Streetsies 2019: Meet This Year’s Transportation Villains

And here are the most loathsome people stymieing our mobility in the past year.

Here's to the villains...
Here's to the villains...

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The rest of the 21st century will be a multimodal future where people rely on vast networks of rail systems, subways, electric buses, ferries, and micromobility devices that will wean us off our century-long addiction to cars.

Unfortunately many of the decision-makers and innovators in public life are still stuck in the 20th or even 19th century when it comes to our transportation. These figures must be convinced of a better future and called out when their vehicle-friendly, emissions-spewing  habits threaten us all.

Some of them may even be redeemable as soon as next year. Here are the nominees for our annual David Koch Transportation Villain of the Year:

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan

It remains strange that Larry Hogan received so much buzz as a Republican presidential contender while he has meticulously dismantled Maryland’s transit future. First Hogan advanced his $9-billion plan to widen I-270, I-495, and MD 295, which his administration disingenuously justified by claiming that wider highways would lower emissions since cars wouldn’t be stuck in traffic. It’s almost as if Hogan has never heard of induced demand.

Unfortunately that’s not all. Hogan has strangled funding for transit like a car-loving cobra, proposing a $345-million cut for the state Department of Transportation which is already facing a $2-billion shortfall over the next decade. Then he slashed the Corridor Cities Transitway, a suburban bus rapid transit line, four years after his racially discriminatory decision to kill Baltimore’s Red Line. It’s not like anyone would ever want to move to Maryland and get to their jobs in Washington D.C. or Baltimore without a car.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker

Like Hogan, Baker is another nominally popular Republican governor in a deep blue state. But we’re wondering if Massachusetts residents continue to feel confident in their top executive after Baker demonstrated no ability to understand the Boston region’s rapidly degrading traffic problems and no vision of a car-free future.

A Boston Globe Spotlight series dedicated to the congestion crisis showed that state leaders were out of touch with transit, private employers incentivize driving, and that congestion pricing could alleviate some of the gridlock. Baker dismissed solutions when he misrepresented London’s success in a flawed study his administration released, and claimed charging drivers more during rush hour traffic was “unfair” to commuters without giving any thought to the transit riders who suffered through another fare hike this summer. Not that he takes commuter rail or the T because then he’d be a “virtue signaler.”

Next time you’re stuck in an hours-long traffic jam on the Mass Pike, think of Charlie Baker. He’s the face of gridlock.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo 

Andrew Cuomo started the year as a transit hero, resurrecting a key subway line after the Metropolitan Transportation Authority proposed shutting it down for 18 months for repair work. And Cuomo twisted the right arms to add a Manhattan congestion pricing plan to the state budget in March.

But Cuomo’s sharp-elbowed management of the MTA drove city subways chief Andy Byford to pull a George Costanza and resign in October, only to change his mind.

His stubborn insistence that building a wider new Tappan Zee Bridge would reduce traffic has been proven wrong. His reactionary plan to hire and deploy 500 new cops in city subways costs more than what the MTA would save from fighting fare evasion and has drawn protests after officers arrested a woman selling churros in a Brooklyn station.

The final inequitable indignity occurred just this week when Cuomo vetoed a broadly popular bill legalizing electric bikes and scooters because of his obsession with helmets. Cuomo’s self-inflicted moves have infuriated progressives, criminal justice, and immigration advocates, setting up tense and totally unnecessary clashes in Albany next year. And there’s only one FDR muscle car to go around up there.

Tim Eyman, Seattle anti-tax activist

Tim Eyman is a special talent. The anti-tax zealot has campaigned for years to lower a tax that Washington State levies on motorists in order to fund the expansion and maintenance of rail and bus networks as well as roads and bridges throughout the state. The “car tab” varies based on the weight and model of their vehicles, but Eyman petitioned to charge drivers a flat $30 and got the initiative onto the ballot in November.

If you’ve read this far you can probably guess how it turned out.

A majority King County voters, who rely on transit, rejected the measure, but the rest of the state thought, “Cool, I can save some money” so the referendum passed. This horror show — if it survives a court challenge— could deprive the state of $4 billion in transit revenue and it has already spooked Sound Transit which is asking the legislature to reduce car tabs independently.

Eyman is using his newfound fame to do — what else? — run for governor next year as an independent. Then he can have a shot at making this list for a second year in a row.

Elon Musk, Tesla founder and CEO

You’d think the Silicon Valley wunderkind would have learned from his Twitter rants against Thai cave-diving rescuers and stock price inflation last year to focus on building safer, cleaner modes of travel and maybe stop working his employees past the point of physical injury. But no.

Musk entered the year a laughingstock after his ambitious Los Angeles tunnel project was drastically scaled back and left the year a laughingstock when he unveiled his creepy truck whose windows couldn’t withstand a couple of billiards balls.

In between, a judge ruled in September that Musk broke labor laws several times when he threatened company workers and sabotaged their efforts to unionize. And Tesla’s failure to fix its autopilot program has resulted in several fatal crashes and wrongful death lawsuits. At least he’s stopped tweeting about Tesla’s stock pri… ah damnit.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO and President

There are many reasons why the head of the world’s largest Internet company would make a villainy list, but we’ll focus on the most prominent one: America’s love affair with fast overnight shipping has lead to needless pedestrian deaths due to drivers pressured to meet the company’s unreasonable deadlines.

The company’s practice of hiring subcontractors to transport packages to people’s doors has clogged residential streets, spewed emissions from idling, and arguably contributed to a rise in traffic fatalities, all because Americans are too lazy to buy stuff in a local store or too impatient to wait more than a couple days to receive something.

This is really more an indictment on our consumer tastes than on Bezos’s ability to corner the market on brute online shopping efficiency, but he shares the blame for the consequences we see on our streets on a daily basis. Then again, he has committed his company to carbon-neutral delivery in a decades, so …

And the Streetsie goes to…

Tim Eyman. We can’t remember the last time a non-elected official single-handedly did billions of dollars worth of damage to a state’s mobility and economic future. Well maybe the Koch brothers.

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