes and Bronx D.A. Johnson). Is there nobody willing to run on a platform of holding drivers accountable for their choices?

  • Oh and yes, Car Free Nation, the Democrats won. Were these some alternate-universe anti-car Democrats you were voting for? Because this tax cut fits squarely in with Democratic proclamations and policies, particularly their ongoing history of empty rhetoric on transit.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Transit systems across the country are raising fares and cutting service even when demand is up with record numbers of riders…Their problem is that fare-box revenue accounts for only a fifth to a half of the operating revenue of most transit systems ā€” and the sputtering economy has eroded the state and local tax collections that the systems depend on to keep running.”

    And what do people want to do in New York? Eliminate fare revenue as a source of funding, so the level of service will be a test of political power between poor transit riders and the Greater New York Hospital Association.

    “I thought the Democrats won.”

    The did win. Are people here catching on to what the Democrats are? Collect a higher level of money from everyone, and redistribute it to the people that matter.

    The car buying tax break is due to a panic because the annual rate of car purchases is 10 million rather than the recent 16 million. So to help the vested interests live in the style they are accustomed (ie. auto workers, the richest blue collar workers in the country), that has to go up. It’s only fair. After all, if we can diminish the nation’s future by borrowing to bail out the richest white collar workers in the country (Wall Street), why not the richest blue collar workers in the country?

    My view? What if one-third of the 100 million households, particularly the young and old, chose to spend their money on something other than cars, and live without them? And 60 million, relying on transit, carpooling, bikes and walking, got by with one car? Perhaps you’d need 8 million rental cars to make that work. If the remaining household had three cars each, the “American Dream,” we are up to 100 million or so in the fleet. And if they last 12 years, you get annual sales of 8 million.

    Evidently people cannot be allowed that choice. The government will force younger generations to sacrifice, paying taxes for debt as services are slashed, to pay to double it.

    And now that Dashele’s out, let’s forget about that universal health care promoise. How about a more fiscally responsible guarantee of continued converage for those who have health insurance now, and their offspring, unto the generations, paid for by taxes on those who do without.

    It isn’t a matter of party affiliation. It’s generational. Generation Greed.

  • Who do they think is going to be able to pay for gas, and for maintaining those things even if they buy them? Who in their right mind would spend any big chunk of change at this point?

    This is going to be a much bigger unravelling than this bill.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Who do they think is going to be able to pay for gas, and for maintaining those things even if they buy them?”

    Right. The goal of our economy has been to lock in a higher cost of living as a requirement to be happy. And then reduce the wages of the bottom 80% until they can’t afford it, but make up for it by having them go deeper and deeper into debt. And now we are going bankrupt.

    Think about this one: what happens when savers in the rest of the world realize that the federal govenment is borrowing so much it won’t be able to both pay that money back and provide anything like the Social Security and Medicare benefits promised to those under age 50? Keep your eye on the ball.

  • Kaja

    Larry, you are a hero. Keep posting, sir.

  • Rhywun

    This whole “stimulus bill” has become a farce. These idiots in the legislature should be ashamed of themselves, but of course they have no shame.

    At this point the best thing for the government to do would be NOTHING. Stop pitting everyone against one another. Stop trying to prop up the “American Dream”. Let transit systems degenerate nationwide so that the whole country gets a real understanding of what the policies we’ve pursued for the last half century have got us.

  • Ditto Kaja. I just think “those idiots” are not going to see the trees until the forest has come crashing down… which it is.

    Not that it isn’t worthwhile to build what usefulness we can while all that is happening.

  • anon

    “At this point the best thing for the government to do would be NOTHING.”

    This is utter insanity.

    Apparently several MILLION additional unemployed people doesn’t matter to you- as long as it’s not you, I suppose.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    I share your frustration, although the thrust of this bill was entirely expected. I can only imagine the reaction if President H. Clinton would have shepherded this through.

    It is time to reposition urban politics, having a great leader like Obama just take over the Federalist system cannot help cities. Urban politicians have to stand up and threated fillibusters just like the hill billies do.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “At this point the best thing for the government to do would be NOTHING.”

    At this point the best thing is for the federal government to deliver on its promise of universal health care, and make the savings to business and state and local government the stimulus. But I don’t think it will happen.

    And remember, Albany is worse.

    If the goal of conservative Republicanism over the past 30 years was to make government taxes and spending so inequitable that even those with an egalitarian frame of mind, like myself, turn against them, THEN BY GOD THEY ARE HAVING SOME SUCCESS! With cooperation from the Democrats.

  • Rhywun

    I don’t know where I stated that I wanted “several MILLION additional unemployed people”. What I WANT is for the government to stop recklessly throwing around tax dollars at any 3rd party interest that goes “Wahh!” And to stop pretending that it can prop up a declining economy. And to stick to providing basic public services. Is anyone the least bit surprised that transit aid comes with strings attached? Strings like massive highway buildouts and driver tax breaks designed to undermine transit…?

  • rex

    Not being aligned with ether party I cannot say this surprises me in the least. Obama needs to step in and lead. This not “change we believe in”. or pay for.

  • John

    This is not about the Democratics and Republicans.. A fake artificial competition. This is about haves vs not-haves. The people who are pro-corporations, pro-car, pro-oil, pro-suburbia, pro-highways VS pedestrians, cyclists, mass-transit, environmentalists, etc..

  • Everyone should calm down a bit and realize that a stimulus package put together in a big hurry as a response to an acute economic emergency is not the place where we can expect to see fundamental changes in the direction of the economy and society.

    We can hope for bigger changes in transportation policy in the TEA reauthorization later this year.

    And reforming health care will require a long period of planning. How can anyone seriously claim that a total overhaul of health insurance could be put together in the one month that we have to formulate this stimulus package?

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Everyone should calm down a bit and realize that a stimulus package put together in a big hurry as a response to an acute economic emergency is not the place where we can expect to see fundamental changes in the direction of the economy and society.”

    I will say that you warned us Charles.

    Here is the problem — the United States may be in no position to make decisions of any kind in the future. The share of national resources going to the retired and to servicing past debts is going in one direction — up, and at an increasingly fast pace. Federal, state, local, etc.

    In transportation, anything that isn’t built in the next few years will not be built at all, and frankly I’m not certain anything that is built will be maintained. If the stimulus package goes to vehicle sales with current technology, that’s locked in.

    After the grabbers finish grabbing, we’re going to hear a lot about “fiscal responsibility,” mainly the responsibilities of those under age 55 when Bush said the words to settle for less.

    I’m just glad that as long as I can ride over the bridge, I can bike to work even if transit collapses. But with the Ravitch Plan proposing a takeover of the East River Bridges by the State of New York, can that be taken for granted?

  • Hey, Morgenthau: You’ve filed charges in the first fatal crane collapse last year.

    Isn’t hopping out of a 7000 pound vehicle without turning it off AND without making sure it was in park similar?

    It’s like as long as a car is involved, all culpability vaporizes.

  • Larry: Your basic point is absolutely correct. Americans are living for today and ignoring the future. That is why we ignore the impact of our consumerism on the future of the planet, and it is why we ignore the impact of our debts and entitlements on our children and grandchildren.

    But I think you exaggerate when you say “In transportation, anything that isn’t built in the next few years will not be built at all, and frankly I’m not certain anything that is built will be maintained.” Even we have to adjust by going back to one-half the income that we now have, that would put at us at the per capita income of the 1950s – and look how much infrastructure we build during the 1950s.

    I think that, when the readjustment comes, the United States will be where England was in the 1970s. At the time, the Pound was no longer accepted as a reserve currency, the commonwealth was no longer economically important, their industries were going bankrupt, and England was experiencing a drastic economic decline. But they adjusted to their more modest position in the world’s economy, and they are quite comfortable now.

    Likewise in the United States. Your generation and/or your children’s generation will have to bear the disruption of readjusting after the dollar loses its place as a reserve currency and foreign countries stop financing our increasing debts. We will have to stop mortgaging the future and start living within our means. But after we adjust to our more modest economic circumstances, we will be quite comfortable.

    It could be worse. You could have lived through World War I, the Depression, and World War II.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “After we adjust to our more modest economic circumstances, we will be quite comfortable. It could be worse. You could have lived through World War I, the Depression, and World War II.”

    No doubt Charles, and the adjustment won’t be much of an adjustment for those who didn’t get caught up in the consumption mania. To the extent that many Americans are clinging to that lifestyle, and looking for someone to sacrifice to pay, I’m not optimistic, even though I am quite comfortable. I’m worried about what the future holds collectively, and for younger generations.

    Not to get the Prince upset again, but we’ve discussed the enormous (and as yet unacknowledged) cost the age 55 (rather than 62) will have on the city’s schools. One good thing about the stimulus is it might defer the re-collapse until my youngest finishes her junior year of high school, but it can only be deferred so long. At the MTA, you have all those debts, and the return of deferred maintenance. By taking payroll tax revenues away from the post 2014 period and spending them now, the Ravitch Plan might defer trouble five years, but that’s all.

    What can one say about the quality of public services and infrastructure in Great Brittain from 1945 to 1980, which I agree is a good analogy? Did they build anything?

  • I think Britain’s economy generally declined until 1980 and recovered after 1980. I don’t know about infrastructure in particular.

    But to put our problems into perspective, imagine someone who who was born in France in 1890. At age 24, he would be drafted to fight in World War I and would see massive deaths among the people of his generation. At age 39, he would face the Depression and would have trouble getting or keeping a job for the next 10 years. At age 50, he would face the German invasion and would probably have to flee from his home to escape the invading troops; have you read Sartre’s novel about people fleeing from the Germans? At age 55, he would live in a country devastated by war and needing Marshall Plan aid to rebuild. But at age 80, he would see France rebuilt and prosperous, and he would see the European Community strong enough to prevent future wars.

    I think that Frenchman would react to our complaints about infrastructure and entitlements by repeating the old French proverb: “Kvetch, kvetch, kvetch!”

  • Charles, I’m intrigued by your discussion of the parallels between the U.S. today and the U.K. of decades past — but have you factored the peak oil crisis into your outlook?

  • Larry Littlefield

    “But to put our problems into perspective, imagine someone who who was born in France in 1890.”

    No doubt the first half of the 20th Century was a horrow show that hopefully will not be repeated, although with global warming and nuclear proliferation I would not rule it out.

    I think a better paralell would be someone born in then-prosperous Argentina in 1950. Then again, I’ve heard that just recently the Buenos Aires subway has started to expand again for the first time since then.

  • lee

    http://www.preservenet.com/freeways/index.html

    interesting site about removing freeways.

    apologies if it’s been linked to here previously

  • Mark and Larry: You are both right that the parallel is not complete. I deliberately left peak oil and global warming out of the discussion of infrastructure/entitlement to try and provide some perspective on infrastructure/entitlement, which are relatively minor problems.

    I think peak oil and global warming are much bigger problems. I think they should make us reconsider the value of economic growth and begin the transition to a sustainable, steady-state economy.

    Since someone else just mentioned my web site about removing freeways, I will add that I also wrote a little book (only 64 pages) on the transition away from a growth economy, The Politics of Simple Living, which you can also read on my web site at http://www.preservenet.com/simpleliving/PoliticsOfSimpleLiving.html

    Global warming probably will lead to suffering in Africa and parts of Asia that are as bad as the suffering that occurred in Europe during the first half of the twentieth century – famine and mass movement of global-warming refugees. These effects of global warming should also give us enough perspective to see that infrastructure/entitlement is a relative minor problem of economic adjustment.

  • I’m really enjoying Charles v Larry, and I’ll chime in at some point, when one of them says something I egregiously disagree with. It hasn’t really happened yet.

    Yep, Jen. Similarly: Anon – I know this is offtopic for streetsblog, and maybe you’ve successfully trolled me; I’ll say this once and not reply on this subject again for a while…

    > Apparently several MILLION additional unemployed people doesn’t matter to you- as long as it’s not you, I suppose.

    The suggestion is that they’ll be employed better, faster, and more productively if we don’t have the state direct the employment. We “need” the state to direct employment ’cause, under guise of Republican ‘free’ market ideology, the fedgov has aided and abetted an honest to christ cabal of industrialists and financiers in their distortion of the economy wholesale, to their personal benefit.

    The crash of ’08 wasn’t the failure of the market; it was market — millions of distributed individuals, each minding their own business — finally waking up and smelling the arsenic in its coffee.

    The government is trying to _prevent_ the economy from adapting to the our new reality, a reality in which (for instance) we can’t live on debt and buy 15m cars per year.

    Their idea of “fixing” it isn’t ours, yours or mine.

    The government is going to put people to work taking loans, building and buying cars, and supporting the 2007-economy. The government should cope with this Scandinavian-style: nationalizing what’s left of the major insolvent banks, selling their parts at a loss to the banks who didn’t play loose, letting everyone who made a bad business bet swing from their noose, and giving temporary and direct unemployment assistance in the form of negative taxes to those who need to survive the months until hiring recovers.

    I’m with Amity Shales; the Great Depression was initially caused by the sort of human behaviors that markets exist to both channel and correct, and exacerbated by paniced, flailing government reaction to the first.

    We’re going to do the exact same thing this time. Only in 2015-2020, when we’re finally emerging from this, there won’t be a glut of cheap oil to float us out — we’ll be staring down the maw of the peak of all peaks.

    Individuals cannot coordinate economies. Markets must do it, and they must be properly incentivized. Our government is in the business of poisoning the incentives, so the “free market,” like any algorithm fed dirty input, produces bad outputs.

    The algorithm isn’t the problem. It’s the criminals distorting the incentives.

    I may need less coffee.

  • rex

    North Sea oil and gas production was largely responsible for hoisting Britain out of the slump of the seventies.

  • Rhywun

    > interesting site about removing freeways

    Hey, my hometown is the first one on your list (Rochester, NY). When I was little I used to look at maps from before the Inner Loop and wonder how it was possible to inflict so much destruction on one downtown. There’s really nothing else like it, that I’ve seen.