Letters to David Brooks: Yes to Infrastructure, No to Highways

d_brooks.jpgOn Friday, Times columnist David Brooks joined the chorus calling for more transportation investment, which came as something of a surprise given his conservative pedigree. But Brooks has always had a soft spot for the exurbs, and his proposed "National Mobility Project" was predictably premised on the idea that transportation projects should accommodate sprawl:

Workplaces have decentralized. Commuting patterns are no longer radial,
from suburban residences to central cities. Now they are complex weaves
across broad megaregions. Yet the infrastructure system hasn’t adapted.

The Times published five letters in response, including this one from Transportation for America‘s David Goldberg:

David Brooks is spot-on with his call for major investment in
transportation infrastructure, both for near-term economic stimulus and
for a sustainable recovery. His recommendations of what to build are
outdated, however.

As he notes, a way to put people to work would
be to repair and maintain our existing highways, bridges and transit
systems. But building new highways was the project for an earlier era,
the 1950s, when gas was cheap and President Dwight D. Eisenhower
created the Interstate System.

Today we urgently need to build
the infrastructure for a clean-energy economy and reduced dependency on
oil. Soaring gas prices made our vulnerability clear: Americans flocked
to public transportation or took to their bicycles only to find the
transit systems underfinanced and the roads dangerous and inhospitable.
Half of our urban-dwelling citizens found they had no transit at all.

If
we’re going to go into debt to build for the future, we must do so to
complete our transportation network with high-speed rail, modern public
transit, streets that support safe biking and walking, and, yes,
well-maintained highways.

Dave Alpert at Greater Greater Washington picked up the exchange, noting how cities such as Charleston, South Carolina are already moving beyond the default presumption that transportation investment equals road-building.

And BikePortland’s Jonathan Maus, recalling an earlier Brooks column that dismissed cycling as transportation, offered this take on transportation spending priorities:

Should we invest billions into highway projects that cater to "mobility" of single-occupancy vehicles (like we did in the 1950s) and
throw scraps to everything else (like we do now)? Or, will we look to
create world-class biking cities where possible (because bikes offer
the best return on transportation investment of any mode) and then
invest in things like passenger rail, streetcars and bus-rapid transit?

  • I agree that our infrastructure needs upgrading, but I don’t want to send my money to Washington to pay that bill. When the federal government takes our money for any reason, that not only hurts the private economy, it starves the city and state governments where the real infrastructure work – water resources, streets, highways, lighting, sewage systems, etc – is funded. The federal government is suffocating us. Please don’t encourage them to take more.

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