A month or so ago, I couldn’t help but feel that our nation was approaching a sort of transportation tipping point, where the momentum was finally moving in the direction of re-envisioning person transportation from meaning just cars and airplanes. It was hard not to, with most transit measures passing nationwide, and the California High Speed Rail Proposition passing as well. I was worried a bit, though, with the House passing a $14 billion bailout that our leaders weren’t necessarily paying attention. The Senate seems to be set to stall the bill, but probably not because they feel the changing winds.

I still have plenty of hope that our leaders are starting to get on top of this. Here’s Joe Biden, via Matt Yglesias:

There’s a reason when you turned on the olympics to watch them this past summer, you saw mag-lev trains going over 200 miles an hour in supposedly a third world country [i.e., China] in terms of its economy, blowing into town, dealing with environmental problems they have as well as transporting people in a way that we don’t even come close to being able to do. And as Barack has pointed out, and John Corzine knows, I may have a bit of a pro-rail bias. I think think of the jobs we can create in both construction and innovation if we make similarly bold investments here in the United States as well as the environmental payoff that flows from that kind of investment.

So what about China? They are opening up the world’s fast conventional train lines, constructing Maglev projects that go nearly 300 mph, and building subways and LRT faster than we in the United States can even imagine. Of course there’s a price to pay for this sort of rapid construction, but most other countries seem to have figured this a while ago, and it’s time for our leaders in Washington to wake up.

As this Wa-Po op-ed points out, “voters sent a clear message to Capitol Hill on Election Day: Even when times are hard, they’re willing to pay for mass transit. Nationwide, voters approved over 70 percent of major transportation-funding measures”. I really hope lawmakers heard the message and are willing to make not just short-term “stimulus” investments in public transit, but in the long-term systems that will improve America’s competitiveness and mobility over the coming decades. This is the time to do it.

5 Replies to “Tipping Point”

  1. For some people cheap gas is great. Other people aren’t getting the big price break because they’re out of work. And the next time they’re employed the price of gas will go up. The price of oil is now linked to the global economy.

    How this factors in the aggregate is hard to tell, but it’s a good guess that gas prices will go up again, even before carbon-pricing.

    1. That’s a good argument, actually. Cheaper gas won’t help the jobless that much, and when the economy heats back up, so will gas prices.

  2. I realize your point, but this bailout wasn’t about cars being the best method of transportation, it was about saving millions and millions of jobs. they really didn’t have a choice.

    1. I’m optimistic overall, and not really worried about the bailout. It’s worth keeping in mind these guys got a $25 billion bailout in august. August.

      They won’t last through 2009 without another bailout.

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