What Changed Yesterday, and What Didn’t

America just elected Donald Trump, who got a foothold in national politics by fanning a conspiracy theory about Barack Obama’s country of origin, who ran a campaign premised on a naked appeal to racist anger and resentment, who shredded every norm of conduct on his way to the presidency. He’s going to occupy the White House for at least the next four years, and for at least two years the Democratic opposition won’t control either house of Congress.

The subway ride to work today was quieter than usual. People seemed shell-shocked. A random bunch of strangers from Brighton Beach, Midwood, Flatbush, and Park Slope, sharing a Q train car, processing the idea of President Trump.

It’s hard to write at a time like this. I’m worried for everyone who might lose health insurance, or whose families might get torn apart by deportation, or who will be less physically secure in Trump’s America because of their race or religion. I can’t stop thinking about Trump’s vindictive streak, his disregard for a free press, and his willingness to abandon international coalitions that have kept the threat of nuclear war in check for 70 years.

It’s hard to focus on transportation policy when it feels like the foundations of an open and democratic society are crumbling. At the same time, I find myself returning to the question of why the work we do at Streetsblog matters.

This is not a “now more than ever” post that claims a world-shattering event has somehow elevated the issues we write about to more prominent status. But I do want to affirm the importance of reforming our present-day transportation system and briefly explore how the new political order will affect these issues.

Today, like yesterday, too many people will lose their lives in preventable traffic crashes. Crummy transit still limits access to jobs and education while foisting the high costs of car ownership on many people who can’t afford it. Car-based development saps public health and threatens the long-term future of the environment. If we’re going to have a prayer of stopping runaway climate change, we need to build more walkable places.

The urgency of fixing these problems has not diminished.

The Trump presidency, combined with full Republican control of Congress, poses new challenges to everyone who’s working to overhaul a broken transportation system. Party polarization is embedded in geography. Republicans did not need city voters to gain control of the executive and legislative branches. Better transit and walkable/bikeable streets are anathema to Trump’s rural base. Whatever momentum had built up inside federal agencies for initiatives like urban highway removal, better lending standards for mixed-use development, and multi-modal street design standards is at risk of dissipating.

In Congress, cities will probably have to fight just to hang on to the scraps of federal funding currently set aside for transit. Without these funds, transit agencies will struggle with the basics of providing service and maintaining infrastructure and vehicles.

Local governments were already starting to take on more responsibility for funding better transit networks, and it looks like they will have to be even more prepared to go it alone. On that score, there were at least some encouraging returns yesterday from local ballot measures. In several cities, residents voted for special transit taxes that will fund significant upgrades to bus and rail service.

At the local level, there’s still so much we can do to create better streets and transit. We need more trains and buses full of strangers. We’re going to keep throwing ourselves into that work.

  • Kevin Love

    It is not one or the other, but both. Children are disproportionately victims, and elderly people are also disproportionately victims of being poisoned by motor vehicle operators. Again, to quote from the official publications of Toronto Public Health:

    “There are some populations which are particularly susceptible to the effects of traffic related pollution. These include fetuses and children, the elderly, and those with pre- existing breathing and heart problems. However, healthy individuals are also at risk of these effects from both short-term exposures as well as chronic exposure over several years or a lifetime.”

    Source is page 6 at:

    http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2007/hl/bgrd/backgroundfile-8046.pdf

    In terms of DALY, the poisoning of children, particularly before birth, has a strong impact, since the entire lifetime is affected. To continue quoting from the same source, same page:

    “The human fetus is particularly susceptible to the effects of traffic-related pollution given physiological immaturity… Children are particularly vulnerable to the health impacts of traffic given their immature physiology and immune system which are still under development.”

  • Kevin Love

    Particularly lung cancer in non-smokers. The fine particles put out by car drivers are bad news for anyone who has to breathe.

  • Charles Siegel

    I doubt if he can stop the shift to clean energy, but he clearly can slow it. Ending Obama’s Clean Power Plan and EPA regulations obviously will mean that fossil fuel power plants will remain open longer; it is absurd to say that the Clean Power Plan would have no effect in speeding the shift to clean power. Trump’s actions may convince other nations, such as India, to slow their progress also. A keynote of Trump’s economic policy is to increase our exports of fossil fuels, though we have some hopes of blocking this at east and west coast ports.

    How many years would it take for the world to shift to your strategy of talking about clean air instead of clean energy?

    The world already has the Paris agreement, and if you look at the numbers, you will see that it is the last chance to avoid the worst effects of global warming. But Trump is going to torpedo it.

  • SteveVaccaro

    Thanks Ben, When I consider what his crony Chris Christy did to Fort Lee to exact political vengeance, I shudder to think what the new administration will do to cities generally, since he lost almost every large city.

  • Jim

    I never meant to imply that all federal money comes with strings, but a lot of it does. No I don’t fully understand how federal funding of any kind of infrastructure works (does anybody?) but I do know from how road funding is done that the general uniformity and pitfalls of the current design come from federal standards and in many cases, federal strings attached to how to spend the money.

    But my real point is why let the federal government create such a boom and bust cycle for transit/pedestrian spending in the hundreds of cities around the US? Why not go back to the model where cities generally fund themselves. This is much more possible when the total area of liabilities (i.e. sprawl) a city is responsible for maintaining is contained.

  • Charles Siegel

    They will use the most efficient methods in *future* power plants, but they won’t close *existing* dirty power plants without government regulation.

  • Michael Lewyn

    I am more optimistic than you, for a couple of reasons:

    1. The Republicans tend to cut domestic spending when there is a Democratic President (e.g. Gingrich era, post-2010) because they have to show their primary electorates that they are fighting the Democrats. By contrast, when Republicans had a united government under Bush, it was party time- just going along with the President now and then is enough to get them renominated. So generally I expect that cutting domestic spending will not be a priority.

    2. I think #1 is more true under Trump than under, say, President Cruz or Rubio. Trump does not seem to have an anti-government bone in his body.

  • war_on_hugs

    Good points, and I hope I didn’t come across as insulting. A lot of this stuff is very opaque even to those who deal with it regularly. I just wanted to express that federal transit funding is more flexible than most realize. Highway funding is a different beast since highways are federal assets and thus the standards are much more uniform.

  • The low price of oil is an OPEC manipulation to increase demand, and it has unfortunately worked.

  • Jim

    No problem. I think the most important thing is to continue to educate the public about the harm of sprawl and how much more financially resilient and productive we will be if we cease to sprawl. It’s amazing to me that the conservative platform sees sprawl as a boon to business. It’s quite the opposite: great cities, walkable cities, financially strong cities, are the best economic generators of all time.

  • Trump to Cities: Drop Dead!

  • Vooch

    the DOE is a slush fund for crony capitalist corruption.

    it’s a waste

    Rather than soviet style central planning, we should be simply eliminating all subsidies especially for fossil fuels & mass motiring.

    renewables can easily beat coal on a level playing field these days.

    BTW, the old coal plants are being phased out rather quickly.

  • AMH

    That’s what I fear.

  • AMH

    Great idea, but people seem to think that cars are practically cleaning the air by now. Guess we have some PR to do.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Andrew Cuomo and Chuck Schumer must resist the urge to collaborate with Donald Trump on infrastructure. Trump photo via Gage Skidmore/Flickr; Schumer photo via NASA/Bill Ingalls/Wikimedia Commons

Do Not Collaborate With Hatred

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Andrew Cuomo and Chuck Schumer must refrain from making any overtures unless and until Trump conclusively renounces, with complete and utter finality, the racist, anti-democratic platform that he campaigned on.