Wednesday, May 20, 2009

How to silence a small child (summer edition)

Could come in handy this time of year ....


Sam Smith, Progressive Review - One of the least examined indicators of how power is distributed in our society is its transportation system. In America, transportation policy - like other things - is heavily weighted towards the elite and powerful. But we hardly ever discuss or debate it.

For one thing, travel habits vary by class and status. A federal study in 1995 found that people earning more than $50,000 a year traveled seven miles more a day than people earning less.

People over 65 traveled 23 miles less a day. Non-drivers traveled 26 miles less a day.

And transportation spending reflects such differences, most strikingly in the amounts spent to subsidize the travel of wealthier suburban commuters compared with inner city non drivers, such as a third of DC's population. Consider [Figure 8 above].

Or this one [Federal Transportation Subsidies since 1993].

And the trend is not changing. Obama's stimulus package included four times as much for high speed rail for first class passengers than for all other types of rail and bus travel was barely mentioned.

One of the reasons it's hard to understand this is because nobody talks about it. I learned this early in the planning for a subway in Washington as a lonely critic of the proposal. Some of my concerns had nothing to do with class or ethnicity such as the fact that subways didn't compete for space with cars (unlike light rail) and that only a small percentage of those working in new development inspired by Metro would actually ride the rails to get there, so street traffic - as has proved to be the case - would increase.

But a surprising number of factors involved class and power. For example, the subway was approved the same year as the 1968 riots and begun the year after. It would allow white DC residents to escape the troubled city yet still use - and travel safely to and from - it for work and entertainment. Interestingly, the first route went from the suburbs through an almost all white section of a two-thirds black town to the center of the city. I called it the Great White Way and dubbed the much later route to heavily black Anacostia the Underground Railroad. But you would hear not a word about this on the TV news or in the Washington Post.

The subway, while not competing with the automobile, did compete with bus lines replacing them with more expensive underground travel. In one or two cases these bus lines were actually making a profit. As time went on, and the Metro did not do as well as predicted, more and more bus routes were adjusted to force people onto the subway. And, as transit service for white commuters improved, that for inner city residents deteriorated.

Besides, it was clearly a one way system. If you lived the suburbs it would take you within walking distance of your downtown job. If you lived in the city and worked in the suburbs, you could take the new system out to the burbs and find yourself miles from work. I suggested a subsidized jitney service to help city workers reach suburban employment but nobody in power was interested in anything like that.

Now, more than 30 years after the Metro began, we finally have a study that confirms many of these concerns and it's not just about one system. It's about how we plan transportation policy all over America and how some get favored and some get screwed, and why we're about to have high speed rail for some and still have lousy bus and train service for many more.

When something sucks, that's nature's way of telling you to stop

The energy descent and the need to radically reduce carbon emissions will be huge challenges to us. On the other hand, there's lots of evidence that the status quo is hated and that there are plenty of people eager to be free of the soul-sucking commutes that cost a fortune, destroy the environment, and weaken our communities (many of Salem's problems are traceable to the prevalence of disengaged commuters):
Well, we had a hunch people didn't like their commutes, but we're absolutely blown away by what we've seen.

Bloggers are gushing and the country's atwitter. The New York Times, Wired, Streetsblog, Matt Yglesias, and hundreds more have shared the rage at our new website,

Commenter "Chavez" does a 75-mile round-trip commute by car from Philadelphia to Princeton, NJ. Road work on the Trenton Bridge has left him with six (!) flat tires over the years.

A cyclist in Washington, D.C. said he gets "doored" on a daily basis. "It really irks me when drivers, pedestrians, and even other cyclists do stupid things to put my life in danger on a bike."

"RT" writes, "Living in a rural area, I have no public transportation alternatives, even though I am traveling into the largest metro area in the state."

Read hundreds of real stories about daily commutes - and ask your friends to share their own rants and raves at

In addition to reading about other peoples' commutes, at you can sign our petition to Congress, unload your daily transportation frustrations, post your own photos and video, and learn more about how the transportation policy they develop in Washington affects the lives of so many millions of people, whether they drive, ride, or walk.

Stop by to see what's new, add your own fresh commuting adventures, and spread the rage to friends and family.


Ilana Preuss
Outreach and Field Director
Transportation for America

Quite the contrast

The tireless Salem Chickens in the Yard (CITY) folks report on an interesting meeting of the planning commission in Forest Grove, a fairly high-toned place. Sad that Salem city staff couldn't manage to produce such a sensible plan:
The Forest Grove Planning Commission voted unanimously to allow hens at last night's public hearing under the following conditions:

1. Four birds allowed on lots 5,000 square feet or larger
2. For every additional 2,000 square feet, another bird is permitted.
3. Twelve total birds can be kept incl. hens, ducks, quail, and pheasants (no roosters or geese).
4. Coops must be kept in sanitary condition so as not to accumulate waste.
5. Coops must be at least 20' from adjacent residential dwellings.
6. Food must be stored in metal or rodent-proof containers.
7. Birds must be confined to a fenced yard.

They deliberated about a permit process but decided in the end it wasn't necessary and not worth the trouble to administer. The proposal still has to go to City Council before it's final.
Don't forget to come testify in support of urban hens throughout Salem next Tuesday evening, May 26, at City Hall -- and not just for 10,000+ square-foot lots.

A telling omission

Notice the blank in the list of City of Salem boards and commissions where a Salem Sustainability Commission should be?

List of Boards & Commissions

Open Menu
Airport Advisory Commission
Board of Ethics
Citizen Budget Committee
Citizens Advisory Traffic Commission
Civil Service Commission
Community Police Review Board
Downtown Advisory Board
Historic Landmarks and Design Review Commission
Housing and Urban Development Advisory Committee
North Gateway Redevelopment Advisory Board
Planning Commission
Salem Cultural and Tourism Promotion Advisory Board
Salem Housing Advisory Committee
Salem Human Rights and Relations Advisory Commission
Salem Parks and Recreation Advisory Board
Salem Public Library Advisory Board
Salem Sister City Advisory Commission
Salem Social Services Advisory Board
Senior Center Advisory Commission
West Salem Redevelopment Advisory Board
Youth Advisory Commission

Three is not many

Followup to the great letter calling for gardens in the parks: a map showing how Salem hardly has any community gardens in its parks (meaning that there's lots of opportunities to start developing this important resource). Certainly every elementary school should have a substantial garden for learning and middle and high schools should be producing a substantial portion of the food they serve, along with teaching nutrition, food preservation, and cooking. (Click on the map to enlarge the image.)