Racism And Public Transportation

JW Madison

The prominent conservative figure William Lind is a widely respected proponent of Rail transit, and an opponent of bus-only transit. We at Rails Inc take our hats off to him, especially in a time when so many self identified “conservative” leaders have insanely adopted anti-Rail attitudes. Lind is an important voice in our struggle. Having said that:

One of Lind’s many stated arguments for Rail transit is that the more affluent (mostly Whites and Asians) won’t ride bus transit in part because busses are patronized mostly by poor Blacks and poor Latinos, and that young Black men on these busses are perceived to be dangerous and inconvenient to other riders. Mr. Lind has caught a lot of flak over this. Accusations of racism have been flying about.

Two issues need to be addressed here:

1) Racism: If any race or group of people is accused of something bad, the first question to ask is, “Is This True?”. If not, the accuser’s a racist. If so, something else is happening here and needs to be dealt with by the entirety of the target group. My own experience of public transit (especially bus transit) suggests to me that the most significant human threat to transit passengers arises from groups of young male riders of whichever race is most numerous along a particular route.

Whatever the truth or falsehood of this, American society and its racism are more complex than ever (this is progress), and those particular observations of Mr. Lind’s do not serve the Rail struggle. The fact is, people who can afford any kind of transportation they want will pick the best and safest they can get, whatever color they are.

2) Rail Transit Itself: What’s Rail transit good for? What makes a bunch of urban trains a better transit anchor than a bunch of city busses? Here’s a partial list:

--- much greater fuel / energy economy;
--- much longer vehicle life;
--- much longer infrastructure life (tracks, streets, etc);
--- low maintenance costs;
--- thrifty use of land and materials, per passenger-mile;
--- huge financial savings, personal and public;
--- smooth on-time ride;
--- renewal of city centers and first-ring suburbs;
--- facilitation of walking, biking and neighborhood bus transit;
--- easier deployment of on-board security (transit cops);

And here’s a big one: people really like to take the train! There a problem here?

As a White man, a small-time Civil Rights veteran and a Rail activist, I don’t see Mr. Lind as a racist. He’s just calling the shots as he sees them. But there are so many compelling transportation, economic, and environmental arguments for Rail and Rail transit (including most of his own) that we can safely leave the Young Black Men thing alone. Besides, plenty of African-American leaders are working on this one.

Here are several things we Rail advocates need to zero in on:

1) Good Transit should appeal to everybody, whatever their color, age, bank balance, or political persuasion.

2) Rail-anchored transit is Good Transit.

3) We need many more Rail advocates who are not White, and for that matter, not men.

Energy And Transportation Are Twin Issues

A critical part of moving to a renewable energy-anchored future is conservation --- doing the most with the least. Rail transit moves a hell of a lot of people a long way on very little “fuel”. Only the bicycle does more for less, and you can stick your bike on the train. And, the less energy we need, the less we’re tempted to increase our imports, mine our open spaces and endure the danger and expense of nuclear fission.


High Speed Rail Network?

How About Any Rail Network?

By JW Madison
Rails Inc

A Historic Turnaround?

After a criminally long dry spell, the federal government has finally returned to passenger Rail as something worth paying attention to; not to mention supporting with our money. This support should be the proverbial no-brainer, given both public desire and the huge number of proven benefits afforded by Rail transportation; but then we’re the country that keeps fighting transportation and energy battles already being won just about everyplace else in the “civilized” world (this syndrome is worth a lot of ink, but someone else can spill that).

The years since World War II have seen a steady downward slide for passenger Rail in America. There are plenty of reasons for this; our love for the supposed freedom of the automobile, suburban sprawl, the destruction of many of our Rail lines and of course the Interstate Highway System (built and maintained, by the way, through federal subsidy).

A good overland transportation system has been described as a Three-Legged Stool, with Road, Rail and Air being the legs. In America, the Rail leg has been carved up almost to destruction, and the increasingly alarming results of this butchery are finally becoming obvious to politicians, planners and regular people all across the political spectrum. But wait!

Credit John Perry of Rails Inc.

Roads in Purple Rails in Red

Interstate and Rail ines

Passenger rail is coming back!

Cities all over the West (except for Albuquerque) can’t build Light Rail and Streetcar systems fast enough to satisfy public demand. Regional and commuter rail lines are being planned and built where no passenger Rail has existed for 50-60 years. Admittedly, the present state of the economy and its effect on municipal revenue streams is pinching these efforts, but they’re still creeping forward, and will pick up again (along with fuel prices).

Aside: Long system life, low maintenance costs, stunning fuel / energy economy, smooth clean ride, huge tax and personal savings, compatibility with motorless transportation ----what’s not to like, right? Right?

This renaissance is nationwide. Amtrak ridership has been increasing year by year at a rate that would delight the heart of any red-blooded business----except, weirdly enough, Amtrak. The management of Amtrak seems to be having trouble with the Vision Thing --- with making that long-overdue adjustment from bare survival to robust growth. Hard to blame them; if you’ve had your neck in a partial choke hold for long enough, it can be disorienting as hell when that hold is suddenly relaxed.

What vision and planning does exist at this level is concentrated on new rolling stock for Amtrak and on several High Speed Rail (HSR) coridors scattered around the country. These are wonderful things, and we’d like to see them all in place tomorrow morning; after all, we are visionaries. But we think some official rail visionaries are getting ahead of themselves.

You Want Commonsense Conservatism? Here It Is:

If you look closely at a map of the Interstate Highway System, then at one of Amtrak, you won’t help but notice that the latter seems about half-built. This is because it is. Many important city-pairs and city-groups --- El Paso / Albuquerque / Denver, for example --- are not directly connected at all. Want to go to Denver by train? Welcome to Chicago. How about El Paso? Hello LA.

The first priority for our passenger Rail network should be --- a network. Our country sorely lacks what some call a “Steel Interstate” or what our group calls a “Rail Interstate”. Our rails need to go everywhere our highways go, and our trains should not be spending half their trip time pulled over waiting for freights to rumble by. Another no-brainer. Or should I say, Duuuhh!

As to Amtrak’s aging rolling stock; we submit that more time running at speed and less time starting / stopping / idling would do wonders for that old equipment; not to mention the well-being of the passengers, the crew and the environment (works for traffic, works for trains).

In case we should develop an inferiority complex over our lack of widespread high-speed Rail service such as that enjoyed by Europe and Japan, not to worry; it’s not a complex at all! Our inferiority in this respect is quite real.

The passenger Rail picture in our country is finally getting a little brighter, but let’s put first things first. A bunch of boring old railroad track and gravel ballast doesn’t project the glamour of snazzy new rail cars and locomotives, but that’s where we have to start.

If we can ever re-establish a true national Rail network; one that actually goes most places at a predictable if modest 70-90 mph, and leave it unmolested for a while, we believe that We The People will love it, use it, and will almost certainly cough up the relatively modest sums needed to safely speed it up from there.

To Learn More:

Read more Transportation Section PDF

Stimulus Spurs Road Projects, Big and Small

State spending plans on transport give the clearest picture yet of how one of President Obama’s programs is playing out.
March 4, 2009USNEWS

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