Jarrett Walker has a typically insightful post on New York’s plan to speed up its buses, bucketing the city’s proposed improvements into two categories: cost and controversy:
The other big step involves controversy rather than money. More bus lanes need to be created, and the space for them will come from some other street use, usually parking lanes, traffic lanes, and versatile curb space for pickups and deliveries. Bus facilities cost money too, but winning these battles is the bigger struggle, so the cost is really in political capital rather than money.
I typically refer to these as capital and political costs, but “cost and controversy” is pithier. It reminded me of a recent exchange between our own Mayor Durkan and the Times‘ Jim Brunner, captured in this tweet from Erica C. Barnett:
This is from November, before the Streetcar was saved, and I think it explains a lot about where Durkan and her critics (STB included) sometimes appear to talk past one another.
On one hand, Durkan must look at the annual budget and the levies and think, “boy, I sure am spending a lot on transit. How could I be anti-transit?”
On another hand, she’s rejecting Brunner’s premise, which is that cars and non-motorized transportation are zero sum. Which is true! You don’t always have to choose between cars and other modes. That’s what subway tunnels are for, and we’re about to build a second one through downtown. It will be glorious.
On yet a third hand, sometimes you do have to choose! When there is limited right-of-way on a given street and the Mayor waffles on a decision (in the case of, say, the CCC or bike lanes), then advocates will rightly start to question her priorities.
To put it in Walker’s terms, the Mayor wants to keep the conversation focused on costs (“we’re spending a lot of money”), not controversies (“we need to take away car lanes”). This is the simplest explanation for the streetcar delay: Durkan wasn’t afraid of the costs (which kept going up!) but wanted to avoid the controversy (an unfavorable story on page 1 of the Times).
Safe street & transit advocates, by contrast, aren’t as concerned with costs (ST3 and the TBD are already funded) and instead want to focus on the controversies, usually in terms of reallocating right-of-way from cars to other modes.