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RE: [CarFreeCafe] Portland State moving toward green future

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  • Carlos F. Pardo SUTP
    See below an interesting article on Katrina, Rita, cars and transit: Original article in: http://www.emagazine.com/view/?2899 Carlos F. Pardo Project
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 12, 2005
      See below an interesting article on Katrina, Rita, cars and transit:

      Original article in: http://www.emagazine.com/view/?2899

      Carlos F. Pardo
      Project Coordinator
      GTZ Sustainable Urban Transport Project (SUTP)


      Counting on Cars: A Disaster in the Making
      By Jim Motavalli

      Thursday, September 22 was celebrated as World Car-Free Day in much of the
      civilized world (1,500 events in 40 countries), but there was no joy in the
      Washington office of the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute
      (CEI). "Many people may well choose a car-free lifestyle, but the notion
      that government should impose it in the name of sustainability is crazy,"
      said Sam Kazman, head of CEI's Automobility Project.

      Exhibit A for CEI is Hurricane Katrina, which demonstrated that not having
      access to a car can be "deadly." Says Kazman, "It was a lack of access to
      cars that led tens of thousands of people to remain in New Orleans. Cars,
      rather than mass transit, were the key to evacuating hundreds of thousands
      of people."

      CEI took its jab at World Car-Free Day as the event was unfolding around the
      globe September 22. Even while the ink was drying on the group's press
      release, the great Houston exodus and SUV-based traffic jam occurred.
      "Hundreds of thousands of people fleeing Hurricane Rita were stuck in their
      cars throughout much of Thursday," according to the Washington Post, "with
      many running out of gas and sweltering on roadsides in 100-degree heat as
      they waited for authorities to bring them gasoline."

      Family of E's Managing Editor gave up fleeing for Arkansas after driving
      only 70 miles in 21 hours of sweltering gridlock in Houston. Several gas
      stations the family passed were out of fuel, and one attendant explained
      that although gas was actually available, trucks could not make it through
      jammed roads to make deliveries. The family eventually ended up staying with
      friends on the city's north side.

      The ironic fact that Lilly Teng, an attorney, works for Chevron didn't help
      her find gas to escape from Houston. Fifteen hours after she, her husband
      and two small children set out for the home of relatives in Jackson,
      Mississippi, they were still in their car near Beaumont, Texas, having
      traveled only 90 miles. "We are trying to get out, but there is no way out,
      now," she said, as she helped push the stalled vehicle. "This is an
      evacuation route. It is not evacuating. We are ready to go, but we can't

      Can you imagine what will happen if, as stated in existing nuclear
      evacuation plans, the residents of the metropolitan New York area were told
      to head for higher ground up I-95 to Vermont and Maine? The road is
      hopelessly snarled on normal commuting days.

      You might think that CEI would have issued a mea culpa over this turn of
      events, but you'd be wrong. The think tank is sticking to its guns. Kazman
      told me this week, "Houston illustrates that despite horrendous traffic
      jams, huge numbers of people were still able to get out. If disaster had
      actually struck in Houston, things would have been a lot worse if there were
      as many people without cars as there were in New Orleans."

      Kazman says his faith in mass automobile ownership is not shaken by events
      in Houston: "It was very messy, but we got more people out than otherwise
      would have been the case," he said. Messy, indeed. The Houston death toll
      was 30, most of whom (23) were elderly people who perished in the tragic bus
      fire along the evacuation route. In other words, they were not killed by the
      storm but by the gridlocked "escape" from it.

      Aha, says Randal O'Toole, a Thoreau Institute transit critic cited by CEI.
      They died in a bus, and buses are public transportation, right? "I don't
      consider this decisive, but it certainly isn't a good advertisement for mass
      transit," O'Toole says. He writes: "Auto skeptics who resented my pointing
      out that automobile ownership made the difference for families during the
      Katrina evacuation chortled with glee at press reports of traffic jams
      during the Rita evacuation. The chortling stopped when the first reports of
      Rita casualties came in: 23 people killed on a bus that somehow caught fire
      and exploded. To date, only seven other people are known to have died from
      Rita. That's a far cry from the nearly 1,100 people killed by Katrina, the
      vast majority of them in transit-dependent New Orleans."

      Whoa, wait a minute here! Skipping over the fact that it could just as
      easily have been a car that caught fire, making the mass transit connection
      weak at best, Rita almost entirely bypassed Houston, so comparing it to the
      results from Katrina seems a stretch. The death toll in Houston would have
      been only seven if no mass auto-based evacuation had occurred. Looking at
      the pictures of stalled vehicles, I saw a sea of SUVs.

      It's unclear to me why mass transit couldn't have effected an orderly
      evacuation of both Houston and New Orleans, either using trains or buses.
      Certainly it was viable in New Orleans, where the Amtrak station is located
      downtown near the Superdome. The Washington Post reported, "Amtrak had
      decided to run a 'dead-head' train that evening [August 27] to move
      equipment out of [New Orleans]. It was headed for high ground in Macomb,
      Mississippi, and it had room for several hundred passengers. 'We offered the
      city the opportunity to take evacuees out of harm's way,' said Amtrak
      spokesperson Cliff Black. 'The city declined.' So the ghost train left New
      Orleans at 8:30 p.m., with no passengers on board." But other accounts say
      it was FEMA that turned the Amtrak offer down.

      New Orleans obviously had hundreds of available school and municipal buses,
      most of which simply sat and flooded as Katrina unfolded. The blogs were
      full of damning shots of warehoused buses, 146 in one overhead photo alone.
      The arguing over this will go on forever, with some claiming the problem was
      a lack of drivers, and fingers pointing both at FEMA and Mayor Ray Nagin.

      O'Toole thinks it's all cut and dried. He counts 300 municipal buses in New
      Orleans, plus 500 school buses. Fill the seats and there's room for 40,000
      people. "Yet some 100,000 people in New Orleans alone, and well over 150,000
      from the metropolitan area, were from families that had no automobile,"
      O'Toole writes. "There were simply not enough buses to carry them all." You
      mean to say, Randal, that they couldn't have made two or even three separate
      trips? Remember there were days and days after Katrina's danger was known
      and before it hit, ample time to plan and run an orderly bus-driven

      Again, O'Toole says no, claiming "people would be reluctant to use transit
      because of doubts about their ability to bring pets and other belongings
      with them aboard buses, and their lack of any ability to control where they
      were going and when they would be able to return." So they had control in
      Houston, just because they were in the driver's seats?

      None of this is to deny the existence of powerful issues involving race and
      transportation. I'm not convinced that lack of automobile ownership is the
      key to understanding what happened in New Orleans, but it is obviously a
      factor in the city's high poverty rates. A New York Times chart shows that
      35 percent of New Orleans' black population lived in poverty, versus only 11
      percent of the white population. Most poor whites owned cars, but a majority
      of poor blacks did not. "Modest Progress," a study on the relationship
      between the black community and access to jobs in the 1990s, showed that
      black people who owned cars were as likely to have jobs as whites with cars,
      but take away the black-owned cars and there was a "substantial" difference.
      "Our empirical estimates indicate that raising minority car-ownership rates
      to the white car ownership rate would eliminate 45 percent of the
      black-white employment rate differential and 17 percent of the comparable
      Latino-white differential," the report said. Likewise, their research showed
      that if public transportation allows city residents to travel to job-rich
      suburbs, their employment picture improves.

      But New Orleans does not have effective mass transportation. As someone who
      has ridden on its fabled and historic streetcars, I can say they're quaint
      and evocative but no substitute for a city-wide network of modern light
      rail. Some 165 years old, the 13-mile-long St. Charles streetcar line moves
      through the upscale Garden District at a snail's pace. There are two other
      modest lines (1.5 and 3.6 miles) of more modern vintage. Looking for the
      Streetcar Named Desire? It was eliminated in the mid-1950s.

      O'Toole looks at this and sees not an undernourished transit system, but a
      money pit and, as "a model for smart growth," a disastrous example. "If all
      the money spent on New Orleans streetcars from 1985 to the present had been
      spent instead on helping auto-less low-income families achieve mobility, the
      city would have more than $6,000 for each such family, enough to buy good
      used cars for all of them," he writes. Having said that, he doesn't think
      that buying poor people cars "is the best use of our limited transportation
      resources.." More cost effective, perhaps, are the state-sponsored programs
      that help poor people afford automobiles (as seen in Wisconsin, Michigan,
      Texas, Maryland, New York and others). But conservatives usually oppose this
      kind of "handout."

      Despite O'Toole's dismissive reference to "smart growth," New Urbanism
      actually represents a great solution to increasing mobility for the poor
      through transit-oriented development. As Smart Growth America's David
      Goldberg writes, "All of a sudden we are all confronting the unstated
      assumption that those without cars are not full citizens. Indeed it has
      become shockingly plain that the poor and black of New Orleans were social
      refugees before they became displaced citizens. Suddenly the fundamental
      unfairness of metropolitan arrangements, the social equity issues we have
      tried to raise in recent years, are front and center in the national
      conversation. If we're lucky and smart, at least some regions around the
      country will be taking a close look at the cruel isolation of their own
      poor, disadvantaged enclaves."

      It's not just about cars, it's about mobility. "Among barriers to work,
      participants consistently identify transportation as a significant problem,"
      says a survey entitled "The Effects of Car Access on Employment Outcomes for
      Welfare Recipients" by two University of Tennessee professors. They don't
      necessarily need cars if transit is there to take its place, but obviously
      owning an automobile helps. One problem I had with Barbara Ehrenreich's
      Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America is that when she went into
      the belly of the underclass beast she kept her car, an option not available
      to many of the working poor.

      Sam Kazman still believes that what happened in Houston, while chaotic,
      represents a system that works. "Having access to a car that will take you
      where you want to go when you want to go is a crucial thing," he says. "Even
      if the evacuation routes become jammed up, if you have enough patience and a
      little bit of luck, you will make it. It's better than people relying on
      government-sponsored mass transit."

      Personally, I wished we'd learned other lessons from World Car-Free Day.
      Anyone who's been to Europe has seen the pedestrian-oriented central plazas
      and efficient transit systems that make it almost unthinkable (not to
      mention hugely expensive) to own a car. If, say, Amsterdam, Holland
      (protected by a billion-dollar dike update of the type President Bush
      short-changed in New Orleans, but never mind) had been similarly threatened,
      who could doubt that it would have been safely evacuated?


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