Trains For America

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Witherspoon Institute: Why Conservatives Should Care About Transit (and, by extension, inter-city trains)

This essay is a little long, but it is approachable. David Schaengold proposes that public transit and walkable neighborhoods are necessary for families and communities to flourish. I am not sure if he checked this line of thinking out with Rush Limbaugh first, but here is a very very small taste of the proposal.

Pro-highway, anti-transit, anti-pedestrian policies work against the core beliefs of American conservatives in another and even more important way: they create social environments that are hostile to real community. Once again, the ways in which automobile-oriented development prevents communities from forming are too numerous to list exhaustively. They range from the very obvious to the very subtle.

This excellent article deals not only with local transit systems, but highway and inter-city transportation polices. In the view of the author, these reflect anything but free market capitalism.

Sensible transportation policies are good for families and communities. Who would have thunk it?

Transportation issues, as most TFA readers know, are environmental and social. These are urgent quality of life considerations and they are typically made for the convience of special interest and against what should be core conservative values.

Then again, do not this talk about “communities” sound a lot like “socialism?” Hmmmm.

It is an absolute must read. It will improve your arguments and thking.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail

13 Responses

  1. gurka says:

    “Then again, do not this talk about “communities” sound a lot like “socialism?” Hmmmm.”

    As Thatcher said “There is no such thing as society, only individuals.” (or something to that effect), you won’t find a strong emphasis on community (surprisingly) in movement conservatism. Maybe it’s because of the influence of libertarianism in the conservative coalition. Hence the strong belief in “Darwinism” (except when it comes to biology).

    Since the emphasis on “community” has been missing for the last generation (except when it comes to “small town values” or “small town snobbishness”), liberalism has, to some extend, filled the void. Look at advocates of liveable communities, the cities of the Northwest, etc. with their liberal leanings. That’s why it will probably take some time for conservatives in the political realm to get over this association of “community” with “socialism” and embrace the positions outlined in the essay.

  2. Allan says:

    Sorry, but the article is the SOS (Same Old Stuff).

    “You’re much likely to find yourself in a conversation about the relative merits and demerits of non-volatile-organic paint at Morris Maple’s Hardware down the street than at Home Depot. ” — Not true, at least not where I live. I’ve had some very good advice at a big box hardware store. Not to say that I don’t use my local hardware store, that I walk to, as often as possible but it just doesn’t have the range of things that are always needed.

    Actually it does touch on one of the keys … zoning laws. Houston is a great example of city with no zoning laws that force stores to out of the neighborhood … but the car is still king in Houston. So reintroducing stores to the neighborhood won’t make people give up their cars tho it would probably cut down on their usage.

    But since most urban areas are controlled by liberal democrats … then they are one to blame for the zoning laws, not the conservatives.

    Same with the schools. Democrats control most of the school boards and decide where the schools will be built and, more importantly, how big will the school district be. Nowadays, the school district is so big that it requires a bus to go to school (because the school doesn’t want to eliminate the jobs, etc. that were left over after Forced Busing). Again, the urban school board is controlled by liberal democrats.

    So while you criticizing conservatives for not supporting transit, just remember that it has been the liberal land use boards and school boards who have put the newer neighborhoods the way they are that, in essence, force the residents to have cars.

    Indeed, many conservatives enjoy the small town square (where you can park) and shop among the stores around the square but liberals are only just now trying to bring that back into the urban setting …

  3. Allan says:

    Speaking of transit … yes, the article touched on the expensive boondoggles that caused conservatives to recoil.

    But it didn’t touch on the incompetence of many, if not most, transit boards. They can’t even design a system to move those who can’t afford cars … how can they design a system to move those who have cars?

    Let me go off on a tangent here. I’ve seen private bus systems in Mexico that work much better than the gov’t systems in the US. Not only are the buses cheap and plentiful (and mostly privately owned or operated) but the taxis are cheap and plentiful as well … unlike the expensive and rigged taxi system we have in the US.

    If a transit sit can’t, at a minimum, cover its operating and mainenance costs, then it needs to be either redesigned or shut down.

  4. patlynch says:

    First, gurka, I would like to address some of what you have to say as a student of theolgy (honest). The Thatcher quote is really shocking. Only individuals? Has she ever heard of the church? I say that because the Prime Minister has a large role in appointments to the Church of England.

    Let’s see. There’s the army. I imagine the generals expect the troops to move as an army and not individuals. I guess Thatchet was not a member of a political party.

    We make individual moral decisions but we often act as groups. One reason,ironically, some conservatives put so much stock in personal individual accountability is to avoid it. I might also note that this talk about individualism is profoundly anti-family.

    Allan, you make some good points, but I must add that Democrats run much of Arkansas, and few of them are liberals. It is a lingering symptom of the time when the Democratic party in the south was the party of segregation. When I came to Arkansas in 1983, there were possibly six Republican members in the state legislature. Some of them may have been old fashioned country club liberals.

    Our school district has been under federal court supervision since forever. The lines were drawn to keep things as segregated as possible. Honest. The location of schools has been directed and approved by courts, so blame the segregationists. Many school districts are tied to history, as are railroads.

    I think the essay gives great insight into the ease with which highways are constructed and the difficulties faced by rail.

    It’s early and those are some first impressions.

  5. Allan says:

    patlynch – “One reason,ironically, some conservatives put so much stock in personal individual accountability is to avoid it.”

    Oh no … you didn’t go there! Do you really want to debate which ideology places greater emphasis on individual accountability??? Which ideology is that says, “I don’t have a house … the gov’t must give me a house?” … “I don’t have a job … the gov’t must give me a job?” etc …

    As for the Thatcher quote … it’s missing the last part … there is no such thing as society, only individuals AND THEIR FAMILIES … kind of a crucial portion of the quote. … Furthermore, she said, “There is living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves …” and she goes on to say talk about helping the unfortunate (as individuals).

    Yes, there are still a few moderate democrats left in the South but they are becoming a rare breed as the moderate and conservative dixiecrats are pushed out. It is unfortunate as it only make the lines starker and will probably eventually lead to the balkanization of the US.

    But back to the program here … I’ve said it before … if we didn’t have roads, we’d invent them. A railROAD is nothing more than road on rails.

    The problem with railroads … and why they don’t receive the funding like roads … is twofold. First, most are privately owned. Second, an individual can’t use railroad in an individual vehicle.

    Thus, if a person has a choice to pay taxes for a road that he can drive on in his own personal vehicle at his on convenience or a railroad which he can’t use except as dictated by someone else … which do you think he will choose?

    Streets and roads are essential. Railroads aren’t. It’s just that simple. Railroads are more efficient, etc. in many circumstances but the fact remains that if all the railroads were to shut down, we could still function as a society. If you could somehow shut down all the roads, society would collapse … and roads would reappear. Roads are a basic part of the fabric of society … railroads aren’t.

    Thus, the bashing of roads will fall on deaf ears.

  6. patlynch says:

    Alan, you often have bursts of insight and I do like you. It seems that the area of personal accountability is something of a sore spot with self-avowed conservatives.

    ‘Nuff said.

  7. Allan says:

    I like you guys too! lol

    Actually, I lean libertarian … I’ll take shots at “conservatives” too. I just happen to like trains. I grew up by railroad tracks and I can still watch Amtrak go by my mother’s house.

    I’ve ridden lots trains in Europe and I’ve ridden here. But it’s a different creature over there than here.

    I want a successful system. There’s no reason that Amtrak can’t run a successful system AND make a profit. It doesn’t have to be a huge profit but it should at least cover the O&M costs. But they need to run it like a railroad rather than like a transit system.

    There is obviously a demand for and it’s growing. Amtrak needs to take advantage of this. It has really let things slip over the years with its focus on the NEC. Now it is hard-pressed to find the engines and cars to expand.

    It needs to provide more trains to more destinations. How hard would it be to have a run from Memphis to Little Rock and thus open whole new options for both cities. With a little track straightening, that same line could extend to Nashville and beyond.

    Memphis is a major railroad city but only has one northbound and one southbound passenger train. Unless one is going to Chicago or New Orleans, then it is a major pain to get somewhere using Amtrak from Memphis.

    So you can see my frustration in the way Amtrak is run. I don’t believe it has to do with subsidies (or lack thereof) but rather with poor management.

  8. […] thanks this morning to Streetsblog Network member Trains for America, which links to a fascinating essay from the Witherspoon Institute on why social conservatives […]

  9. Anonymous says:

    The title of the article implies that Conservatives don’t care about transit. That is a dangerous presupposition.

    Looking at Amtrak as an example, most of the improvements Amtak has experienced occured under Republican administrations:

    Nixon : Amtrak’s creation
    Ford: First Superliner order
    Reagan: W. Graham Claytor

    OTOH, look at the record of the democrats:

    Jimmy Carter: Wholesale discontinuiance of long-distance trains Texas Chief, North Coast Hiawatha, National Limited, Floridian

    Clintion: Picture of himself wearing a conductor’s cap.

  10. patlynch says:

    Dear anonymous,

    Hardly a dangerous presupposition, however, you correctly observe that Democrats have been as much on the take from truckers and airlines as Republicans.

    Nonetheless, those who call themselves “conservatives” typically have a hard line attitude against transit and Amtrak.

    Nixon: Amtrak created as corporate welfare to pay labor protection and Railroad Retirement costs of operating lines.

    Reagan: Budget Director David Stockman made abolishing Amtrak a point of pride. Constant talk (lies) about empty Amtrak trains.

    John McCain: Do we really have to go there? If elected, abolish Amtrak.

    Republican Rep. John Boozman of Arkansas: Amtrak causes pollution.

    George W. Bush: Delay appointments to Amtrak board. No route expansion. No equipment repairs.

    Conservative critics of the stimulus program often compare banks and automakers to Amtrak. Those guys had ZERO oversight. Congress damn near tries to run the dining cars (literally). Teabaggers are wrong.

    Where I live, in Little Rock, people who call themselves “conservatives” fight all improvements to local transit as a point of pride.

    Thoughtful conservatives, such as the late Mr. Weyrich (will check spelling later), support balanced transportation. Kay Bailey Hutchison (pardon my spelling) and Trent Lott fall into that category, but they are the exception to a general rule.

    Thanks for your kind input.
    Pat

  11. Anonymous says:

    Well, W. did sign the Amtrak Authorization before leaving office. He should get credit for that.

    You can argue about the number of angels on the head of a pin all you like, but the fact of the matter is, no one should support Amtrak (or transit improvements) as long as it (they) are characterized as part of the welfare system, e.g., used primarily to shelter the homeless.

    You would get a lot more bipartisan support if European-style, i.e., USEFUL service could be expected from Amtrak. But that is unlikely as long as Amtrak management (and labor) has the attitude, “This is as good as it will ever get; stop complaining or you’ll lose what mediocre service you have.”

    Once you “let go” of the idea that everything has to be Amtrak, there’s no limit to the potential improvements that could occur. The recent surge of interest in High Speed Rail and the passage of Proposition 1A in California prove that.

  12. Sean says:

    Sprawl and pedestrian hostile environments occur in the suburbs, which are controlled by right-wing Republicans. And Allan, it is clear that you are nothing but a laissez-faire racist in your unconscionable opposition to school bussing. If it had been up to you, there would never have been a Civil Rights Act, because in libertarian la-la land, states rights reign supreme and local governments should have the right to discriminate all they want.

    Amtrak is a poor service because it is chronically underfunded.

  13. Sean says:

    W. only signed the Amtrak re-authorization act because it passed with veto proof majorities in both houses of Congress. He tried to eliminate the annual subsidy for Amtrak in 2005.

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