Lots of Work to Be Done in the New Year

As Inauguration Day gets closer, talk on the Streetsblog Network is turning back to the stimulus bill being pushed by the new administration. On Saturday, President-elect Obama once again talked to the nation about how he wants to pump federal dollars into infrastructure spending. And once again, while he singled out roads and bridges as worthy of investment, the words "transit" and "rail" never passed his lips. Should we be worrying about this? Or are we trying to read too much into these highly stylized YouTube pronouncements?

Network member California High Speed Rail had this to say:

The stimulus won’t ignore transit entirely, and some funding for rail and bus projects will likely be in there. The bigger concern is the politics — if Obama keeps leaving rail out when he describes
fundamental national priorities, it’s going to be that much harder to make the policy changes we embarked upon in 2008 stick. At some point Obama is going to have to use the bully pulpit to help Americans see that rail must become a much more central part of our transportation and economic policy. It would be good if he did that at the outset of his administration.

Instead I am hearing reports that policy change will come later in 2009 when the Transportation Equity Act (TEA)
comes up for reauthorization.

Then CHSR points to an interesting post by Nathan Newman at Talking Points Memo, who cites a New York Times story about how the steel industry is lobbying for transit projects to help it pull out of its slump:

[T]he fight over whether to spend more of the stimulus on highways versus
mass transit may also come down to the interests of those making
asphalt versus steel.

One thing is clear: There’s a lot of advocacy work to be done for sustainable transportation in 2009. If you haven’t already, go over to Transportation for America’s site and sign their petition urging the new administration to make smart choices with the stimulus funding.

Of course, reading the stimulus TEA leaves isn’t the only thing the network is doing. Sustainable Savannah has a terrific piece on the American car addiction, the WashCycle is following a story on police surveillance of bike-lane advocates, and getDowntown reports on how churches in and around Ann Arbor, MI, are asking for better transit.

  • Transit Rider

    The Obama stimulus plan needs to help current transit riders, not just potential future ones. That means federal help for operating budgets and direct subsidies for transit passes for those seeking employment. Call it a “transit benefit.” American transit riders are mainly bus riders, and mainly working class people hard hit by the economy. It’s nice to talk about building premium fast intercity rail, but our big transit agencies and their riders need help now keeping fares affordable. Nationally, we should also be looking much more at expanding the transit network via quick to construct, and cost effective Bus Rapid Transit. The urban transit systems are at their limits. Let’s expand their capacity first.

  • jmc

    I don’t believe that you are being irrational by noting the omissions in the propaganda broadcasts. Transit systems are going bankrupt, but the Great New Leader believes that trying to make gasoline from pond scum (a futile and silly technology) and increasing the bombing of the Khyber pass is a better use of our national treasury than transit systems and the infrastructure of our cities.

  • There are two shocking things about the transportation component of the stimulus — and the windshield bias is only one of them. Here’s the other: Most of the money is for new roads, not for the repair of existing roads and bridges. So we’re building a whole bunch of new roads to nowhere, force-feeding a suburban-sprawl beast that’s already morbidly obese, choking and gagging in its death throes, while the real transit systems of the future starve.

  • Rhywun

    It’s up to the states to submit their wish lists. Which makes the decisions political. Politicians don’t care about mundane repair work–they want to bring home shiny new expressways out to the cornfields where nobody’s building houses anymore since the economy went tits-up.

    Maybe Obama will show some leadership and impose some restrictions on where the money goes, but it’s not looking likely.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Not to put too fine a point on it Rhywun but the issue #1 Transit Rider here brought up is more germane to the immediate crisis, Transit Operating funding. And that is not up to the states, the Feds have refused to hand out Operating aid for a long time now digging us the hole we are presently in. All of these decisions are political, it is really what politics is for, deciding who gets what, when and where. The establishment of authority to allocate values and resources.

    Your reference to leadership is a reference to politics as well. Its not a dirty word.

  • jmc

    It’s really not “politically impossible” for him to shore up city transit systems in the near term, and extend them in the long term. There are plenty of politicians in the legislature who are from cities, and nearly all cities are hurting NOW, so a broad aid program would have plenty of support. The reason he isn’t mentioning it is because he doesn’t care about it, he’d rather continue his style of vague pronouncements and symbolic gestures.

    He’d rather people believe that under his leadership we can transcend the banality of taking transit to work tomorrow and instead teleport to our dreams in the thirty-fourth century.

    He represents machine politics at its worst, and his appointment of an Illinois machine politician to SecTrans doesn’t bode well.

  • Rhywun

    By “politics” I mean decisions will be based on horse-trading and NIMBYism rather than well-known formulas that establish need. In other words, business as usual.

  • gecko

    Comprehensive legislation for cyclist accessibility in government buildings like the post office and public spaces to include secure parking similar in scope to that for the handicapped would be a symbolic start.


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