Saturday, November 22, 2008

In Defence of Background

Two posts on very progressive sites I have come to trust have popped up lately about the High Speed Rail line in California that are very disturbing. First is one by Ben Adler who writes for Campus Progress (and Politico) which is an offshoot of Think Progress, a progressive organization with such valuable insight from writers such as Matt Yglesias who I read and link to often. The second one is from The American Prospect which links to the first article.

The opinion is that the $10 Billion raised for the High Speed Rail line should be spent on local transit instead of intracity transit in part because money was not raised this election cycle for local transit. He mentions that HSR was the only progressive smart growth measure on the ballot in California. What?! I must have made up all of those measures in the California section of my election night post. Dana Goldstein at the Prospect calls it light rail which of course immediately turns me off to anything any article says if it isn't light rail. Apparently everything counts as light rail today to reporters, including people movers, commuter rail, HSR, and now laughably bus rapid transit(ie: light rail like!). But Dana's commentary is based on the same idea that no money was raised for local transit in the election.

What this does to me is shows that they don't get transit at all and aren't really paying attention. That's ok, I understand, it's not everyone's cup of tea. But what annoys me about it is that the lack of research to formulate an opinion that a lot of people read and trust. This makes me less trustful of the blogosphere in general. If people can't get thier facts right or understand a little bit of history (ie: they should be upset that $3 Billion has been funneled away from transit by the state but don't seem to bring up that fact) when they write opinions on something I'm deep into, what is to say that they aren't doing this when its a subject I don't quite understand?

I know that there are places I can trust. I love Grist, and I know they know about the environment and will put a lot of effort into facts. I trust them to get it right. I know Ryan and AC will get economics stuff right. There are also a ton of transit and livable communities blogs out there that I don't know what I would do without too. Here on this site I try as much as possible to back up my opinion with numbers and opinion from other smart people but it really bothers me when two organizations and bloggers write something that a lot of people read with background that is completely wrong and using tactics I come to expect from the Reason Foundation. But I also appreciate when commenters call me out for something dumb I said. We're not all immune to stupidity sometimes.

In addition, a poster gave Robert a hard time on Dana's post since they felt he was getting snotty because someone had a separate opinion than he did. He was rather pointing out what I was saying above about facts. I would usually say ok if they were defending quality work, but getting your facts wrong is not grounds for defending diversity of opinion. Having an opinion is fine with me, but let's get the background straight first.

I'll leave with a good comment from frequent commenter Bruce McFadden about the false spending dichotomy that has been set up in this country and in the initial post by Adler.

It is not unreasonable to ask the question of spending priority, but it is always unreasonable to ask the questions in terms of setting priorities between different transport modes that happen to use the same technology.

That is, the following system makes no sense at all:
1. $X set aside for rail. Allocate between light rail, mass transit, regional passenger rail, and freight rail.
2. $Y set aside for roads. Allocate between city streets, industrial parks, state highways, federal highways, freeways.

And in perpetuating that process of proposing to establish a priority rankings within pools based on technology instead of based on transport task, that is precisely what Ben Adler is supporting.

When divided up by transport task, the money required for the HSR line is substantially less than the money required for the available alternatives ... road and air.


Anonymous said...

I went into near-shock at your reference to Dana Gabbard. Then I clicked the link and it was someone named Dana Goldstein. I know Dana Gabbard. He is much better informed than Ms. Goldstein and I doubt very much that he shares her opinions.

Ben Ross

Anonymous said...

OT, you'll be interested to know that today we completed four days of very successful public hearings on the Purple Line. I will try to send links when good ones are available.


Pantograph Trolleypole said...

Oops, thanks Ben. I mistyped.

Anonymous said...

Okay, here's a link (read the comment):

Ben Ross said...

Good two-part blog report on the last hearing: