Tuesday, February 3, 2009

When Do We Get to Win?

When we win we still lose. Seems like that is the theme over in the Senate. And as an added bonus, the Senate has turned into the State of California, where the minority seems to win somehow. How come the minority didn't win all the time when the Democrats were in power? This is infuriating.

Then you have people who are supposed to be allies voting against the bill. Landrieu of all people should know better after Katrina knocked out the New Orleans Streetcar system for months on end and put an abrupt stop to expansion of the Desire Line, for which funding had almost materialized before the storm.

And when President Obama "pledged to launch the biggest public works program since the construction of the interstate highway system in the 1950s" we didn't think you meant a whole new highway system. People want Infrastructure and not just roads. Republican pollsters even say they do. Rails, energy facilities, water treatment etc etc.

How about investing in operating transit? It has been conspicuously left out and as Brad Plummer mentions over at the Vine, Obama's team when asked why the infrastructure funding is so paltry, responds that they don't think we can spend it fast enough. I think its more something along the lines of this...
You can go ahead and tell yourself that this is just theory - just a single example. But that's willful ignorance, as the Hindrey scalping is only one chapter in what has been one long narrative arc whereby economic progressives have been deliberately shut out of top administration jobs. Just step back and think about it for a minute: Amid a stable of eminently qualified and well-respected progressives like James Galbraith, Joseph Stiglitz, Dean Baker, Robert Reich, Paul Krugman and Larry Mishel, Obama has chosen Rubin sycophants like Larry Summers and Tim Geithner to run the economy - the same Larry Summers who pushed the repeal of the Glass-Steagal Act, the same Geithner who masterminded the kleptocratic bank bailout, the same duo whose claim to fame is their personal connections to Rubin, a disgraced Citigroup executive at the center of the current meltdown. And the list of Rubin sycophants keeps getting longer, from Peter Orszag to Jason Furman.
You can only have a circus when the clowns are in the building. And that includes the bearded ladies that think that the census is pork. But the bigger story here is that Obama's people only believe in pushing paper around instead of dirt.

But this all got me thinking, what would get people to pay attention? What would get people to start thinking about how important transit is in the major metropolitan areas and how a stimulus would work? How about we just pull an Ottawa and shut it all down. Imagine the signal that would send. Just stop running the buses and trains for one random unannounced day and see what happens. When all those Senate aids can't get to work or when bicycles start piling up outside the capital office buildings, perhaps some will take notice. When Denver shut down its system, the region was brought 30 minute delays and hellish parking scenarios downtown. When LA did it, traffic speeds declined 20%. Those are big numbers. Imagine them everywhere. Do you think people would finally notice?

I know i'm getting a bit more militant about this, but if we don't start seeing signs that things are actually going to change this year, it might be time to start trying something different than just voting for change. It's not like we're asking a lot more than is needed in this country. That comes during reauthorization. We're gonna have to change things ourselves. Anyone else getting tired of being not the permanent minority or majority, but permanently screwed?


Justin said...

I do not get it. It's like the Dems have Stockholme syndrome, or something. It's pathetic that the Republicans are acting like they are still in power. Come on Obama! Screw this bi-partisan crap. You do not those Cons. And come on you Dems! Stop being sissies, and stand by your party!

Anonymous said...

Yes I really do not understand. What more will it take? We voted in all these dems to lead us in November and it doesn't seem to be going right. Even after all the emails and phone calls. Check this out too-http://www.stimuluswatch.org/
Not too much for amtrak and transit. Plus even the stuff on there doesn't account for too much.

Anonymous said...

I've often wondered if the issue isn't that the Ds are for transit and Rs are for roads. More that some Ds are Urbansits but not all and so what is really needed is a U party?

Anonymous said...

I share your outrage. We need to remember, though, that we're battling years upon years of "roads first" thinking. We need to work harder to connect the dots between land use, transportation, global warming, vanishing green space, affordable housing, and job access. We, the pro-transit urbanists, are still a minority. This recent poll reminded me that most people still want to live in a small town. http://pewsocialtrends.org/pubs/722/grass-greener-somewhere-else-top-cities

We need more data to make our case. The NYC example is a good one, that population increased but traffic remain flat while biking and transit increased. We need to show developers that people really want to live in TOD's.

I think we're making progress, and the younger generation is much more urbanist in mind set. but there's still a lot of work to do. Talking amongst ourselves is good, but we need to reach out to mainstream outlets.

Francesco said...

I feel utterly betrayed by the democrats. Moreover, I feel like I irrationally got swept up in the Obama delirium. Obviously, what we have is better than before, but seriously what we have here is American politicians acting like---shocking!!!---dumb average Americans. Har har, highways=good, cars=good, trains=bad, transit=bad.

Their lack of will power to do something visionary and sustainable is pathetic. I've called and emailed multiple times over the last 2 weeks, nothing. My senator and representative here in Indiana haven't even responded, despite the fact that upgrading the line to Chicago to HSR has been a big priority for Northern Indiana communities for a long time and would really help the area economically. Totally Pathetic!

I also worked campaigning in CA for the HSR there for 6 months. People on the peninsula are being NIBYS now, big surprise. Just like those Sierra Club kooks (very much like people who live in Marin County--Land Rover limousine liberals) who don't want HSR because it will disrupt wildlife, namely antelope or something like that, but still have no problems filling up the Land Rover to drive to their castle perches in the Rockies spewing tons of CO2 in the air and getting 7 miles per gallon. They all have this in common, they talk the talk but act like republicans as soon as it comes time to walk the walk. At the end of the day they talk about education and turning the lights off in your house and car-pooling... fuck that I want to see engineers drawing up plans and caternary poles.

I'm sick of it all. I almost feel like our vision for America with sustainable transit oriented communities and walkable cities is a pipe dream. I'm afraid our Barack took advantage of our good will.

fpteditors said...

Turn to the wage-earning public. Especially those bus-riding urbanites. Join the movement for free public transit. Note to DMIJohn: U.S. small towns used to have streetcars too, and were on the intercity rail network. On connecting the dots, don't forget oil and pipeline wars.

Anonymous said...

but the thing is most americans do want better and more rail service, and polls back it up. plus just look at the success of transit on election day as further proof.

i'm with you all, i am extremely disappointed at the catering to the republicans and lack of any ambition or serious change.

Justin said...

Francesco, it is THE REPUBLICANS who are blocking this, and threatening Filibuster, and it is Harry Reid, who is capitulating. I am not American, but I keep tabs on American Politics, and Harry Reid is simply a weak house leader. Write(kind) letters to Harry Reid, telling him to stand up to these Republican bufoons. This is nuts.

Anonymous said...

I share the anger, although I am in no way surprised. As to shut it down, consuder three transit strikes of recent memory. In LA it went on for several weeks w/ the Times headlines"who noticed?" as in who rides buses that counts? In NYC it took a day and a half for the courts to enforce the Taylor law and TWU got seriously punished. In the Bay Area, some years further back, BART 'took' a strike for IIRC a couple weeks. Much like LA it was an inconvenience for many, but not enough to galvanize politics. As a corollary, come the next election, the BART unions worked hard to unseat a director unsympathetic to them. They succeeded.

Morgan Wick said...

How about staging a protest? Bring transit advocates from all over the country to DC and hold the latest ripoff of the March on Washington. I doubt a transit shutdown could be easily coordinated, or attract as much attention as you're hoping, but a march would probably make the news.

If you're going to present data to make your case, be sure not to leave out Republicans.

The real problem here is that we're essentially forced to choose between one party or the other, and since the one party won't even pay urbanism lip service, we're essentially reduced to the lesser of two evils. Forming an "urbanist" party is a good way to slink into the wilderness for eternity. Maybe we need widescale change to the very way our government works... far more change than even Obama would dare to even consider...

Robert said...

The country has to be ready for transit. Unfortunately, this stimulus bill was not on the table last summer when gas prices were at historical highs. At this point, most people that have a choice choose to drive. Driving a car just isn't expensive enough right now.

Since we know that there is no political will to raise gas taxes and there is obviously little will to spend money making transit better, there are only a few things left to do to get people on the bus:

-- Get the country to abandon its commitment to protecting the regimes of oil-allies, which would probably push fuel prices higher

-- Eliminate requirements for parking availability

Otherwise, we just have to wait until the global economy starts humming again, which will push oil prices higher than they were last summer.

If you want to know when things are starting to turn toward transit, just talk to your extended family and co-workers, both of which likely are made up primarily of drivers. When they start to get frustrated with the high cost of driving, that's when its time to take this debate to the Capitol.

Right now, for us, it's a waiting game and an advocacy game. Keep the conversation going and get people aware and things will turn when the cost fundamentals are there. Real change will only occur when the the time lost when taking transit matches the dollars saved when taking transit -- that's probably not the case for many right now.

BruceMcF said...

The majority of House members are in "safe" partisan seats. The Republicans are scared of being primaried by their base. The Democrats are not. And therein lies the difference in "party unity".

crzwdjk said...

"At this point, most people that have a choice choose to drive."
I would argue that most people don't really have a choice, not when transit takes three times longer and requires intimate knowledge of the network and a good deal of advance planning. Unfortunately, even if there were more money available, it would still be very difficult to bring transit to the sprawl, so part of the solution necessarily has to involve changing the urban form. Eliminating parking minimums is a step in the right direction, as is increasing density.

Robert said...

I agree with Arcady that changing the way we travel requires the way we live. This effort toward urbanizing cities involves aspects that many ignore.

People balk at living in dense parts of the city because the schools tend to suck. Only when we have good public education systems outside of the suburbs will wealthy people move into the city and patronize transit systems enough to create an audience to whom the transit lobby can direct toward their congressional reps to scream for funding.

Of course, only when wealthy people move into the city will schools come and wealthy people will only move into the city when gas gets to be expensive enough to force the issue.

Or we can fund inner-city public schools right now to draw people to the city.

njh said...

It's a symptom of the decline of an empire.

Anonymous said...

"And that includes the bearded ladies that think that the census is pork."

Not be pedantic, but it should be "bearded ladies WHO" etc.

Zen said...

Is part of the problem a vicious cycle though? It seems that the cost of transit projects keeps ballooning along with their timetables. The anti-transit crowd seems somewhat effective using at least the appearance of these issues in the public discourse to advance their ideology.

Do these projects cost too much, and are they taking too long to build? On top of that, chicken or egg...how much of that is the cause of not getting the money and how much is an effect of it?

Alon Levy said...

Robert, funding inner-city schools is way more controversial than funding inner-city transit. Even Frank Luntz supports the latter; even Democrats don't want to touch the former.

Rollie Fingers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rollie Fingers said...

Do you accept tips via e-mail?

Robert said...

New York Times reports that $850 million for Amtrak may be on the chopping block in the Senate. However, the Senate did vote yea on a provision allowing deduction of sales taxes and finance charges for cars purchased this year, which will probably stimulate people right into buying Mazdas, Toyotas, and Hondas.


Anonymous said...

Make employee parking a taxable benefit!
Make transit passes a non-taxable benefit!
That would be a start. And only a start.

Anonymous said...

I think it is just time to form a new political party. When the major ones are playing around and cannot get along, it's time to shake up the game and have some people who are willing to put there reputations and balls on the line for what is right. The Democrats have no balls at all and letting Republicans rule the house. This is weak leadership just for political gain incase the stimulus goes bad. Honestly, can we just get the shovel ready projects funded in this stimulus and see what happens down the road instead of more and more tax breaks? Most of us can agree with shovel ready infrastructure while taxes are still being debated. We need to take time to figure that part of it out. Otherwise, projects for infrastructure are a definite bi-partisan matter.

Alon Levy said...

which will probably stimulate people right into buying Mazdas, Toyotas, and Hondas.

That's not really a problem. Would you rather people drive gas-guzzling monsters made by overpaid people in Detroit, or relatively fuel-efficient cars made by reasonably paid people in Birmingham, Alabama?

Anonymous said...

Hey, did anyone notice the Ray LaHood has a blog?

Let's keep it constructive; our case is easy to make...


Anonymous said...

Stockholm Syndrome.

Harry Reid must go.

ChiefJoJo said...

I'm going to be devil's advocate here. This needs to be viewed in the broader context of politics with a new, inexperienced President at the helm and the worst economy in 70 years.

Obama's philosophy has always been that he wants to find common ground, so no one can claim to be hoodwinked here. The economy is rapidly deteriorating, and this bill must be passed quickly, so not much time for strategic visioning about transit and land use. It's more about JOBS than anything else. Obama MUST pass this bill successfully, or he will begin to lose credibility, goodwill & political capital among the people (& we can begin to kiss our long term agendas goodbye). Given that and the fact that the Dems do not have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, the power lies with moderate Ds & Rs, which means some compromises must take place.

What I'm arguing is for people to take the longer view that a loss for Obama here is *much* worse long term than the passage of a bill with some strategic shortcomings (even if it means sacrificing transit projects). If it passes, and the economy recovers, he builds more support for a progressive agenda, and we can get on with developing a generational 21st Century transportation/land use/energy STRATEGY for America.

The man has only been President for two weeks. Cut him some slack.

Rollie Fingers said...

Chief JoJo:

You raise some fair points, but if this bill is as weighted as heavily towards roads as it appears it will be, we will be feeling the effects of those roads (and the sprawl they will create) for decades to come.

I'd rather they fund no transpo projects at all than see that happen.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

Man, I'm away for a couple of days and you guys comment like mad. Perhaps I should have less posts more often :) Rollie if you want to send me an email my email is at the bottom of the page. I'll have more on my trip to Utah where I had no internet access soon.

Anonymous said...

Funny. I could have told any Republican or Democrat this could have happened. But just get called a nut. I write about what needs to happen, I get called a nut.

Instead everyone screams about a mythical "change" that is promised and we get exactly what everyone voted for.

The Democrats aren't pro-transit or pro-change, neither are the Republicans. Matter of fact if you look at the largest motivators that have come from the Government, both where actually Republicans. Lincoln and Eisenhower.

Lincoln pushed for the people to do something and they did. The Government made out like bandits for it too - the transcons made the Feds a TON of money. The Interstates increased the amount of Federal power also, removing even more states rights by the simple Interstate Commerce clause etc...

Republican or Democrat, we will NOT get significant change, regain control of our transportation, nor get resolution to the problems caused by an auto based society smacked in the middle of poor zoning that encourages sprawl.

Until a price is put on all this, and the market for these things taken back and put in the hands of individuals, business, and those that use the system - ABSOLUTELY ZERO significant interest will be payed by the general population.

...and to get change, we need the general population to get VASTLY more involved. Either as paying customers for use based charges, public town hall style planning meetings, or something along those two lines.

Right now we are continuing down the road of the same ole same ole.

...as for the comment

"Make employee parking a taxable benefit!
Make transit passes a non-taxable benefit!"

It practically is. Look at the Government Cafeteria plans and such. Parking is barely covered and transit is covered at a MUCH higher rate. Both situations though, encourage use above and beyond the means of the standard individual.

Unknown said...

So did we win?