September 25, 1994
Office of the Secretary
Documentary Services Division C-55
Attn: Public Docket 49617
Room 4107, 400 Seventh Street, S.W.
Washington, DC 20590
Re: National Transportation System
The National Transportation System, like its Reagan-Bush predecessor, the National Highway System, is pure pork. The nation needs to spend money on transportation, but not in this visionless, repeat-the-errors-of-the-past fashion.
Highway expansion should come to an immediate end. The automobile age has ended. The end of the oil is in sight. Our top priority, as is being done in Japan, should be to wean the country from its dependence on oil and oil-consuming motor vehicles. we should preserve our precious stores of oil for vital uses. Burning the oil in frivolous hither-and-thither wandering in heavy metal boxes and other nonessential uses is a crime, partly because it will make us dependent on other countries with large oil stores, and thus destroy our national security.
The traditional environmental approach is to recommend spending transportation funds on public transit. I think that would be a big mistake. Most people are auto-dependent, and are not interested in riding public transit or paying for it. They will fight such projects, and hope that they fail. They vastly prefer to drive, believing (falsely, of course) that they thus are saving time and money and are safer. In such a hostile climate, public transit cannot succeed. It is a waste of time to provide more transit now, because anyone who switches to transit and is thus removed from the freeway will be immediately replaced by someone else! (I owe this insight to David Engwicht, of Brisbane, Australia.)
What is needed is to use transportation dollars to prepare for the end of the oil, and make automobile use more difficult: tear down parking structures and parking lots, and build something more useful (housing, farms, parks, and wildlife habitat); rip out excess road space, especially where it threatens wildlife (by fragmenting habitat) or covers farmable land; "calm" traffic in the city by closing as much of the city as possible to motor vehicles. After the oil runs out (best estimates are 25-35 years, in the U.S.), of course, we won't have enough fuel to keep all of the current traffic on the road, so we won't need the road space!
The effect of this plan will be to frustrate drivers (a mortal sin, I know, but necessary, as you will see) so much that they will sell their cars and become transit users, and, hence, (voila!) transit advocates! The tide will then turn: the same people who are now fighting the expansion of public transit and screaming for more freeway lanes (even though we no longer have any place to put them) will start lobbying for more and better public transit. Then is the time to supply more transit service, because it will have a big enough constituency (a majority, rather than a tiny minority of the population) for it to succeed.
Instead of having the majority of the population trying desperately to stave off the inevitable end of the auto age, and living as though the oil were going to last forever (building and favoring endless urban sprawl), we would all be working together to seek out and implement the visions of people like Paul Hawken, Peter Newman, Dave Foreman, and Richard Register, who have shown how we can live in a sustainable way, preserving both a satisfactory quality of life and a rich natural environment.
Actually, one of the best ways to spend transportation dollars would be to pay off the national debt. That wouldn't be bad either!
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.