D. Dowd Muska


Moonbats’ Faith-Based Transportation Policy

February 20, 2014

In seven months, P. L. 112–141 expires. Here’s why that matters to you.

The “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act” authorizes federal surface-transportation spending. It lapses on September 30, and much of Washington’s attention throughout the spring and summer will be dominated by debates over fuel taxes, freight rail, bicycle paths, and government-run trains and buses.

To understand liberals’ agenda for transportation reauthorization, download “Building a 21st Century Infrastructure: How Setting Clear Goals, Establishing Accountability, and Improving Performance Will Produce Lasting and Sustainable Prosperity.” Published by the Center for American Progress (CAP) -- the White House’s favorite think tank -- the paper offers a smattering of solid suggestions for the next “highway bill,” such as congestion pricing, making a greater portion of grants competitive (rather than formulaic), and enhancing accountability measures. But on balance, author Kevin DeGood hews to demonstrably false notions about mobility and housing.

In CAP’s world, transportation bureaucracies mustn’t limit themselves to administering the efficient, reliable, and safe movement of people and cargo. The goals need to be more numerous, and loftier. DeGood avers that a “21st century transportation system” should “improve access to opportunity for diverse communities,” “minimize impacts on ecological and social environments,” and “reduce energy consumption.” It’s mission creep on steroids, and wildly unworkable.

Subsidizing Democratic Party loyalists and saving the planet from climate-change doom share a common obstacle. Moonbats -- whether they’re denizens of Greenwich Village, the Mission District, or Dupont Circle -- despise highways with the same kind of intense acrimony they heap on “income inequality” and the Second Amendment. How dare interstate-enabled suburbanization cause population density to drop “from its peak in 1950, when cities contained, on average, 7,517 people per square mile” to “a mere 2,716 people per square mile” in 2000! If money were redirected from those blasted highways, the “housing-to-employment ratio” would be 1:1, “intermodal connections” would proliferate, and many urban trips “could be fulfilled without driving, providing a cheaper, more environmentally sustainable, and healthy option to millions of people.”

The peddlers of “smart growth” have convinced themselves that a reversal of population dispersion isn’t just desirable, but inevitable, due to demographic shifts. DeGood notes that “nearly one in five Americans will be ages 65 and older” by 2030, and that Millennials “are driving less and choosing to live in more mixed-use areas with public transportation and strong biking and walking infrastructure.”

But it’s not at all certain that elderly Boomers and grown-up hipsters will make CAP-approved choices. Surveys by the National Association of Realtors consistently show that high-density living ain’t for most of us. The organization’s latest poll found that 71 percent of Americans prefer to live in the suburbs, a small town, or a rural region. Seventy-four percent favor a single-family house with either a large or small yard.

Despite legacy-media puff pieces on “redevelopment” spectacles and “comeback cities,” the nation’s urban cores have not experienced significant repopulations, despite the steady rise in America’s median age. As for Millennials, the Internet, pricier gasoline, and the Great Recession haven’t altered human nature. The bulk of them will behave as previous generations did. They’ll get married, have children, and move to the ‘burbs, where, as researcher Joel Kotkin observed, “over 70 percent of residents in the major metropolitan areas now live.”

“Building a 21st Century Infrastructure” suffers from the planner’s conceit. Knowing what will happen is difficult. Possessing the wisdom to understand what should happen is all but impossible -- even for multiple-degreed wonks with Oval Office access and big bucks from Big Business.

In his 2010 masterwork Gridlock: Why We’re Stuck in Traffic and What to Do About It, the Cato Institute’s Randal O’Toole wrote: “Twenty years ago, no one could have predicted the Internet; or that telecommuters would outnumber transit riders in the vast majority of urban areas; or that intercity bus service (driven by on-line ticket sales) would be growing for the first time in decades; or that FedEx, UPS, and DHL would be making daily deliveries on almost every residential street in America. Just as plans written 20 years ago would be wrong about these things today, plans written today and projected out 20 years from now will also be wrong.”

A sound warning, but it’s lost on the type of people who have the president’s ear. Suffused with baseless bravado, they’re confident that legions of their suburbanite countrymen suppress desires to live in high-density neighborhoods and travel by “streetcars, light rail, or commuter rail.”

It’s silly, and expensive, make-believe.

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.

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