When is Transportation Policy Not About Transportation?

By Benita M. Dodd

Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx is President Obama’s new pick for U.S. Transportation Secretary to replace Ray LaHood. But advocates for mobility and congestion relief shouldn’t expect much of that.

As one pleased Foxx supporter put it, “He understands that rail transit, public transit, drives economic development. The goal of any transportation system, especially rail transit, is not to move people. That is not the goal. The goal is economic development at the stations.”

And as Randal O’Toole of the Cato Institute blogged yesterday, “Obama’s New Transportation Chief Wants Streetcars for Everyone.”

“America’s transportation system will continue to grind to a halt under President Obama’s pick for transportation secretary, Anthony Foxx.,” Randal wrote, adding,  “Foxx strongly supports streetcars and other obsolete forms of transit.”

As for all that fawning over transportation in Charlotte? Summarized by Randal, “Transit advocates often point to Charlotte as an example of a successful lightrail line (more accurately described as a “low-capacity-rail line”). With success like this, I’d hate to see failure: the line cost more than twice the original projection; generates just $3 million in annual fares against more than $20 million in annual operations and maintenance costs; and collects an average of just 77 cents per ride compared with nearly a dollar for other light-rail lines. Now Charlotte wants to extend the line even though a traffic analysis report predicts that the extension will dramatically increase traffic congestion in the corridor (see pp. 54-56)”.

Some transit proponents are hoping that Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s relationship with Foxx will bring transportation dollars to Georgia and more public transportation; he’s hailed as a man who understands cities: “Foxx seems to get that transportation — particularly in our cities — comes in many modes, and that they’re each integral to the economic strength of a region,” gushed one writer in The Atlantic.

Let’s hope he doesn’t promote more more streetcar “innovation.” What’s innovative about going backward? As I wrote in a recent commentary, “Buses provide more flexibility than rail – or streetcar boondoggles – at lower cost, and can reach more transit-dependent Georgians.”

The man who would be tackling this nation’s transportation challenges, by the way, hardly seems qualified. A lawyer by profession, Foxxhas served on the Charlotte City Council since 2005 and as Charlotte’s mayor since 2009. I, for one, do not want to see Atlanta, Georgia and the rest of the nation go down Charlotte’s costly track.

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