Don’t drink the anti-transit Kool-Aid just yet

Below is an excerpt from a guest column written for The AJC. The full version is online on the Opinion page of myAJC.com.

It never ceases to amaze me that the anti-transit crowd never ceases to argue against more and better mobility for the American people. For a variety of reasons, not least the priorities that belong to the sources of their funding, these “nattering nabobs of negativism” want you to have only one choice in how you get around: by car. Just like “all those lyin’ politicians,” they will tell you anything to get your vote.

They will tell you that transit is an enormous waste of money, yet they stand proud behind the idea of a $3.7 billion toll tunnel under East Atlanta (and then on the surface when it gets to less-wealthy and less-white areas on the South Side, naturally) to connect Ga 400 with I-675, just so the folks living in the gated subdivisions on the North Side won’t have to get stuck in traffic on their way to the beach. Yeah, that makes all the sense in the world.

They will tell you that transit is too expensive. Yet compared to the billions we spend on roads nationwide every year, transit is a bargain. And please don’t let them try to fool you into believing that gas taxes – or as the nabobs like to call them, “user fees” – pay for all that we spend on our roads. Studies show that gas taxes pay for only 70 percent of the funds we pour into roads. The rest comes right out of yours and my taxpaying pockets.

They will tell you that transit programs are “boondoggles,” implying a sinister combination of high cost and corruption and Lord only knows what else. It sounds awful, but according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a boondoggle originally was “a braided cord worn by Boy Scouts as a neckerchief slide, hatband, or ornament.” It’s a shame the Boy Scouts let that one get away.

They will say that technology is moving so fast that only cars can keep up with it. The newest fiction is that driverless cars will make transit even less worthwhile than it is already. But short of finding enough pixie dust to magic up a driverless car for every American, there will still be people who have no choice but to use transit, and still others who will choose transit if it is a reliable alternative. The one has nothing at all to do with the other.

They will tell you that transit, particularly rail transit, is “elitist” and only goes into “upper-class” areas, leaving the poor and downtrodden with just a lowly bus. This is ridiculous. Fact is, transit, and again, particularly rail transit, helps these “downtrodden” areas pull themselves up. The millions in private investment along the Beltline and on Auburn and Edgewood avenues tells that story perfectly.

And they will tell you that the Millennial generation is getting cold feet about all this urban living and are settling down to a house in the suburbs, 2.4 children, and three cars in their four-car garages. But saying it doesn’t make it so.

The Millennials are stepping up, and they are not following the script that the so-called “think tanks” have written for them. The majority of these folks actually want to walk or bike or take transit to work and to play, and fewer are even bothering to get driver’s licenses, much less a car.

The political tide is turning, and that’s got the anti-transit crowd worried. And that, dear reader, is why they sound so shrill. Think about it.

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Former Atlanta City Councilman Douglas Alexander describes himself as “a lifelong advocate for boondoggle transit programs and unneeded intercity passenger rail.” You can find him on Facebook.

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