I very much appreciate that Yonah has taken the time to read my response to his earlier post, and taken my critique in the constructive spirit that I intended. But I have to confess I'm not sure why he's so perplexed.
In his April 29 post, Yonah lays out his goals for transportation, and they're much the same as mine: he deplores "very high traffic fatality rates" and "our continued dependence on the congestion-causing, sprawl-inducing, pollution-generating private automobile" and favors publicly-owned transit systems that produce "gains to the society in other ways" - just as I want reduced carnage, increased efficiency, improved society, reduced pollution and access for all. So our goals are the same; we just differ on how to achieve them.
How do we differ? I look at the people killed by cars; the wasted space, material, time and energy devoted to creating, moving and storing cars; the damage done to society by our isolation in cars; the pollution spewed by cars; and the injustice of denying access to jobs, housing and commerce to people who don't own cars, and I conclude that the problem is cars and we need to get rid of them.
Yonah looks at all these things, sees that we can replace cars with transit, and concludes that the problem is we don't have enough transit. He then argues that we need to let people build more cars and more car facilities so that they will let us build a little more transit. Then he is perplexed that I don't agree.
Let's try a thought experiment. Imagine that we wake up tomorrow morning and none of the cars work. We can't get them working because the knowledge is locked away in our brains like the Third Doctor in Doctor Who. Trains, ships and airships still work, and over the next thirty years (ten for Los Angeles), the cars and highways are recycled into a comprehensive rail network, supplemented by bicycles, canal boats and the occasional horse or donkey cart. (If the suddenness bothers you, assume instead that one car after another stops working, over the course of thirty years, and we can't fix them or make any more.) How would that affect our goals?
Traffic deaths and pollution drop to the tiny levels from trains, bicycles and donkey carts. They rise a bit as more trains run, but never approach anywhere near the levels we currently have. There is a mass upheaval as all the people in the suburbs and exurbs move their homes, jobs and shops closer to downtowns and train lines, but the increase in efficiency and social cohesion is phenomenal. There are new battles as the rich try to find new ways to shut the poor out of jobs, housing and commerce; maybe they succeed, but maybe they don't.
Now let's imagine that instead we wake up next morning (or in 2041) and the rail transit network has been magically increased so that it is the same size as the road network. There's just as much carnage and pollution as before; if anything, there's more. Things run a bit more efficiently, but the road system is still prone to crazy traffic jams and generates tons of sprawl. The poor have more access, but not as much as they should. Politically, this brings us back to around 1965, and the politicians exhibit the same kind of denial that they do now. Maybe rising gas prices shift the political winds, and eventually the road system is cannibalized to extend the train system, buoyed by political support from a large transit-riding population. Maybe not, since what I described is pretty close to the transportation network here in the Greater New York area, and most politicians pander to drivers.
For a third scenario, imagine that we wake up tomorrow and the transit network is ten times its current size, the same size as the current road network - but the road network is also ten times its current size. Have we gained anything? No.
This is why the absolute amount of transit matters very little. It's the absolute amount of car usage that matters, and the way to make a difference in that is through changing the funding formulas. If we keep the same formulas but increase the size of them, we don't win anything.
This is why the Very Serious People are wrong when they say, "I'm not anti-car." If you're not anti-car, you're not doing it right. It's up to you: do you want to be Serious, or do you want to be right?