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Leaders Need to Lead on Transit Funding

10:25 AM EDT on October 27, 2009

Today on Streetsblog Network member Greater Greater Washington, David Alpert asks the multimillion-dollar question: Why do so many politicians always say we have to "do something" about traffic, but not about transit?

Alpert is referring to his recent discussions with elected officials in the D.C. area about how to address the long-term transportation and economic needs of this fast-developing region. What he has found is disheartening, if perhaps not surprising. The politicians can envision spending essentially limitless resources on widening and expanding highways that lead to sprawl, but they can't imagine getting the money together to improve transit and encourage development that allows people to live closer to their work:

431749326_80bd4f8ebe.jpg(Photo: shawnblog via Flickr.)

That's the conventional wisdom among most elected officials: We
"have to do something" to add road capacity, but transit projects are
so difficult as to be nearly laughable. Yet freeway projects are not
cheap. As we saw from ACT's alternative plan
for the I-270 corridor, you can build a lot of transit for the price of
some freeway lanes. It's just that leaders are too accustomed to
viewing road capacity as a necessity and transit as a luxury.

Sure, more people drive today than take transit along those
routes. In fact, virtually nobody takes transit between Tysons Corner
and Bethesda for the simple reason that there isn't any. But
transportation expansion, whether roads or transit, will primarily
serve new commuters, not the existing ones. …The current roads and rails move the
people who move today. The new infrastructure we build will govern the
locations and modes of new commuter growth. If we choose transit, we'll
get new transit riders.…

Leaders in Maryland and Virginia just need to stop saying "we
have to" build more freeways and big office parks at the edge of the
region, and instead encourage infill development and expand our great
transit infrastructure.

More from around the network: Kaid Benfield on NRDC Switchboard today discusses the 20-minute neighborhood -- a place where people live, work and go to school, all within a 20-minute travel distance. Seattle Transit Blog weighs in on the chilling Alaskan Way viaduct earthquake simulation and what it should mean about the future of that city's waterfront. And Fifty Car Pileup finally gets her day in court after a nasty dooring incident.

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