Monday, December 8, 2008

Lacking a Transit Power Broker

According to Robert Caro, who wrote the epic book about Robert Moses, New York has no lack of people that can throw their weight behind transit. It's just that no one seems to feel it's worth throwing weight behind.
‘Is there power?’ ”Yes, there is, said Robert A. Caro, who called his epic biography of Robert Moses “The Power Broker.” Mr. Ravitch’s challenge, he said, was to persuade gutsy public officials to exercise power on behalf of an agenda that Moses, who championed highways over mass transit, rejected.

“It’s not a lack of power,” Mr. Caro said in an interview. “It’s a lack of vision — of a vast metropolitan area as a single whole and what is necessary to tie that area together in a way that makes every segment of the population one. There are public officials with plenty of power. That power is just never thrown behind mass transit in the way it should be.”
This is a common theme in many cities. The lack of political will for transit. But many cities aren't New York with such a high transit constituency and many in the growth machine that is any city government don't see or don't want to see that it would actually benefit them to grow inward with transit instead of outward with roads. It's been too easy to keep going the way they know, rather than the way they should go.


Cap'n Transit said...

Back in the days of Bob Moses, most New York power brokers knew someone who took the subway and could identify with them - or needed their support. Now, it seems that the elite has sealed themselves off from transit riders, or at least that the transit riders among their circle are afraid to admit it.

How else to explain the Bizarro World evoked by legislative leaders during the congestion pricing debate, and now again in response to the Ravitch plan?

The powerful live in a fantasyland where the poor commute from wealthy outer-borough neighborhoods to midtown Manhattan in large SUVs, but miraculously manage to avoid spreading pollution and carnage through the neighborhoods in between. Where businesses in the most pedestrian-heavy area in the United States can go under if a small number of customers take the subway to work instead of driving. Where delivery businesses can be bankrupted by paying $8 per day, but seem to have no problem paying their workers to sit in traffic for hours. Where the elderly who can afford to drive to hospitals in Manhattan and spend $50 for parking are to be spared an $8 toll at all costs, but it's okay to charge those who take the subway $10 more or reduce their service to the point where they sit for hours to get on a crowded train.

If your politicians are more out of touch than ours, god help you.

Alon Levy said...

I'd be a little careful about exercising power. Moses's failures weren't just about his support for cars. The very idea of authoritarian management destroys organic communities, setting itself up for disaster. Jaime Lerner, who ruled Curitiba as an autocrat in order to get his new urbanism programs and state of the art BRT, wasn't much better.

rhywun said...

Where businesses in the most pedestrian-heavy area in the United States can go under if a small number of customers take the subway to work instead of driving.

Politicians believe this nonsense because businesses *do* loudly complain at the tiniest loss of parking, even in Manhattan, and they are better at getting the ear of politician than the amorphous masses who would benefit from whatever change is under debate.

Dave Reid said...

This exactly describes Milwaukee. No leader who is really ready to stand up and be the champion for transit.... It is a shame...