Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

Get on Board the Stimulus Train

Dateline: 4:35 pm February 13, 2009 Filed under:

I read the news today oh boy….

Between the daily news and the real estate industry news, it is hard to avoid being “over-stimulused.” Will the stimulus be enough? It seems most agree it will not. But we can sure argue about it.

My began on a flight home from riding the new light rail system in Phoenix, and continued on Minnesota Public Radio this very morning – the stilted argument over federal stimulus for transportation and whether roads and/or transit are “subsidized.” Where are our precious tax dollars best spent?

Of course they are all subsidized. Rail, roads, transit, airports, all of it. Luckily many of our elected leaders understand this. What is required is better education as to the costs and benefits that are tied to these modes of travel, not just the mode itself. Many of us know this, but the general public does not. It is too simplistic to think that roads are free and we have a right to more of them.

It is hard to argue that to the guy seated across the aisle from me as we collectively leave a massive carbon footprint on our flight home to Minneapolis. He says the gas tax should not subsidize transit. I ask why not, especially if it means I choose to take transit and there is one fewer car on the road in front of him? (Isn’t that, after all, the classic argument of The Onion in “Report: 98% of Commuters Favor Public Transportation for Others” ?)

I often turn the argument on people’s selfish desires, like The Onion points at so wonderfully. Yet we have to make legislative choices based on altruism and the best long term reasoning.

First off, the stimulus package needs to keep transit agencies across the country operating without futher reductions in service. Half of our population doesn’t drive, and maintaining non-car options is key to getting people around and to work. My very own Metro Transit in the Twin Cities faces a huge shortfall, not as bad as St. Louis, but certainly worthy of stimulus dollars.

Having seen the 2007 bridge collapse in Minneapolis firsthand, I know we also need to put people to work now to fix existing roads and bridges.

But I’ll be honest, I’m a little “over-stimulused” already. It is tiring to keep track of day to day changes in the House and Senate over the past few weeks. And who knows if Barack Obama is pro-sprawl or anti-sprawl. I’d like to think the latter, but it seems that depends on who he’s addressing.

We have to keep our eye on the ball in the long term, and I do, however, know what I want to see in the transportation reauthorisation. We have enough roads, we need rail, rail and trail. That is why I am working with the T4America Coalition.

The Twin Cities could benefit nicely from enlightened transportation dollars for rail and bikes. The Midwest High Speed Rail Association is planning to connect Chicago to the Twin Cities, Detroit, Indianapolis, St. Louis and Cincinnati via high speed rail. Improved rail service to Chicago would reduce air congestion at all airports, especially O’Hare, because who really wants to fly to or through O’Hare?

St. Paul is planning to reopen the Union Station for rail service to their downtown. Minneapolis is planning a multimodal terminal adjacent the new Twins baseball stadium. The two would be connected by light rail in 2014, and each could serve a variety of commuter and long-distance lines. This is very exciting, and would leverage considerable economic development as well.

The Twin Cities has other rail and transit plans lined up, as do many other cities. The Obama administration would be wise to create that rumored urban policy department, as states and cities will need the tools and incentives to match land use with all of this new transit service.

My very own neighborhood has plans to implement bike lanes and improve pedestrian and bike access across a nearby major roadway. Across the country, neighborhoods face similar challenges and would benefit from federal dollars to create more livable, healthy places that are less reliant on cars.

The wish list is long, and the debates with fellow airline passengers and on public radio will continue. But we need to get this right so we can live in cities that are more competitive, more livable and offer transportation options.

I want to start future posts not with “I read the news today oh boy” but with “It’s getting better all the time.”

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