Why Conservatives Should Care About Transit and TODKirsten asked for my reaction to this article laying out 'conservative' arguments for transit and walkable communities. I am all for both within a free-choice framework, but I disagree with most of the arguments given here. Summing up and then addressing his arguments:
1. Federal funding is biased towards roads.
It depends on how you look at it, since 95+% of all trips are on roads. It also might be argued that government is pursuing the least-cost mobility solution because it leaves the vehicle, fuel, and driver costs to the private citizen, as opposed to government picking up those costs with transit. But we might agree that the feds should combine highway and transit dollars into block grants to localities, and let them choose the best transportation solutions for them.
2. Local zoning codes biases development towards roads.
Also true, and I am no fan of zoning, but is this conservative calling for federal action to overrule local control? I don't see that as a conservative argument.
3. Car-orientation "create social environments that are hostile to real community."
Nothing to back this up. My understanding is that studies show higher social capital, lower crime, more church attendance, higher charitable giving and participation, and many other pro-community advantages in the car-oriented suburbs. And there are certainly plenty of dysfunctional transit-oriented "walkable neighborhoods" in urban cores.
4. Car-orientation is hostile to small business.
He seems to think we'd all be shopping at the old mom-and-pop store on Main St. instead of Costco, Target, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Lowe's, Best Buy, etc. if wasn't for cars. Maybe it also has something to do with superior selection and prices? Why should government decide where we shop? Shouldn't the free market sort this out? McKinsey did a research report a few years ago concluding that almost half of the productivity gains in the 90s were in retail, and primarily from Wal-Mart. Are we just going to wipe out those efficiency and income gains?
5. Car-orientation forces families to drive their kids everywhere.
Partially true, although I grew up in the suburbs and biked everywhere. I think kids today have the same option (a good argument for more bike trails), although parents are a lot more paranoid about letting their kids off on their own than when I was growing up. Do we really want to tell families "We're going to save you from shuttling your kids everywhere by making you live in a cramped apartment near transit"? Maybe parents are willing to make this trade-off for the other benefits of a suburban house? I thought conservatism was about free choice?
The overall argument seemed to be a call to go back to the nostalgic family values of the Great Depression, when people couldn't afford cars and walked or rode streetcars everywhere. It's an argument of "This (community values) used to be better in the past, and now we have technology X (cars and highways) that we didn't have then, so maybe if we got rid of technology X we would get back to that nostalgic past." You know, 'family values' and the divorce rate used to be better before we let women vote, work outside the home, or get much higher education, too. Should we also 'fix' that? Do you see the fundamental flaw in the argument?
Just to reiterate, I am all for cost-effective transit and private development of more walkable neighborhoods where there is consumer demand for that lifestyle. Government should certainly look at ways it can relax regulations that make these walkable, mixed-use areas harder to develop. But let's not delude ourselves that it is some sort of morally-superior, pro-community choice that government should be forcing on the masses.