Thursday, August 30, 2007

Transportation Dictatorship/Transportation Democracy

After the collapse of the 35W freeway bridge, there were several letters and commentaries blaming the bridge collapse on the funding of non-car forms of transportation. People wrote that funding light rail transit drew resources away from freeway bridges. Loopiest of all was Katherine Kersten, Star Tribune columnist, who called Senator Oberstar to task because he funded bicycle transportation amenities, and that made the bridge collapse. These people are certainly subjects of the transportation dictatorship, their brains so warped by it that they can't see outside the limits.

We live in a transportation dictatorship. The state has decided that transportation is the same as cars, and that you do not get around if you do not do so by car. So the vast majority of state money spent on transportation is spent on building up the car transportation infrastructure.

What would it take us to get to a transportation democracy? It would take the division of that transportation funding into equal amounts, so that as much state money was spent on developing bicycle trails that was spent on car things, that transit funding equaled highway funding, and that pedestrian amenity funding was the same as that spent on car infrastructure (by the way, the city is fixing sidewalks around my block now, which is great, but they are billing the work to the homeowners. Why does the city fund street repairs through the general fund and charge homeowners for sidewalk repairs? Because that is how cities act in the transportation dictatorship.)

If we had a real transportation democracy, we would be able to make real choices. If we requested that our government spent equal amounts on cars, transit, bikes and walking, we would have a wonderful pedestrian transportation system. Biking would be a great way to get around. Transit would get you where you needed to go. But if we gave car transportation the same funding as the other modes, we would have a pretty poor car transportation system.

That is because car transportation costs so much more than all those other methods. That is why no other nation in the world has built as intense a car transportation system as we have. And a car transportation system is the least sustainable - it deteriorates the fastest.

A real transportation democracy would relegate car transportation to a fairly minor role, because it wouldn't be able to compete with the other modes given equal funding.

Let's get away from the transportation dictatorship and start building transportation democracy.

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