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Brookings Institute: "Move It: How the U.S. Can Improve Transportation Policy"

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  • Todd Edelman
    *Missed Opportunity | Number 7 Move It: How the U.S. Can Improve Transportation Policy* U.S. Economic Growth, Infrastructure, Transportation, Jobs and the
    Message 1 of 1 , May 24 11:02 AM
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      Missed Opportunity | Number 7
      Move It: How the U.S. Can Improve Transportation Policy

      U.S. Economic Growth, Infrastructure, Transportation, Jobs and the Economy

      Robert Puentes, Senior Fellow, Metropolitan Policy Program

      Wall Street Journal


      This is the intro, and after that the part which is partly focused on public transport (at the link other transport issues are discussed....)

      May 23, 2011 —
       America needs to start directing traffic.

      The public sector spends north of $170 billion each year on transportation, and we'll need to spend even more to modernize our battered infrastructure.

      But before we start writing more checks, we need to stop and think long and hard about transportation. Not only are we spending too little right now, but we're also not spending it wisely.

      The nation lacks a clear-cut vision for transportation, and no way to target spending to make sure all those billions of dollars help achieve our economic and environmental goals. That means we have a lot of bridges to nowhere, with nobody making sure that these big investments generate enough returns to be worthwhile, or that they address any number of the large, thorny problems that are crucial to the well-being of the nation.

      For instance, we do a great job of building new roads—since 2000, we've added enough new lane miles to circle the globe four times. Yet border crossings, crucial to our nation's exports, are chronically congested, and there's no concerted effort to help unblock them. Meanwhile, at the government's urging, companies are gearing up to produce large numbers of electric cars, but there is no assurance that drivers will have anywhere close to enough places to recharge them.

      We can't afford to do this anymore, with the economy struggling and the nation trying to achieve a host of conflicting priorities. We want to be energy independent and go green. But we also want to boost exports, which means putting more trucks on the road to chug fuel and cough out carbon. We want the mobility that comes from cars and planes. But we also want to reduce the amount of energy expended when we travel.

      Clearly, we need a new approach. Transportation needs to be put squarely in the service of the American economy. We must coordinate the efforts of the public and private sectors to make it easier to move freight, find ways to cut carbon emissions, integrate new technologies into daily commutes and connect workers to jobs that are far from their homes.

      The big question, of course, is how much it will all cost. And that's tough to answer right now. We have a lot of ideas for the types of new investments we want. But little attention is given to figuring out what may not be needed if we can find smarter alternatives, such as rerouting flights instead of building new airports.

      With that in mind, here's a look at the national goals we want to achieve—and how transportation policy can—no, must—be rethought to achieve them.


      Connecting Workers With Work

      Finally, we have to make it easier for people to get to their jobs. Lower-income households depend more on transit than other households to access labor-market opportunity, due to the high costs of car ownership. Transit does a good job of getting into low-income neighborhoods, but it doesn't do so well connecting those riders to jobs, particularly lower-skilled jobs.

      In some metro areas, inner-city workers are cut off from suburban labor-market opportunities. In others, low-income suburban residents spend large shares of their income on owning and operating a car. Only about one-quarter of jobs in low- and middle-skill industries are accessible via public transit within 90 minutes for the typical metropolitan commuter, compared with one-third of jobs in high-skill industries. In Los Angeles, for example, 99% of low-income neighborhoods are served by transit. However, the typical resident can get to only 36% of jobs by transit.

      We need to give those lower-skilled workers more mobility and access to opportunity—which means more transportation choices. Governments need to think differently about the problem, to look at where jobs and workers are and figure out creative ways to bring them together.

      For an idea of the way ahead, consider Los Angeles. Under a far-reaching plan by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the city will add and extend bus lines and create corridors to connect residential and commercial areas. The Westside Subway Extension will also include a station at Century City, one of the largest employment centers in the county.

      Congress could help on projects like this by working with states to speed up approvals. For example, states with very strong environmental review and planning processes—such as California—should be able to waive steps such as the draft environmental impact statement that the federal government requires.

      Another important step would be a national infrastructure bank. A quasipublic entity like the Tennessee Valley Authority or Amtrak, the bank would make loans to fund transportation projects that were important to the nation as a whole. It would have to not only further policy goals—as a federal agency would—but also demand from project sponsors the same assurances and rate of return that a bank would.

      It is not a silver bullet, but if designed and implemented appropriately, it would be a targeted mechanism to make critical new investments on a merit basis, while adhering to market forces and leveraging the private capital we know is ready to invest here in the U.S.

      The stakes are too high—for economic recovery and fiscal responsibility—to allow spending that does not result in real returns and put us on the path to long-term prosperity. But even in this moment of fiscal austerity and restraint, we need a playbook that stimulates job creation, takes advantage of private-sector entrepreneurship and financing, and puts us on a path to the Next American Economy. Transportation is a fundamental part of that.
      Todd Edelman
      Green Idea Factory, 
      a member of the OPENbike team
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