August 27, 1989
Urban Mass Transportation Administration
400 Seventh Street SW
Washington, DC 20590
Re: National Transportation Policy: Follow-up to 8/23/89 Public Hearing, BART Board Room, Oakland
After listening to all of the other speakers at the 8/23 hearing, I feel a need to make three additional points:
"Flexibility" was requested by many of the speakers. Reading between the letters, what this means is "Give us the money, but let us do what we want with it, namely, continue our business-as-usual, auto-dependent, freeway-expansion policies." Our local governments (state, regional, county, city, etc.) have demonstrated a complete lack of regard for environmental concerns. All of them (but not the people that they "represent") favor expanding our road system and rationalize it via the myth that relieving congestion reduces emissions and conserves fuel. (I addressed that myth in my previous correspondence.)
From our point of view, what matters is that we not pour good money after bad -- that we put an end to highway construction and other furtherance of auto dependence, and begin to build rail transportation systems instead. If this happens, it doesn't matter where the money comes from, nor who controls it. However, it appears that the resistance to this shift, from entrenched wealthy interests, is so strong that help from the federal government is almost essential. It doesn't matter whether gas tax revenues are used for transportation, or for reducing the national debt; both are very worthwhile! However, if used for transportation, they should be used to build up our decrepit rail systems, not for more road-building. Therefore, the federal government should control the use of the funds, but shift its emphasis away from highways (maintenance of the road surface, without capacity expansion, is okay) and toward rail. Yes, we need flexibility, but only to shift toward more environmentally sound transportation systems!
The second theme often heard at the hearing was how awful "congestion" is. One of the panel members decried a "loss of productivity". As demonstrated in the material I sent you with my 8/6/89 letter, scientific research has shown that congestion actually improves air quality and fuel consumption: where autos are subject to congestion, people use public transit more, live closer to where they work, consume less fuel per capita, and waste less time travelling (time spent driving is almost totally wasted; however, time spent on public transit can be put to productive use, e.g reading, socializing, or even sleeping). I urge you not to perpetuate the "congestion myth"; there is absolutely no evidence to support it.
Safety was another popular issue. However, none of the "pro-safety" speakers bothered to mention the obvious fact that one is far safer on public transit than in a car. Or that congestion, rather than a safety hazard, actually slows traffic to the point that it is almost impossible to have a serious accident! (Measuring safety by counting accidents ignores the fact that a fender-bender is not the safety equivalent of a fatality.)
Thank you again for the opportunity to influence this vital process.
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.
Modern Transit Society
California Transit League