Winners and Losers

I found Elisabeth Rosenthal's recent New York Times article difficult to stomach. The language she uses makes it sound like urban and transportation policy is a zero sum game in which there are drivers and non-drivers. Yes, sometimes policy benefits some and harms others, but it's not always so black and white.

(from John Niedermeyer on Flickr)

It's fairly well established that building and building road and highway infrastructure induces demand and makes life marginally worse for many motorists. But it's counter-intuitive to think that all this spending is bad for the people it purports to benefit, so it's an easy political sell.

A similar point could be made about parking fees and tolls. These are always spun as being anti-motorist, even if they improve efficiency for the people who use them. Nobody wants to pay for something that they could get for free - I get that. Sometimes, though, you just can't get something for nothing.

Ultimately, this comes back to the belief that people subscribe to a single transportation ideology and rarely or never deviates from it. If a local government closes a street and makes it exclusively for pedestrians, that's bad for drivers and great for walkers. But what makes someone a driver or a walker? Does a person who drives most places never walk? Does a person who walks most places never drive?

I often see and hear comments like, "I would walk/bike more if it were safer or easier or more convenient." So it's reasonable to believe there's at least some interest in these things, even among people who literally drive everywhere.


    On June 29, 2011 Laurel said...

    Glad to read that someone else had the same reaction to the language. She was playing into the whole 'war on cars' discourse in the US that as far as I can tell doesn't exist in Europe. I am currently living in Munich and I doubt people here would cheapen the word 'torture' to use to describe the transport policy.


    Your question about what makes someone a driver or a walker central. Transportation policy in many other developed countries usually does not define people by the type of transportation they use. In fact, funding is partly based on what transportation methods are being used the most and on what is most economically efficient.