Transit issues and a reader request
Lawrence Krubner sent me an email requesting that I link to this blog by Alex Marshall, which covers urban issues. I have to admit, the post on the main page impressed me--for some reason, transit issues tend to get people emotionally bent out of shape, but rarely do you read anything that addresses why it is that people's emotions cloud their thinking on this issue.
Of course, I'm wildly biased because I have been supportive of building a light rail in Austin from day one. But I still have to say that the anti-public transportation people I meet tend to get far more riled up than any of the pro-public transportation people I meet. Maybe they feel defensive. I'm sure it also has something to do with the fact that pro-public transportation people aren't usually arguing against cars so much as arguing for diversity, as Marshall makes clear in this article. Anti-public transportation folks are in a position of arguing "my way or the highway", which can probably be a strain on the nerves.
Here in Austin, things have grown particularly ugly around the issues of a light rail and better bike lane access. It's a Rednecks vs. Hippies thing. And more than a few Rednecks are positive that if they start seeing train stations and bikes all over the city, then the Hippies will have won and we are all going to hell. The "lifestyle" divide has really drained a lot of the common sense out of people, something you can witness frequently in the letters to the editor at the Chronicle, though things have kind of simmered down after light rail passed in this last election.
On the Redneck side of the divide, I can sort of understand the frustration with the bike lanes. Bike lanes have to be built into the side of already existing roads, and many roads in Austin are already narrow. Stick a bike lane on them, and it's hard to navigate, especially for people who drive enormous pick-ups or SUVs. I understand the frustration, but I can't help but say, "Tough." Drive a gas-sucking monstrosity if you want, but don't complain when stuck behind someone who is doing their part to balance out your wastefulness. It would do well for the Hippies on the other side not to use their self-righteousness to exaggerate the amount of hostility they receive when out on their bikes, however.
All common sense has gone out the window for a number of Rednecks I encounter who oppose the light rail, especially those who live waaaaay out in the suburbs and have to crawl along in traffic everyday, burning the hell out of that $1.90 a gallon gasoline. If the light rail reduces their time in traffic, why bitch about it? It's particularly maddening to hear someone bitch who lives outside of Travis County--shut up and be grateful that we are paying to lighten your traffic load, I say. But Marshall here is right. The issue is one of image, and people are so in love with the "individuality" of driving a car that they are blocking common sense and they are also blocking the fact that you aren't much of a free spirit when sitting in traffic driving the same Ford Expedition as half the people on the road as you'd like to think you are.
Anyway, it's a good post. I wish I could think of strategies to lessen anti-public transportation sentiment borne out of the anxiety that it's somehow un-American to ride a light rail or even to ride a bike somewhere. Pointing out the emotional context of the arguments is a good start, though.