Roads and Roadblocks: A Carrots & Sticks Transportation Agenda
As you know from reading our Statement of Principles, the Carrots & Sticks policy platform is built on the key principle of sustainable prosperity. This more than anything means an America able to adapt to a changing world economically, culturally and environmentally. And few issues better fit into that model than scaling back our car culture with a much more robust national transportation policy. Therefore, we will be launching a sustainable transportation campaign alongside our preexisting climate change efforts.
On one level, our agenda is very simple: more Amtrak, less asphalt. It’s long past time to redirect our federal dollars in a way that encourages development of alternative transportation infrastructure. But of course, policy battles are fought and won on the details, so we need to explore the issue further.
First and foremost, we need a new national high speed rail (HSR) network. Safe, dependable, affordable high speed trains can serve two very important purposes. First, they can provide a much more energy-efficient, cheaper and more relaxing alternative to airplanes for short- and medium-distance intercity travel. For example, imagine getting from DC to Boston or LA to San Francisco in under three hours, without the hassle of going through airport security, and in a comfortable environment with wireless internet access. Oh, and for about 50 bucks. Second, they can improve on existing commuter rail networks to vastly decrease commute times from the suburbs to the central city of major metropolitan areas. This will make public transit more desirable and in turn get a considerable number of cars off the nation’s most congested highways (including those in the DC metro area). As with many other things (these days not always good), California is leading on this issue and setting the tone for nationwide development.
Thankfully, President Obama seems to prioritize such an endeavor, and even successfully pushed for an extra $6 billion boost to rail infrastructure funding during last-minute stimulus negotiations. A modernized rail network also has widespread support in Congress, but it will take a major financial commitment beyond that $8B down payment to turn that network into a reality. While the up-front costs will be considerable, HSR will be a huge winner over the long term, economically AND environmentally. I should mention, however, that a truly groundbreaking rail system should be capable of reaching top speeds over 200 mph like the one in California; currently, the Obama Administration is proposing a network capable of slightly over 150 mph, so they have a ways to go on that front.
Second, America’s roads must be better designed to accommodate bikes, pedestrians and buses. This policy vision has already coalesced into a movement called the Complete Streets Coalition, and they have done yeoman’s work to advance their platform on Capitol Hill. Led by the AARP and Smart Growth America and supported by a very diverse group of other organizations, the coalition’s work has yielded identical House and Senate bills with strong mandates for transportation planning agencies to adopt complete streets principles for all new projects. They have also convinced House Transportation Chairman Oberstar to include complete streets language in the massive transportation reauthorization package. I will be discussing the reauthorization in greater detail in a forthcoming post. Moving forward on this issue, we will be working mainly in coordination with their advocacy efforts. FYI, here is their latest status update.
So that is our basic policy platform. In a different post, I will break down the current legislative intricacies surrounding transportation issues and introduce our transportation action campaign that will be ramping up over the next couple months.
By the way, I have to say that the potential for catchy puns when talking about transportation policy is pretty much endless. I spared you all for the most part here, but next time I may choose to follow a different track 🙂