Quick: 31 July

A couple of recent thoughts:

1. “Chicago’s transit system–the country’s second largest with an average 1.8 million riders every weekday–faces some of the nation’s most dire challenges. It has more than $7 billion in unfunded maintenance needs. On parts of the system, for example, trains engineered to speed along at 70 mph now must slow to a 15 mph crawl because the fragile rails can’t handle faster speeds. ‘They’re going at the speed of a horse and buggy because the rails are literally eroding and coming loose from the ties,’ says Ben Forman, research director for MassINC, a nonpartisan, Boston-based public policy think tank. ‘When transit breaks down as it has in Chicago, cities lose a big part of their core.’ ” [Zach Patton in Governing]

2. Dig up the Deep Tunnel? The Philadelphia Water Department, faced with the prospect of an $8 billion bill to deal with combined sewer overflow, has instead presented the EPA with a $1.6 billion green infrastructure plan that seeks to effectively de-pave 1/3 of the city’s impervious surface. Shades of Growing Water here… [h/t Feather O’Connor Houstoun in the same issue of Governing]

3. I’m know it’s so very trendy, but I really don’t understand the fascination with littering Chicago with food trucks. I’ve found them quite annoying in NY and LA:
– they don’t pay rent for the valuable public space they take up
– they unfairly compete with fixed-premise restaurants, particularly since Chicago suffers from many miles of empty storefronts
– they only go to trendy areas which already have lots of shops and foot traffic, thereby merely overcrowding existing transient hotspots and potentially preventing new areas from emerging
– they leave clouds of diesel fumes and noise in their wake, since they run generators even when idling
– they generate mountains of trash in said areas’ already-overflowing trashcans, since there’s no capacity for onboard dishwashing and few sidewalk recycling bins
– they’d be yet more unwieldy vehicles careening through the streets, killing people in crashes.

I certainly don’t dispute the overall goals to have broadly available, inexpensive food and easing the way for entrepreneurs to open foodservice businesses. However, these goals frankly have nothing to do with adding more smelly trucks to already choked streets. Seems like we’d be better off making it easier for people to open small restaurants — perhaps through establishing public markets, or “hawker centres” as Singapore’s government (which counts getting rid of itinerant food vendors as a key public health victory) insists on calling them.

4. A recent conversation turned to imagining the office drama at the planning department in West Hollywood, “America’s First Gay City”: the setting almost seems worthy of a TV series on a gay cable channel. Perhaps a workplace sitcom riffing on “Parks and Rec,” with hilariously micromanaging interior decorators staffing the design review commission, or a drama combining the personal dramatics of [well, just about any gay drama] with a noirish view of (lightly fictionalized) viciously seamy municipal politics. Unlike popularizations of planning like SimCity, this would expose planning not as a bland technocracy, but as a bunch of jealous hacks playing out their inter-personal political dramas across a bigger stage.

Anyhow, the thought reoccured to me upon finding that the vice-chair of WeHo’s transportation commission is perhaps better known as the former author of Boi from Troy, a blog combining Log Cabin Republican political views with a passion for local college football(ers). Actually, I’m pretty sure that WeHo is a pretty well governed place, and its fussy attention is evident in some pretty thoughtful streetscapes — but it’s still funny to imagine.

5. Where in today’s Republican Party are honest-to-god “fiscal conservatives” like Peter Peterson and David Stockman and Bruce Bartlett? What I see on Capitol Hill now is a group of nihilist zombies, holding even the smallest of bills hostage as fiscal death (most notably the recent $34B unemployment extension) while simultaneously seeking to blast a 100X bigger hole in the budget with their sacreder-than-Jeebus tax cuts. These people can’t be serious, and yet they are.

Bartlett: “Republicans have a completely indefensible position on taxes. In their view, deficits cannot arise from tax cuts. No matter how much taxes are cut, no matter how low revenues go as a share of GDP, tax cuts are never a cause of deficits; they result ONLY AND EXCLUSIVELY from spending—and never from spending put in place by Republicans, such as Medicare Part D, TARP, two unfunded wars, bridges to nowhere, etc—but ONLY from Democratic efforts to stimulate growth, help the unemployed, provide health insurance for those without it, etc. The monumental hypocrisy of the Republican Party is something amazing to behold.”

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