Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Socialist Roads Scholars

I'm a huge fan of Alex Marshall. Sometimes he writes at Streetsblog and others in different magazines and journals. Today he's in Governing Magazine saying what everyone was thinking. The Libertarians and Conservatives who hate transit so much and are all about free markets become socialists when it comes to roads. Government intervention? Only for roads.

Given all this, I find it exceedingly strange that a group of conservative and libertarian-oriented think tanks — groups that argue for less government — have embraced highways and roads as a solution to traffic congestion and a general boon to living. In the same breath, they usually attack mass-transit spending, particularly on trains. They seem to see a highway as an expression of the free market and of American individualism, and a rail line as an example of government meddling and creeping socialism.

Among the most active of these groups is the Reason Foundation, a self-described libertarian nonprofit organization with a $7 million budget that has its own transportation wing. Some typical highway-oriented papers on Reason's Web site include "How to Build Our Way Out of Congestion" and "Private Tollways: How States Can Leverage Federal Highway Funds." Rail transit is taken on in papers with titles such as "Myths of Light Rail Transit," and "Rethinking Transit 'Dollars & Sense': Unearthing the True Cost of Public Transit." I didn't see any papers about unearthing the true cost of our public highway network.

Nope, in their minds, if you toll it, they will come. Don't get me wrong. I think congestion pricing has merits in certain instances, but wholesale tolling of roads is dumb. Depending on a single mode of transport is dumb too. Didn't anyone ever tell them when they were kids that they couldn't eat steak all the time but needed bread, milk, fruits, and vegetables?

H/T The Political Environment


Justin said...

You can blame conservatives, and liberterians for the economic mess we're in. Are these people so blinded by ideology, that they cannot see the damage they have caused?
It's really sad.

arcady said...

Transit is evil, because it gets government subsidies. Roads are good because they get government investment. By the way, there was a study done on the recent decline in house prices that showed a correlation between being close to a train station and retaining house value in New Jersey. I can't help but wonder if the $150 billion economic stimulus tax rebate would have been better spent on building more trains and thus improving housing prices.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

Arcady do you know where that study was? I'd like to see it. I think you're right as to the stimulus. It's dumb just to give people money and say spend it. Why not invest in future infrastructure???

Justin I think you're right about most conservatives but not all. Paul Weyrich has been an ardent transit supporter and the Mayor of Charlotte has been the one that supported that effort there because he knows that in the long run its important to the region. There are some good apples, but many that just don't get it.

BUDDCAR said...

I wouldn't reduce the argument for light rail to a red vs. blue issue. We are all victims to the fact that our streetcars and interurbans were taken away 2 generations ago. I was living in Ft.Worth when DART came into its prime, and never Thought the automobile loving Texans were go embrace it as much as they do now. Build it and they will come, all of the recent light rail upstarts in our country are successful and their riders are red and blue.

arcady said...

I wish I could provide a link to the study, but I don't have it. All I know is that this was posted on streetsblog within the past couple of months.

And transit really isn't a liberal vs. conservative issue, or at least doesn't necessarily have to be. One can make both pro- and anti-transit arguments from both points of view. The conservative pro-transit argument, that it is a more efficient use of government money, is made by Paul Weyrich, and the liberal anti-transit argument is that the purpose of transit is to be a welfare program for those too poor to have a car, which leads logically to a transit system that nobody would use unless they have no other choice.

Loren said...

I've argued a lot online with such socialist-roader libertarians. Some of them have been so belligerent about it that they might almost be called Stalinist roaders. As in the sort of people who get very angry at property owners who are unwilling to collectivize their property to let roads be built on it.

As to liberal and left-wing anti-transit arguments, I've seen that too, like someone claiming that building rail lines favors rich people. How that gentleman got along with the right-libertarians, I don't know. Having a common enemy?

Matt Fisher said...

When I knew that Wendell Cox, Randal O'Toole, et al. fell in the conservative to libertarian range, that was apparently when I would not choose to affiliate with either (especially the latter). Of course, this is as Pan mentioned earlier regarding Paul Weyrich and Pat McCrory.

Loren, my man,
Excellent point. Some leftists happen to sometimes come into place with rightist/libertarian transit bashers (especially for their mega attacks on rail). :)