Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Conservative Case for Mass Transit

Link, by David Schaengold at the Witherspoon Institute. The jab:
It might seem as if nothing could be less important to social conservatives than transportation. The Department of Health and Human Services crafts policies that affect abortion, the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission play crucial roles in determining how prevalent obscenity is in our society, but the Department of Transportation just funds highways, airports, and railroads, or so the usual thinking goes. But decisions about these projects and how to fund them have dramatic and far-reaching consequences for how Americans go about their lives on a day-to-day basis. Transportation decisions have the power to shape how we form communities, families, religious congregations, and even how we start small businesses. Bad transportation decisions can destroy communities, and good transportation decisions can help create them.
The body blow:
Of course, just because there is a historic explanation for why Democrats are “pro-transit” and Republicans are “pro-car” does not mean that these associations make any sense. Support for government-subsidized highway projects and contempt for efficient mass transit does not follow from any of the core principles of social conservatism.

A common misperception is that the current American state of auto-dependency is a result of the free market doing its work. In fact, a variety of government interventions ensure that the transportation “market” is skewed towards car-ownership.
...and the knockout punch:
We often hear complaints that transit systems do not earn profits. This is true (with a few exceptions), but this does not mean that transit systems are a waste of money. When was the last time you heard someone complain about how a local road never manages to turn a profit?..

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.