Leadership (and trailership)

The most amazing thing I read last week was mayor Michael Bloomberg’s speech to a USCM meeting on climate change. Emphasis added:

Leadership is not waiting for others to act, or bowing to special interests, or making policy by polling or political calculus. And it’s not hoping that technology will rescue us down the road or forcing our children to foot the bill. Leadership is about facing facts, making hard decisions and having the independence and courage to do the right thing, even when it’s not easy or popular. We’ve all heard people say, “It’s a great idea, but for the politics.” And let me give you just one example from New York.

Last spring, as part of our PlaNYC initiative, we proposed a system of congestion pricing based on successful programs in London, Stockholm and Singapore. The plan would charge drivers $8 to enter Manhattan on weekdays from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., which would help us reduce the congestion that is choking our economy, the pollution that has helped produce asthma rates that are twice the national average, and the carbon dioxide that is fueling global warming.

Now, the question is not whether we want to pay, but how do we want to pay. With an increased asthma rate? With more greenhouse gases? Wasted time? Lost business? Higher prices? Or do we charge a modest fee to encourage more people to take mass transit and use that money to expand mass transit service? When you look at it that way, the idea makes a lot of sense, but for the politics, because no one likes the idea of paying more. But being up front and honest about the costs and benefits, we’ve been able to build a coalition of supporters that includes conservatives and liberals, labor unions and businesses, and community leaders throughout the city.

There is no problem that can’t be solved if we have the courage to confront it head-on — and put progress above politics. Mayors around the country are doing it — and those in Washington can, too.

Just a few days later in Seattle, the transportation bond proposal that I referenced earlier failed — possibly because it wasn’t pro-transit enough. Chris McGann reporting in the P-I:

Though voters rejected Proposition 1, an extensive poll commissioned by the Sierra Club showed that if the transit element of the measure had appeared on the ballot alone, it would have passed.

The Sierra Club joined forces with the anti-transit crowd and campaigned against Proposition 1, believing the measure included too much freeway expansion, relied on general taxes, including the sales tax, and did not address global warming.

According to the poll, 52 percent of voters say they would have voted for the transit portion had it been presented alone… “The single largest reason [a group of voters who we would describe as pro-transit defectors] gave (for voting no) was environmental impacts like global warming,” [pollster Thomas Riehle from RT Strategies] said… 20% [of No voters] objected to Prop 1’s impact on the environment.

Meanwhile, back here under the clouds in Planet Illinois, the Tribune‘s Jon Hilkevitch notes that CTA’s facilities are falling apart.

Rail passengers aren’t spared from the ills of ancient infrastructure either. They must endure longer commutes each year as trains crawl as slowly as 5 m.p.h. through numerous “slow zones” caused by crumbling viaducts or deteriorated tracks.

In fact, the slow-zones cover about 50 miles of track, more than one-fifth of its rail network, according to the CTA.

The neglect of the rail system has also led to derailments, including one in July 2006 in which a Blue Line subway train jumped tracks held barely in place by rusted screw spikes and fastening clips…

The cost of repairing and maintaining the old buses is soaring. The CTA said it spends $16 million a year to keep the old buses in running order, more than five-fold the $3 million cost for upkeep on newer models.

Despite the clearly inefficient use of public money, the failure to renew transit infrastructure has received much less attention among politicians and other decision-makers than the prospect of hundreds of thousands of commuters losing their bus routes to service cuts.

Even if the current transit operating crisis were resolved, the system would remain under siege until a funding stream is established to overhaul and replace aging equipment, transit officials said…

Increasing amounts of the CTA’s capital budget — more than a combined $150 million since 2003 — have been diverted to operations to help balance annual budgets and reduce the threatened service cuts and fare increases under the CTA’s doomsday plans…

Without the state launching a successor to Illinois FIRST, non-federal capital funding to the CTA during the next five years is projected at one-tenth the level in 2002, according to CTA budget documents.

Shoring up, modernizing and expanding the mass transit system in the six-county Chicago metropolitan area comes with a breathtaking price tag that exceeds $10 billion during the next five years for CTA, Metra and Pace combined, according to the Regional Transportation Authority…

“My concern is Springfield passing the kind of capital bill they are talking about — totaling only $425 million for all three transit agencies — and that there won’t be discussions about another capital bill for years,” [CTA chair Carole] Brown said. “It would just put us in such a difficult position.”

Of course, the city’s half-billion dollar annual take from TIF revenue — the same buzz-worthyvalue capture” revenue stream that’s building new rail systems in Atlanta, Portland, and NoVa — would be an ideal source of funds to seed the system renewal that CTA so badly needs. After all, improving transit is an almost sure-fire way to raise property values. (I’d point out that many of the exceptions listed there, as in Miami, San Jose, and San Diego, placed rail through low-value industrial corridors in the interest of reducing ROW acquisition costs.)

Yet it’s going to take a whole lot more money to get this done. NYC Transit spent nearly $20 billion in the 1980s on renewing its capital stock, about $40 billion in today’s dollars; upgrading the signals to allow automated operations just on the L line cost nearly $300 million. And yet — the governor, and even more shockingly Emil Jones, would rather pick the pockets of Chicago’s math-challenged to gold-plate a bunch of empty Downstate roads.

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2 thoughts on “Leadership (and trailership)

  1. I’m a little puzzled by Bloomberg’s insistent linking of auto traffic to asthma rates, which have been rising as air pollution indices are falling.

  2. It’s most likely political, to acknowledge community groups (particularly in the Bronx and Harlem) which have campaigned around asthma (sickly children make great photo ops). Those localities’ particular problems probably stem more from poor health care access and housing quality than from pollution, although pollution’s role as a proximate cause in triggering attacks is undeniable. In any case, I know that the only times I have trouble breathing is on sticky summer days.

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