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Evidence of Change - Public Transportation

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Headlined to None 3/14/09

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No matter how many Republicans bang tables, there are clear indications of change in Washington and they were on full display in the Senate Banking Committee hearing yesterday

Chairman Sen. Dodd provided the first evidence by saying that the transportation, housing and energy departments should share information and coordinate efforts because they presently stovepipe efforts in what are really overlapping and interdependent areas.

Activists have long championed this wisdom but when was the last time you heard a Senate Committee Chairman say it?  We are closer to rational national planning than we have been in 50 years. The auto industry is no position to push people around.  Even Republicans say we need to get off foreign oil and Democrats have gotten over their fear of talking about climate change.

These are truly different times.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood provided the next evidence when he called for Congress to end the highway bias in transportation funding.  Applying for highway funds is very streamlined and efficient but when a city or state seeks public transportation funding they face a daunting bureaucratic process that can take months, years and even decades to complete.

For example, Minneapolis/St. Paul began building its very successful light rail system in the early '70s.  A quick 32 years later, it was complete.

The last big piece of evidence was when Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper spoke persuasively about public transportation as an engine of economic development.  85% of our jobs and 90% of GNP is generated in urban areas that grow more congested and expensive each year.

He said that when you consider performance metrics and take into account externalities, such as congestion, fuel cost and environmental impact, the choice for public transportation is clear.

But transportation funding decisions often get made by representatives from low density areas whose citizens don't see the benefits.  But taking people off the roads and improving the efficiency of society and lowering our environmental impact directly benefits everybody.

A Western politician championing the city over the country?  The changes are withering.

Perhaps most interesting,  Mayor Hickenlooper said that the process of building the train taught local cities and towns how to work together. The collaborative nature of fast track rails gave traditionally separate municipalities the skills to share resources. The same towns are now starting to share fire, police, sewage and water systems, resulting in tax savings of up to $250 millions a year in Denver alone.

This is clear evidence that America can rebuilt itself in new, cleaner ways that benefit all residents. It also suggests that the blustering denials of the oil, car and coal industry really are just self-interested whining.

And the fact that this is finally happening in our government means that real change is occurring.  None of us should be fooled by Senator McCain's myopic focus on 2% of budget.

 

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With a background in non-profit art, I moved into international and sustainable development. A part of that work is to help lift public debate about global issues such as, security (war), energy (oil-derived military policies), health and poverty (more...)
 
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