Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Conspiracy of Anti-Mobility Activists

The Progressive Policy Institute's VP Rob Atkinson was among the speakers at last week's Virginia Transportation Conference and got in some good shots during the Thursday morning session. In an essay titled 'The Politics of Gridlock,' Atkinson blames "anti-mobility activists" for adopting a stop-everything strategy:
'Their agenda is not to solve the very real problems that come from suburbanization and the automobile. They would prefer to roll back the clock and get people out of the suburbs and their cars by making it more difficult and expensive to drive. Their attitude can be summed up as follows: 'How else are we going to get people out of their cars and into buses and onto bicycles if we don't make their commute as unpleasant as possible?"'
This coalition includes environmentalists, urban planners, anti-poverty activists, Naderites activists, transit supporters and some big-city politicians, Atkinson says. He also noted the "auto-suburban status quo defenders (developers, many chambers of commerce, automobile associations, and highway builders)who work to continue old patterns."

What's needed today, he says, is a 'Third Way' that 'seeks to preserve the benefits of mobility while addressing its problems.' Which requires these steps:

-Respect the desire of Americans to live where they want to
-Reject today's fashionable defeatism about congestion
-Speed development and deployment of new transportation technologies
-Tackle NIMBYism head on
-Create regional transportation councils
-Reduce public subsidies and rely more on user fees and public-private partnerships
-Restructure the relationship between the federal government and the states


At 9:59 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

I have been accused of being pro-growth and an auto-suburban apologist, but in fact I beleive there are errors being mad on both sides of this debate. Our proclivity for polarization is making the middle ground inaccessible. I would go farther and say that much of the strategy of antimobility activists is really a smoke screen for a desire to preserve open space. This is a valuable and admirable goal in itself, but making bogus claims about this that and the other to further the goal is counterproductive and results in good people being tarred with the intransigent brush.

When we hear phrases like "congestion is our friend" and "people still think they have the right to live and work where they want" you have to wonder what these people are thinking. then you look at some of the subdivisions we build and think "No wonder people are upset." However, what we see built is a direct result of the laws we have made: only big developers can play, and only according to layout rules that were put there for reasons that became apparent when people built stuff willy nilly: slowly developing drainage issues or water availability, for example.

We can't expect to control what people do with their property without compensation on one hand and then turn around and complain when they do something with their property that ostensibly costs us money (or something else) without compensation. There has to be a third way.

I mostly support the steps that Atkinson proposes to create this third way: clearly we can't force people to live where they don't wish to.

A certain amount of defeatism on congestion is probably necessary and realistic: congestion is not new, has never gone away, and probably never will. The structures we have in place that cause congestion won't change for a very long time. As long as everyone wants to go to the same place at the same time congestion will result, whether it is a ball game or a collection of federal work sites. We have a limited ability to spread people out in time, a limited ability to cram more people on transit, and a limited ability to put roads in places that are already crowded. The only remaining option is to put more places in more places: spread out in space, or put up with crowding.

New transportation technologies, or even more widespread adoption of technologies we already have can reduce pollution, save resources, speed response to intermittant traffic problems, and increase both density and speed of service for public transport, but they cannot resolve the fundamental issue of congestion: too many people in one place.

We need to recognize NIMBYism as controlling someone else at no cost to ourselves. It is just as wrong as developing willy nilly without regard to the expenses we cause others.

Regional transportation councils can't do anything without money. The last thing we need is another layer of bureaucracy.

Locaton specific user fees are a mechanism to avoid congestion by spreading people out. Public private parnerships are another form of regional council, and more bureaucracy.

The feds are unlikely to solve local congestion problems except for the major national botlenecks.

At 7:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Uh, Bob -- he was talking about the people who pay for this blog. Hello. Look in the mirror, guys.


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