Project Connect: Road warriors ready their rhetoric

Light rail in Budapest.

When I get back to town at the end of the month, I plan to start updating the blog several times a day. But right now I’m traveling around Central Europe and so I’m going to limit myself to a few blog posts over the next week. 

Anyway, I see that Jim Skaggs, Austin’s longtime anti-transit activist, isn’t a fan of Project Connect. His argument, predictably, isn’t focused on the particulars of Cap Metro’s vision, but the very notion of dedicating public right-of-way to public transportation.

I would highly recommend that transit advocates read Skaggs to get a sense of the arguments that will invariably be marshaled against the Project Connect bond and/or other public transportation investments in the coming years. While those familiar with urban transportation policy have a hard time taking his points seriously, the general population, including many Austin liberals, will likely find them convincing if they aren’t effectively countered. Here are the two main points.

  1. People don’t want public transit

“…perhaps the greatest cause of transit ridership decline is increasing car ownership. This is clearly the preferred transportation mode by the vast majority of travelers…”

Skaggs argues that the increase in car ownership necessarily means that preference for cars has increased. In fact, a comprehensive look at all relevant data shows that the increase is driven not by preference but by necessity.

For instance, a survey conducted last year by the National Association of Realtors, hardly a radical transit advocacy lobby, found that an increasing proportion of Americans prioritize living in walkable communities and having access to public transit. In fact, public opinion was largely split, with younger people more inclined to entertain smaller yards and attached housing in exchange for walkable communities, public transit and shorter commutes. The problem is that public investment in most cities does not reflect that split … the half of the population that wants transit gets a pittance of the investment.

Skaggs should know. He lives in Austin. Single family zoning and a growing population has led to sprawl, pushing more people into the burbs, which public transit agencies struggle to effectively serve. Plus, politicians backed by the likes of Skaggs have made sure to keep public transit as shitty as possible, making cars the only option available. Skaggs is attributing a choice to people that they don’t have.

In cities that have made the necessary investments and given people options, people are choosing transit! Driving to work has plummeted in Seattle. Transit ridership is way up in Minneapolis.

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Mode share in Seattle.

And those are just the recent successes … what about the legacy transit havens? New York? Chicago? Vancouver? Montreal? Toronto? The entire rest of the world? But that’s not a fair comparison! Driving in New York sucks! Yep, kind of like taking public transit in Austin. We could have good transit in Austin and people would take it. We just haven’t offered it yet.

2. Better quality of life

“…it provides greater quality-of-life with convenient, versatile, time saving transportation to go where you want to go, when you wish to go…”

A car provides a higher quality of life to shitty public transit. It definitely doesn’t provide a higher quality of life to good public transit. Instead it offers a dramatic increase in the likelihood of debilitating injury or death, extraordinary expense, and last but not least, the soul-crushing experience of sitting in traffic with nothing to (safely) do except stare at the bumper in front of you. Wouldn’t people rather read a book or, more likely, stare at their smartphones? That’s probably what the increasing number of teens forgoing drivers licenses would prefer.

2 thoughts on “Project Connect: Road warriors ready their rhetoric

  1. Another huge benefit of public transit, walking, or biking, or even ridesharing, is that you don’t have to park. And it makes it more likely that a family with two cars could get by with one, saving thousands of dollars a year.

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