Political reality is a handy thing. Everyone seems to have a healthy grasp of it, at least judging by the number of people who have lectured me recently on the political reality of the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement, the fate of the Rockaway Branch of the Long Island Rail Road, and the parking garages proposed for the Northern Branch of the Erie Railroad.
arbitrary one-way plans on neighborhoods that didn't want them. Physically separated bike paths were something we could only dream of in our city. Then, on May 14, 2007, Janette Sadik-Khan was appointed Transportation Commissioner, and the political reality changed.
For the Tappan Zee Bridge itself, the political reality for years was that there was an uneasy truce between the highway pushers, the train advocates and the
I'm all for taking a realistic view of the political landscape - in fact, last year I criticized Slevin and friends for their lack of appreciation of the politics of the 34th Street Transitway. But there's a big difference between my realpolitik and that practiced by Slevin or Gromada or Dave Zornow: I never rule anything out for good.
As Jarrett Walker is fond of pointing out, physical principles can be absolute and forever, and should constrain your sense of what's possible as you advocate for transit. For example, any vehicle that runs on a road with shock absorbers is going to be more jerky and less comfortable than a vehicle on tracks without them. Politics is different. Politics can change. A political analysis can give you an idea of which strategy is more likely to accomplish your goals, or which battle is worth fighting. It may suggest that at this point there is not enough political support to build a new rail line. What it can't do is tell you for certain that there will never be enough support.
The way to handle political uncertainty is very simple. Rather than saying "we can't have" something, you just say what it would take to get that thing. For example, in order to get "BRT on the Bridge," someone needs to either overcome Cuomo's ambition, or make your plan compatible with it. You can still say that a plan (say, prtonthebridge.com) is so far outside of what's currently being done that it's a waste of time to discuss it unless something big changes.
It may be less satisfying than saying "Never going to happen!" but it's a lot more honest.