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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Looking to Local, Regional, and National Transportation Goals

There was an interesting note in the Davis Enterprise yesterday about the rising Capitol Corridor ridership. Ridership jumped by nearly 20% over this time last year. Truth is, iti's the 10th consecutive year that ridership has increased.

Gas prices are only one factor in this equation, congested roadways and stressful commutes have played a role as well according to the article.

One of the huge keys to our future will be solving our transportation puzzle. There are some who believe that Americans will never give up their cards. They might be right. The real question is whether you can get them to drive less in cars that are more energy efficient.

I voted for Proposition 1A this year in part because I believe if we had a reliable high speed rail system that could conveniently get us from point A to point B, we would ride the train.

One of the best public transit systems is in Washington DC where the Metro is a cheap, convenient, and safe way to travel within the city and into the suburbs. When I worked in DC over a decade ago, I did not own a car. I did not need a car. The few places the Metro did not take me, I could either take a bus or a cab--and this was rare.

I also lived in Pittsburg, California right next to Antioch one year and took classes in Berkeley twice a year. I would drive five miles in my car, park at the BART station, and take the train to Berkeley. It was quick, convenient, and I could always finish my reading on the train before I arrived for class.

When I took a summer seminar in Stanford one summer, I would come home on the weekends, and I used to take the Capitol Corridor to Emeryville, the Train Bus to San Francisco, and then the Cal-Train to Palo Alto.

Why do I share all of this? Because I believe that we can live in a world where we can take mass transit, and have it be cheap, fast, and convenient. I would love to see a system that efficiency and conveniently connects the Sacramento Light Rail service with BART and Cal-Train. I'd love to see a service of this sort that connects cities across the country, so that you can ride the rails to where you need to go in a quick, cheap, and convenient way.

Europe is way ahead of us in that respect. People will get off the highways and out of their cars if they have an alternative. Unfortunately we need to create that alternative. Our highways are old, antiquated and badly need of being redone. Obama is talking about a public works investment, but if we are going to invest more money and create jobs in upgrading our infrastructure--something we definitely need--we need a 21st century infrastructure plan.

Eisenhower's greatest accomplishment was the creation of the modern interstate system which linked up the country via road. Obama needs to do the same but with alternative transportation.

As we look to the future, let us not merely rebuild the 1950s interstate system that has served us well. Let us make 2010s system of high-speed rails and alternative fuel vehicles that can get us into the next half-century, help us to reduce our reliance on oil, reduce greenhouse gases, reduce driving times, reduce congestion on the highway that leads to pollution and frustration. That is what we really need now.

As gas prices plummet, I have real mixed feelings. On the one hand, it's nice to fill up the car again for $20 or less. On the other hand, I hope it doesn't take people's eyes off the ball. Gas prices at $4 a gallon made alternative fueled and fuel efficient cars economically feasible. It put a priority on developing alternative transportation.

The collapse of the oil market runs parallel with the collapse of the economy, it is also temporary based largely on fallen demand worldwide rather than increased supply. As soon as the economy improves, the prices are headed right back where they were, if not higher. The fallen gas prices are a nice respite to ease the burden on our wallets, but they do not change the bigger picture.

It is interesting that on Saturday, I wrote an article on Obama, talking about the hopeful change in the partisan tone as the result of the new presidency. So far so good. But we still have tremendous challenges that we are facing. That is reality, not a lowered bar. The economic situation worldwide is far worse than many of us realized in September and October. The bailout that used $700 billion was not well-planned or administered. There is no functioning executive office right now in this country.

Unfortunately for the Obama administration, there are just some really severe problems that must be dealt with and they cannot wait. The economy is only one, we must restore our standing in the world after Bush drove it into the ground, we must focus on health care, we must focus on global warming, we must focus on transportation which is linked to both foreign policy and the environment, we must restore our moral standing by removing torture from our policies and closing down Guantanamo, we must restore our rights to privacy, we must restore our environmental laws and enforcement mechanisms. It is unbelievable how much damage one man in a one eight-year period has wrought. And people dare to challenge why I urge that we might not be able to do this in a short period of time--have you looked at the world lately and see how bad things are?

Fortunately, we do not have to wait for the federal government to act. I am hopeful that Prop 1A funding is put to good use, that our region, our state, and our local governments can look toward the issue of transportation, even in these economic times as a priority. We fight over trivial issues and then fail to deal with the real problems as they stare us in the face.

---David M. Greenwald reporting