If you're an economist (possibly The Economist), or an infrastructurist (possibly The Infrastructurist), or if you care about the Transport Politic, you might be upset about the lack of funding for transit. And there are good reasons to be. From a Keynesian perspective, less government spending on anything means continued high unemployment. And new transit construction is just cool. Yonah Freemark also argues that new transit must be built to keep up with population increases.
For those reasons, "transportation advocates" like Ryan Avent, Yonah Freemark, Jarrett Walker and Aaron Renn have continued to press for more spending, more spending, more spending, and to get upset when Congress and state governments cut budgets. I'm sympathetic, but I think the despair is completely unwarranted, and I'm getting pretty sick of the obsession with building more more MOAR! as though that's the only thing that matters. This approach is not working. We need to take a very different approach - one that you may have seen a bit in my past posts.
If you support transit because you care about global warming, or asthma, or carnage, or the social effects of sprawl, or conserving energy. Even if you care about equal access to jobs, services, housing and shopping, more transit is not always better. I've talked about this before, and people haven't really picked up on it. Maybe because I'm not being clear enough, or maybe because they think I'm being a nut. Still, let me try to be as clear as I can.
For pollution, efficiency, carnage, obesity and social issues, what matters is the mode share. Mode share is dependent on relative capital investment, not absolute spending. The government can build all the transit we want and it won't boost mode share, if it builds more roads than transit.
It follows, then that it doesn't matter how much transit funding is cut, as long as road funding is cut more. If they build the ARC tunnel and replace the Tappan Zee, the Kosciuszko, the Goethals and the Pulaski Skyway, then overall that's a net increase in car capacity. If they don't build the ARC tunnel or the replacement Tappan Zee, Kosciuszko, Goethals and Pulaski, then overall it's a net decrease in car capacity.
Transit advocates always have to fight people who want more money for roads. When the government is spending money, transit advocates have allies in the people who want to spend money. A winning strategy is to get the government to spend more on building transit than on building roads.
There are some people who honestly want to cut the budgets, right or wrong. The current political mood favors them. Let's take advantage of that. They want to cut the budget, fine! Cut the road building budget more than you cut the transit building budget, and I'm happy. Cutting the road budget will help the poor too, because it will force employers to move closer to population centers and become more transit-oriented.
It's absolutely true that the Republicans in power are mostly complete fucking hypocrites. For all their budget-cutting posturing, Chris Christie, Scott Walker and Mitch Daniels are spending boatloads of cash on new roads and wider roads. Transit advocates should take advantage of that, as Ben Kabak is doing. At best, you get more cuts in the road-building budget. At worst, you tarnish their budget-cutting reputations and get to call them out as hypocrites in the next election.
If you really care about pollution, efficiency, carnage, obesity, society and equality, you need to stop wasting your energy fighting the forces of austerity. The pendulum will swing back eventually. We need to swing with it, to use its energy to bring down the Tappan Zee, the Kosciuszko, the Goethals and the Pulaski. Then when it swings back, we'll have that many more transit riders ready to support train tunnels.