Why Conservatives (and Everyone) Should Care About Transit

Big thanks this morning to Streetsblog Network member Trains for America, which links to a fascinating essay from the Witherspoon Institute on why social conservatives should support public transit and walkable communities. Here’s a taste of the Witherspoon piece:

3042652252_5174fbe9ed.jpgLooking for real family values? You’ll find them in walkable communities. Photo by renee @ FIMBY via Flickr.

Sadly, American conservatives have come to be associated with support for transportation decisions that promote dependence on automobiles, while American liberals are more likely to be associated with public transportation, city life, and pro-pedestrian policies. This association can be traced to the ’70s, when cities became associated with social dysfunction and suburbs remained bastions of ‘normalcy.’ This dynamic was fueled by headlines mocking ill-conceived transit projects that conservatives loved to point out as examples of wasteful government spending. Of course, just because there is a historic explanation for why Democrats are “pro-transit” and Republicans are “pro-car” does not mean that these associations make any sense. Support for government-subsidized highway projects and contempt for efficient mass transit does not follow from any of the core principles of social conservatism.

A common misperception is that the current American state of auto-dependency is a result of the free market doing its work. In fact, a variety of government interventions ensure that the transportation “market” is skewed towards car-ownership.

As Trains for America’s Pat Lynch says, "Sensible transportation policies are good for families and communities. Who would have thunk it?"

More from the network: The Overhead Wire reports on how states are still lobbying for disproportionate spending on highways, Kaid Benfield on NRDC Switchboard links to the work of UC Berkeley’s Robert Cervero on transit-oriented development; and the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia reports on the governor of Delaware’s executive order creating a complete streets policy for that state.

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