There was a time when rail mass transit made sense.
Eighty or ninety years ago - when my grandfather Oscar Berg was working as a conductor on the Como Avenue trolley line, urban mass transit made sense; the lines had been built with nearly-free right of way, were built amid cities whose layouts and demography suited (and drove) rail transit, at a time when people in the served cities where business was either built alongside the rail lines, or whose factories and offices served as the lines' destinations.
After World War II, a combination of the market (as returning GIs sought to build their own lives in the new 'burbs, growing outside the reach of the rail lines) and social engineering (as the "urban renewal" craze consumed city governments nationwide, causing unintentional consequences that are still harming cities) and government/business manipulation of the market (as a cartel of government, big oil, big car, and big tire convinced cities in the throes of "urban renewal" that rails were bad, and roads were good) combined to strip the rails from almost all major cities.
In the past thirty-odd years, cities have been trying to recapture their glory days (and, ostensibly, cure congestion) by returning to the idea of rail mass transit. Unfortunately, the train has left the station, as it were; an idea that made boundless sense sixty years ago, using rights of way that were fully amortized and rolling stock and support systems that were cheap by the standards of the day, makes a lot less sense in an era when rights of way must be purchased and rolling stock and infrastructure is a specialty purchase (frequently an import). Urban rail systems that were pretty much self-supporting in the 1920's are considered "successful" today if, like the Ventura Trolley in Minneapolis, they lose money at "best case" rates rather than "worst case".
For that reason, I've always opposed most rail transit. There's one exception; commuter rail - lines like the upcoming Northstar and the proposed Red Rocks lines (connecting the northwest and east metros to the downtowns, respectively, using existing rails and rights of way) which, under some scenarios (admittedly, not the ones that the current plans foresee, using variables like purchasing used rolling stock) could break even over a period of time. Not great (the Taxpayers League has some fairly dismal projections for North Star) but vastly better than current Light Rail projections under all scenarios, especially inasmuch as they do something neither the current Ventura Trolley nor the proposed Central Corridor line between the downtowns plans to do - move people from where they are to where they need to be.
One option that some transit pundits - and a mixed bag of politicians, from conservative Michele Bachmann to green wackjob Dean Zimmerman - have trotted out is the notion of "Personal Rail Transit". PRT is a utopian-sounding idea - small, taxi-sized cars taking groups of 1-4 people directly to destinations - which has its theoretical advantages, but many pragmatic problems. Worst of all, its price estimates are seductively - and unrealistically - low, while its technical challenges look fairly daunting. But at the end of the day, it's just another rail system; just another big-government spending program; just another attempt to engineer society.
I've opposed public investiment in PRT for some time now. Not to the extent that I've mentioned them in this space, of course. Transit is a very minor issue to me, personally; its the kind of issue that uberwonks like to canoodle over, the kind of people who enjoy going to zoning and planning meetings. Something's gotta give in my schedule; transit wonkery is one of them.
Local short-bus Photoshop wanker Ken Avidor assumes that lack of interest implies support. Of course, by that "logic", I've also supported Area 51, building pyramids over the cities to increase life span, a 300,000 seat youth soccer stadium, and Larry Pogemiller.
But, not to let facts get in the way, Avidor and Eva Young, proprietor of the "Dump Bachmann" blog (to which I refuse to link due to various ethical lapses on Young's part in the past) have linked me, in a "cartoon" about PRT supporters, to support of Personal Rail Transit.
It's not true, of course. On the comment thread thread (if you're interested, you can find it), I offer a correction, noting repeatedly that I am not a PRT supporter. Avidor responds by...changing the subject. Repeatedly. The simple fact of my complete opposition to PRT is made perfectly clear, to no apparent avail.
The untrue assertion remains on the blog.
Among many others, of course; Young and her minions frequently refer to me as a Michele Bachmann supporter. This is also unsubstantiated - partly because as a (very minor) media figure, it'd be inappropriate for me to do so, partly because I live in the Fourth CD and have nothing to do with life in the Sixth, and partly because even if I did live in the Sixth my mind would still not be made up, and would not be locked on Bachmann in any case; there are other candidates in that district (Krinkie, especially) who are very strong on issues that matter a lot to me. You can read anything you want into that - although you shouldn't read as much into it as Eva and her not-especially-gifted blogmates do.
One wonders - what does it take for the truth to come out on Eva Young's "Dump Bachmann" blog?
And if they're incapable of correcting something this simple - correcting an utterly, demonstrably false conveyance of support for something I documentably oppose - what does this say about Young's many, many other factually-querulous assertions? The supposed "incidents" in the bathroom in Scandia? The supposed "spying through the bushes" incident?
If The Dump can't get the simple, demonstrable facts straight, what can one assume about her splashier claims?
Do facts count?
(Side bet: Look for a change in subject when and if they respond. It would seem to be the only weapon in their rhetorical arsenal).
UPDATE: I win the bet!
A commenter notes that Avidor has written:
Mitch Berg is embarrassed by Michele Bachmann. He confessed he doesn't want to be "lumped in with proponents" of PRT in the comment section to this post.As I predicted, a change of subject, and an inept one at that.
There was no "embarassment" stated or implied - merely a demand that The Dump get its facts straight.
This, they seem unable, or unwilling, to do, preferring childish word games to an honest admission of error.
Draw your own conclusions (especially you media figures that keep giving The Dump a walk on things like fact-checking).Posted by Mitch at April 19, 2006 08:54 AM | TrackBack