Why Aren’t Urban Pols Talking About Transit?

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

  • i agree its sad and illogical that politicians are not talking about new, non-automobile transportation policy, but i also know I’ve read that Chuck Schumer is a big advocate pushing for the Moynihan station to get realistic funding and for the 7th avenue extension to add a stop at 41st street rather than just the one on the MTA’s plans for now. I don’t always agree with Chuck, but at least in some regards, he is pushing for mass transit infrastructure.

  • Mark Walker

    Excellent post, but it omits one major factor — the fantasies surrounding electric and hydrogen cars. As long as people think they can continue car culture with a different technology, they won’t explore the alternatives, even if their survival is at stake.

  • Paco, I don’t consider the Moynihan Station (“West”) to be mass transit infrastructure. The improvements in travel would be tiny compared with the expense.


  • uSkyscraper

    This is very easy to explain.

    You can’t easily have a conversation with constituents about something that doesn’t exist, and no politician will talk about creating something that takes longer to design, approve and construct than any political term lasts.

    Because transit options are so poor for most Americans, even in many urban areas, there is little for them to switch to. And blanketing the country with rail lines, or even more frequent and efficient bus lines, is something that takes years and years so there is no interest.

    Therefore, there is nothing to talk about from a political view when it comes to transit. Endless discussions about gas taxes, gas supplies, fuel efficiency are all much more “real” to voters.

  • rhubarbpie

    I agree with Cap’n Transit. The 7 line extension and the Moynihan station are both low in priority, compared to other mass transit needs. Unlike Sen. Moynihan himself, who pushed for new federal formula that increased mass transit dollars and for a heavily increased pre-tax write-offs for transit, Sen. Schumer is mostly just making sure he has something to blab about at his next Sunday news conference.

  • Politicians know that buzzwords like “alternative energy”, “solar”, “wind”, “renewable fuel”, “energy independence”, “big oil”, etc… are playing well right to the masses.

    Plus, no politician wants to tell Joe Sixpack that he’s gonna have to live closer to a mass transit station and ditch the SUV if he wants to get by. It’s much easier to tell him, “Don’t worry, I’m gonna go after Big Oil and get serious about developing alternatives to oil”. Those “solutions” don’t require any sacrifices or departures from the suburban way of life.

    It’s a sad state of affairs right now. Hopefully everyone will take some time to get educated on real solutions rather than solutions that only make good political buzzwords.

  • I live have lived in Florida for over 20 years, and public transportation is the worse. I am sure the planning dept in Florida must have known for years the problem with either taffic congestion, or gas issues, but were extremely slow in doing anything about it. If gas continues to go the way people are predicting, than I don’t know what Florida will do.



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