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Starving the Beast

Oh, you thought I was talking about this? This is perhaps the best way to think about our modern planners’ obsession with light-rail, bike-paths, and other planner friendly methods of producing transportation services. In reading this, remember this big fact. Remember it again and again and again. Here is an illustration of what is going on in Oregon:

Portland can spend hundreds of millions on streetcars and billions on light rail. But it is letting its most-valuable asset–the city’s $5 billion road system–fall apart, says an expose featured in yesterday’s Oregonian. The city’s transportation department, says the article, has enough money to hire eight new employees to oversee streetcars, build more than a dozen miles of new bike paths, and co-sponsor a Rail-volution conference in Los Angeles. But it doesn’t have enough many to repave any badly deteriorating street until 2017 at the earliest.

The decision by Portland-area local governments to twiddle their collective thumbs about the Sellwood Bridge, which rates 2 on a scale of 100 in terms of structural quality, while spending hundreds of millions of dollars building a light-rail bridge just downstream from Sellwood is a good example. When they finally agreed to build a new bridge, they decided to add no new capacity, as if the region has had no population growth since the bridge was originally built 87 years ago. It appears that smart growth supports driving as long as we drive no more than we did in 1925.

I got to thinking about the Brundland definition of sustainability: meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. I think one day they are going to regret using the term needs and not wants. Basic needs are for basic food, shelter and clothing. The rest is gravy. And we can provide for basic food, shelter and clothing today with far less of the environment being pristine than we may have been able to do in the past. Or, if we invoke the meaning that the sustainabilityists wish for us to use, then tell me how starving the road budgets satisfies sustainability? Isn’t it a basic “need” to be able to transport oneself freely on their own terms? And isn’t this starve the beast strategy encouraging just the opposite? In what way is that sustainable?

It brings to mind a recent video my students posted of me. I cannot find it right offhand. But I was shown some comments that someone made on the video. Not really a single substantive comment – just a bunch of thumbs-down and thumbs-up. Anytime I said anything nice about the government I saw a thumbs up and vice versa. Maybe that is coincidental to the particular points I was making, just like the interpretation of sustainability always seems to be in the direction of (insert your favorite thing here).

One Response to “Starving the Beast”

  1. Michael says:

    Maybe soon I can watch newer versions of the old Saturday morning cartoons that asked, “Is this trip really necessary?” Back then it was the war that got people to go along with the message (and rationing).

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