Why Aren’t Urban Pols Talking About Transit?

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New light rail in Denver, Colorado

With no end in sight to rising fuel costs, D.C. economics writer Ryan Avent, via Grist, offers a sharp analysis of America’s resistance to a nationwide conversation about transit, even as ridership is on the rise. Not surprisingly, some 60 years of learned auto dependence, enabled by suburban sprawl and the dismantling of public transportation systems across the country, make it a tough sell, Avent writes. And it doesn’t help that politicians who represent large urban populations, like Chuck Schumer, are too busy assailing Big Oil to make the case for transit as a proven solution to what is looking more and more like a burgeoning national crisis.

As Matthew Yglesias, associate editor at the Atlantic Monthly
and a frequent commenter on transit and politics, told me in an email,
"The biggest obstacle, probably, is that a lot of politicians who
should be on the right side of this aren’t." He cites Sen. Chuck
Schumer (D-N.Y.), who "ought to be leading the charge in the Senate,
but instead he’s big on opportunistic attacks on the Bush
administration for gasoline being too expensive," and Rep. Rahm Emanuel
(D-Ill.), who "represents Chicago but doesn’t show much leadership on
this." As Yglesias puts it, "A lot of politicians from smaller cities
or suburbs must be looking at guys like that and saying, ‘If they don’t want to take this on, then I’d really better stay away.’"

Photo: parkerkhoyt / Flickr

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