Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

LaHood gets after George Will

It was, at least, partially deserved. How on earth anybody could think that initiatives for livable communities are a threat to individual liberty must have something wrong upstairs, right?

But seriously folks, George Will is an honest-to-goodness intellectual, even if he is suspicious of bike riders and mass transit.Republicans have been under a lot of pressure lately and Will, especially in a recent Newsweek column, is not quite himself.

And long before climate change became another excuse for disparaging America’s “automobile culture,” many liberal intellectuals were bothered by the automobile. It subverted their agenda of expanding government—meaning their—supervision of other people’s lives. Drivers moving around where and when they please? Without government supervision? Depriving themselves and others of communitarian moments on mass transit? No good could come of this.

Being trapped in an automobile and paying $4 a gallon for gasoline (where it is already slowly drifting) is not freedom and its something many of us would cheerfully chose to do as little as possible. Mr. Will momentarily forgot the basis of a free market is the ability to  make choices.

George Will widely suggests those who support sensible transportation choices are “elitists.” Pretty brave words from an “inside the beltway” intellectual who may ride the METRO and enjoy a relatively short commute. As was observed here earlier reporting on a Witherspoon Institute study, the transportation policies of so-called conservatives tend to work against smaller neighborhood businesses and ordinary working families.

LaHood spoke at the National Press Club.

“We have to create opportunities for people who want to ride a bike or walk or take a streetcar,” he said. “The only person that I’ve heard of who objects to this is George Will.”

LaHood is wrong about that. Alas, plenty of politicians in rural areas will make much of LaHoods comments, and deliberately take him out of context. The comments above provide a fuller view of the entire speech.

In the world of transportation, it seems as if conservatives are not in favor of a fundamental freedom.

So Ray LaHood used a naughty word. Specfically he said,

“About everything we do around here is government intrusion into people’s lives,” he said. “It is a way to coerce people out of their cars. Yeah.”

So, let’s see. Big money says we must be slaves to truckers, oil companies, and Detroit. Big money says we must pay whatever Saudi Arabia and oil speculators decide for gas. Big money dictates unlimited highway construction at who knows what environmental and personal cost to American taxpayers. And none of that is coercion?

The hell it’s not coercion.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail, United States High Speed Rail

11 Responses

  1. Tahoe Valley Lines says:

    Big money has been (acting) completely and abysmally ignorant of the fact that conventional oil has already peaked. See websites like and If you are in the Council for Foreign Relations, you already know about Peaking Oil, but why rock the boat? Matthew Simmons is an exeption, he is in CFR and also well connected with the former VP, and the Bush family, too. So the Republican insiders already know we are in the Oil Interregnum.

    Boone Pickens brought Barack Obama into an oil supply briefing prior to the election, so we now have a Federal Government knowing more than they are telling us. Here’s a thought: Interview an unelectable (Dick Cheney) but savvy oil wise guy on the subject of Peaking Oil, and ramifications of gas & diesel rationing, etc. Smoke screens like waterboarding and gay marriage can move to the back pages.

    We are not too far from rationing, and that from energy authorities like R. James Woolsey, former CIA Director, Richard Heinberg, an energy authority, and Colin Campbell, a retired Shell geologist. The US must, with all due haste, prioritise and commence with vast expansion of railway mains, extending and increasing load/unload points enroute. This program must include rehab of dormant rail branchline, including local
    warehousing as prior to the Just-In-Time mania that came with the freeways. See Christopher C. Swan’s “ELECTRIC WATER”.

    Governor Miller received copy of the CalTrans 1995 I-80/US50 Reno Tahoe Rail Study when he was in office; time to snap out of this Mag-Lev reverie and get real about off-the shelf rail network, Guarantor of Societal & Commercial Cohesion. We are very close to being unable to manage the crushing negative foreign exchange problem inherent with importing motor fuel. Rationing is one sure thing, if US credit is called into question. Another thing, expect Federal callback of gold coins & bullion, to shore up the currency. Maybe both will happen soon.

    Smart Money? This is where we came in, maybe time for you-all to get copy of the “US Rail Map Atlas” and learn the legacy rail footprint in your respective locale, and see about some railway construction investment. Governors (You too. Arnold)? Talk to Rahm Emmanuel & Ray La Hood about Parallel Bar Therapy!

  2. jon says:

    It subverted their agenda of expanding government—meaning their—supervision of other people’s lives.

    yeah george will has been drinking the kool aid. our auto-centric world is entirely the result of expanding government. we had private railroads, private transit companies and private ferry companies providing our national transportation needs and then the “expanding government” built free unlimited-use roads and bridges which put these private companies out of business. conservatives and libertarians love the government when it comes to their car.

  3. fpteditors says:

    We should welcome the “cars=freedom” debate. We will win. Let’s compile a list of restrictions of car use… here is a start:
    1. waiting while car is repaired
    2. can’t read while driving
    3. waiting for parking attendant
    4. sitting in traffic jam
    5. spending the rest of your life in a wheelchair
    6. hours of bureaucracy after minor bump collision
    7. shopping for car insurance
    8. etc etc etc

  4. Cal says:

    People just dont realize HOW much they actually spend every year on thier cars and familes have 2 or 3 of them. The sad truth is its very hard to get around outside of a few certain cities without the things.
    When I go visit family in the Midwest I have to have one ..not so even 15 years ago ..when they had Amtrak and Greyhound bolth are gone and must use the Airport/Rent a car

  5. I wonder if a counter argument to be made is cars = police state. We have whole organizations devoted to pulling you over and giving you tickets . . . especially if you are black. Not to say there aren’t transit police, but for the most part it’s not the same (excepting that poor women in Montreal who got a $420 ticket for not holding the handrail on an escalator!).

    But my observations are that conservatives are actually more interested in “security” (which is not the same thing as genuine safety) rather than freedom.

  6. Allan says:

    fpteditors – We should welcome the “cars=freedom” debate. We will win. Let’s compile a list of restrictions of car use… here is a start:

    1. waiting while car is repaired

    Strange, the dealership gave me a ride to work and picked me up when it was ready.

    Of course, the few times I did wait on a repair still haven’t totaled up to the amount of time I’ve spent waiting on buses, trollies, subways, etc.

    2. can’t read while driving

    True but I can listen to the news, music, etc. without disturbing the guy riding next to me.

    3. waiting for parking attendant

    Miniscule, see reply to #1 for comparison to waiting for the bus.

    4. sitting in traffic jam

    Obviously you’ve never been on light rail or a bus that shares a road. I’ve been stuck in a traffic jam while sitting in a trolley.

    Elevate and automate … monorails work better in most situations.

    5. spending the rest of your life in a wheelchair

    I know a guy who broke his back riding a bicycle. He gets around fine in his specially equipped van.

    You do know that people do die and get hurt in derailments???

    6. hours of bureaucracy after minor bump collision

    I was done in a few minutes after calling my insurance.

    7. shopping for car insurance

    It takes me longer to catch a bus than to buy insurance.

    8. etc etc etc

    You sure that you want to have this debate?

  7. Cal says:

    Its not so much a problem of having a car..its the problem that you HAVE TO..The Mr. Wills types force you to that option by making all transit and other intercity ground something thats as minimal as it can be then turns around and says it a huge waste and Pro-transit groups are forcing THEM!!! to use transit

  8. Andrew in NorJpn says:

    @Allan- nice try, but you are comparing conditions that exist now in the U.S., where car-dominated infrastructure (of course) makes car-based mobilty marginally to overwhelmingly more convenient than public transport. In the future, the existing system will be unsustainable and the advantages of car based mobility will evaporate- society has to start preparing now. You are right about buses and trolleys that share the road with cars- they basically suck if you are in a hurry. The answer is elevated/separated/underground railways- not monorails, which for some reason hold many Americans in a thrall. I live in Japan, which FYI has the greatest number of operating monorail systems in the world, but they total far fewer miles in length than the passenger railways built in the same time frame. The Japanese know monorails are good only for limited,specific situations, and in the majority of cases, railways are the best choice for new transport infrastructure.
    BTW, car-free and loving it in Sapporo, Japan

  9. jon says:

    read the book “fighting traffic” to see how the auto industry and government made streets into roads designed for the exclusive use of cars, made walking in the street illegal (jaywalking), which through history had always been public space and pushed the streetcars and bikes out of way too… this change in the role of the street singlehandedly made cars the only way to travel.

  10. Lazlo H. says:

    “I can listen to the news, music, etc. without disturbing the guy riding next to me.”

    Someone could get rich inventing a way of listening to music privately without bothering other people. Maybe something like a phone … for your ear. By Jove, I think it could work!

    I think we’re confusing “freedom” as in having a free schedule with freedom as in having limited government interference in one’s life. Will apparently sees the CAFE standards as an affront to the latter, which is, as the post points out, rather shortsighted when you think about the amount of government interference involved in getting us to this point.

    Neither aspect of freedom has anything to do with the debate. The “freedom” (aka “right”) to drive a car is no more or less real than the freedom to ride transit instead — they’re both options we can pursue through private or public means. We just need to have an honest discussion of both options without the corrupting influence of automakers involved.

  11. Allan says:

    Andrew, I once lived in the city that I think has one of, if not the best, transit systems in the world – Berlin, Germany. I went almost two years without driving a car … I road with others but I didn’t drive.

    But there are still roads/streets are jammed packed with cars in Berlin. I don’t care how good the transit system is, people prefer cars.

    I think monorails are more applicable in many situations than light rail. If you need to elevate, a monorail is definitely the way to go.

    With elevated systems you can automate. The long term savings cost with automation outweigh any construction costs. The Las Vegas monorail earned 130% of the O&M costs last year … not bad!

    Light rail is usually on better if there is an existing rail that can be converted or an existing ROW. The costs of the actual constructions are usually comparable … it’s the stations that drive up the cost of a monorail if you cannot locate the stations in existing building like casinos!

    But again, labor is a huge factor in operating a transit system. The more you can automate, the more money you can save. Surface transit just cannot be safely automated at this point. Elevated rail and subways can.

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