Sunday, June 8, 2008

Media Framing on LRT Expansion

In the last two days the media narrative in two cities on light rail expansion hit me as odd. Immediately the framing from the title hit against the rail line, without going into the basics of the story or being somewhat neutral.

In Phoenix it was the light rail "displacing" homeowners, as if there was a train booting out the owners with its foot, pantograph. We later find out at the bottom of the article that the homeowner didn't really have to leave and that about 15 feet was being taken from the property, more than likely not where the line was going to be running. That and he asked that the transit authority buy the whole property, which they did. It seems to me that leaving out those points until the end of the article is a bit misleading.

A buyer told Goodrich that he would buy the house if it were rezoned as commercial property. Goodrich approached the city to change the status and found out it was interested in buying 15 feet of the front yard that faced 19th Avenue. Goodrich petitioned the city, asking they buy the entire property. They agreed and bought the house.

Then there's a story in the Rocky Mountain News in Denver where the Light Rail Line again by itself is "forcing" the business to close. Reading down further in the article, the local transit agency is just saying that the property owner won't be able to use the RTD ROW that it has owned and kindly allowed the business owner to use as a crossing.

But an RTD spokeswoman Sunday said Crespin's business is caught up in an unfortunate crisis of access. RTD has allowed access to the property over its right-of-way for years. But now the agency needs the route for light rail.

"RTD for many years has kept that offer going, and we've allowed them to cross the tracks, which are our property, to have access to the (business)," said RTD spokeswoman Pauletta Tonilas. "Last July we sent them a notification letter letting them know they were going to have to cease doing that."

This is the kind of narrative we've had to go through for a long time, the idea that the new transit lines are the problem. No one (well no one in the news) discusses the insane displacement that occurred during the construction of the interstate highway system. Putting it into perspective, during the time of Moses, half a million people were displaced by the New York freeway system construction.

I wish CNU had put together a youtube video of that speech Robert Caro gave at the Congress in Austin about his book about Robert Moses, The Power Broker. It was very moving and showed the pain and suffering that went into building the interstate highway system.

But back to the above. If we're going to change the idea that transit is second class, there needs to be a framing and narrative change. I'm not quite sure how to go about it, but I thought I would at least start by pointing it out.


Anonymous said...

It's so depressing to think of Robert Moses. I wonder what would have happened if he had spent all that energy and skill on promoting transit instead of roads. What would America look like? What would our great cities look like? I think it would even have had a positive effect on race relations and national cohesion. He was after all a racist who deliberately sought to isolate the ethnicities he found undesirable.

kenf said...

You forgot about all the businesses that Moses closed without compensation to their owners.

To this day I cannot figure out how Moses lived as long as he did, and died a natural death.

arcady said...

It's not a highway versus rail thing, it's a then versus now thing. If anything, it's the devastation brought by highway construction over the past decades that has made people wary of eminent domain in general. It's just as hard to build a major highway in a populated area, which is why that's not done very much anymore. Unfortunately, the bad reputation of highways has hurt alternatives to them as well.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

I agree arcady. I think people have somewhat of a flashback to those issues of that time, no matter what kind of project it is.

Built Environment said...

Is this the video you're looking for?

Caro comes on at 12:30.

-Laurence Aurbach

Jon Davis said...

CNU does have video of Robert Caro's speech from CNU XVI. We posted it in the CNU XVI Presentations Archive.

And great point about media framing. As a former newspaper reporter, I know that most reporters will approach stories like this with little to no understanding of transit or land use. Education is the key: You stand a much better chance of getting your point heard if you present your facts clearly and succinctly.