Obama’s Energy Platform Has a (Small) Livable Cities Plank

When Barack Obama gave his big energy speech on Monday, his campaign released an eight-page fact sheet [PDF] to go with it. All the way at the end, at the very bottom of the last page — after the parts about plug-in electric vehicles, oil shale, and clean coal technology — there’s this paragraph:

Build More Livable and Sustainable Communities:
Over the long term, we know that the amount of fuel we will use is directly related to our land use decisions and development patterns. For the last 100 years, our communities have been organized around the principle of cheap gasoline. Barack Obama believes that we must devote substantial resources to repairing our roads and
bridges. He also believes that we must devote significantly more attention to investments that will
make it easier for us to walk, bicycle and access other transportation alternatives. Obama is
committed to reforming the federal transportation funding and leveling employer incentives for driving and public transit.

It’s something, but not exactly a compelling pitch (not to mention that the "roads and bridges" bit reads like a sop to the highway lobby).

On the stump, meanwhile, the candidate continues to make an engaging case for high-speed rail, especially in the midwest. Air travel, apparently, is not much of a sacred cow compared to driving and big lawns. Via Trains for America, here’s an excerpt from a recent speech Obama delivered in Ohio:

"If you think about the Midwest, think about right here, what we’ve got is all kind of towns that we could connect," Obama said. "All of these cities are, they basically take in the air about 45 minutes to an hour to fly."

"But by the time you get to the airport," Obama continued, "take off your shoes, get to the terminal, realize that your flight’s been delayed two hours, go pay $10 for a cup of coffee, and a sandwich for another $10, come back, you get on the plane, you’re sitting on the tarmac for another 25 minutes, you finally take off, you’re circling above the city for another half hour, when you land they can’t find your luggage, and then you get to where you’re going — by the time it’s all done it’s a five-hour trip! …So the time is right now for us to start thinking about high-speed rail as an alternative to air transportation, connecting all these cities and think about what a great project that would be in terms of rebuilding America."

  • Larry Littlefield

    Well, it stinks. Involves the government raising taxes and going deeper into debt to hand out tax breaks and subsidize, picking winners (based on what).

    I continue to say a tax is required to keep the price of fossil fuel high (a tax that goes up as oil prices drop), so that people and businesses can make decisions with certainty that a temporary decline in fossil fuels prices will not make those decisions foolish. And then let people sort this out themselves.

  • High speed trains are where it’s at for inter-city mobility! I think of them as access-oriented mobility because of how well they connect walking/biking/transit transportation at each end of the trip.

    To show how much they add to mobility, check out this video I shot last summer on a high speed train from Brussels to Cologne. The 2 hour trip opened my eyes.

    Notice the freight trucks on the open freeway moving unhindered by congestion. Notice how the people in the cars are getting left in the dust by the hundreds of people on the train. Amazing. Faster than flying when you consider everything that happens door to door.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/gregraisman/2493828004/in/set-72157605072045590/

  • Wow, I really like that speech excerpt about air travel. Points out all the waste involved, such as time, and also fuel–burned, and then spewed into the air as poison while you’re circling over your destination airport. Multiplied by however many hundres of times each day. Yeah, we obviously do need an alternative to that ridiculous habit.

  • I’ve been annoyed at Obama since he tends to scapegoat “big oil” as the cause of high gas prices– but when he talks about these kinds of ideas it starts to seem like he’s also thinking long-rage. It would be nice to have a president who at least acknowledges that cites can help with the energy crisis and one who views vibrant healthy cities as a worthy goal. (Rather than starving them and walling them off.)

  • Obama has to walk a fine line. So much of the country only knows the “drive everywhere” mentality and has very negative views of living in a city. Proposing changing where people live and how they live can be seen as invading on their personal freedoms. Once many of these people actually experience communities where they have transportation choices, they can be won over, but until then they are very skeptical and afraid of such a “drastic” change. He needs to appeal to all Americans as much as possible, and unfortunately I think that means talking the land use talk, but not necessarily putting it at the forefront of his campaign.

  • rex

    Too much emphasis is given to high speed rail. Plain old rail works too. We need to repair our tracks, build new ones, and separate passenger rail from freight rail. Especially out West. I would focus on connecting cities where you can function without a car: Portland, Seattle, and San Francisco come to mind.

    A dollar (or two?) a gallon gasoline tax would be the ideal way to pay for it.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    I think this stuff is just appealing to the techno-geek in every American so that they will not look to closely at the gas-tax political economy. So far he has made the right moves to get himself elected and I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on not addressing the real issues. I think the drill everywhere that there isn’t a nuclear power plant mentality brings a lot of votes with it unfortunately. Obama pretty much finished off Clinton after the NASCAR primary when the paltry 0.18/per gal fed levy was on the table. That was good at the preaching to the choir part of the test. The general election will be tough and we are desperate electorate. There is so much stupidity from so many different directions on the energy policy debate it makes you cringe but it is what it is.

    In the end one thing that compels increasing the fuel tax is that the deficits are astronomical and there is not a single other industry to tax. Oil is the only thing making money, with the possible exception of the insurance companies. You won’t be able to tax airlines, auto manufacturers or newspapers, they are all broke.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Proposing changing where people live and how they live can be seen as invading on their personal freedoms.”

    And that’s exactly what the government should not do, by fiat.

    But what the next President should say is that the United States was on the road to solving its energy problems in the early 1980s, with conservation and new technology, but as soon as OPEC cut oil prices the stopped, and now we are back over a barrel. This time, we’ll keep the price high enough so people will go on making the changes they need to make, as they have already started to.

  • The ironic thing is that the “livable streets” platform really is one of MORE freedom, not less. The fact is that for the majority of Americans, they HAVE to drive to get where they are going, because our built environment has been all about cars for way too long.

    Obama could easily frame it is “Wouldn’t you LIKE to be able to walk, bike, or take transit to where you want to go?” “Wouldn’t you LIKE to not have to use your car all the time?” Aren’t more choices a good thing? Don’t Americans like choices and freedom?

  • JK

    Hard to see any of these platforms as meaningful. GW Bush ran as the education and non-interventionist president. He made fun of Gore for nation building with 20,000 US peacekeeping troops in Bosnia. (Yeah, those were the days.) Obama is neck deep in ethanol/corn subsidies of highly dubious environmental value, but useful politically. He’s not going to call for a carbon tax and repudiation of ethanol/corn subsidies or anything else substantive. In any event he’s not the president and doesn’t control congress. (Reminder Democratic presidents don’t control Democratic congresses.)This is good fodder to keep the fingers exercised in the comment section of Sblog.

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