Here In My Car, I Feel Safest of All

The Heritage Foundation asks Anthony Foxx how he'd serve his constituents: ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell ...
The Heritage Foundation

I'm more than a bit surprised that Senate Republicans didn't put Anthony Foxx through the wringer during his confirmation hearing Wednesday. Maybe they thought it would divert the public's gaze from BenghazIRSAP; maybe they failed to appreciate the degree to which the streetcar project is a FULL FRONTAL ASSAULT ON OUR PRECIOUS FREEDOM(S)™. An opportunity missed.

There was some friction, though it didn't get much attention, and it came in the form of a list of eight serious-seeming, superficially respectful questions from Jim DeMint's shop, the redoubtable Heritage Foundation. The questions themselves appear rational enough (except for one where the paranoia bleeds through the fabric; see below).

But then you read the justifications for each question, and you recognize the Heritage document as a Heritage document, which is to say richly marbled bullshit.

The brief's author is one Emily Goff, who has proven herself to be one of the nation's leading experts in national transportation policy since … her graduation in 2010 from the University of Georgia, where she double-majored in political science and Spanish. (I don't mean to pick on Emily, but people making the argument that Foxx is too young and inexperienced at transportation policy should apply the same standard to his critics.) Anyway, to Ms. Goff's case:

The next Transportation Secretary should support policy reforms that turn control over and flexibility in how highway dollars are spent to state and local officials, because they know their legitimate transportation priorities better than Washington bureaucrats do.

There's a problem with this: Highways cross state lines. They're called "interstates" for a reason. A highway that's a four-lane, limited-access freeway in Colorado that turns into a two-lane farm-to-market road when it crosses into Wyoming creates a problem for both states. This is transportation policy informed by a worldview that expired around the time Eisenhower decided we needed some star-spangled autobahns.

Which is especially curious, because Ms. Goff then proceeds to refer to streetcars and bicycles as "outdated, 20th-century modes of transportation," which I'm sure is a news flash to our hopelessly sclerotic friends in places like Germany and Japan.


Federal highway funds should be spent on programs that improve mobility and safety and mitigate traffic congestion cost-effectively. The motorists and truckers paying the gas tax that supports the highway program should get something in return—increased highway capacity and safe roads, not local projects such as bicycle paths and trolley cars, which do not alleviate traffic congestion.

They don't? When people travel by means other than cars, they by definition alleviate traffic congestion by taking that many cars off the road. Also, you might want to get an update on that Highway Trust Fund, which is running out of money, which is a problem because we live in a country where interstate bridges are pushing 60 years old and collapsing.

You want to talk about "safe roads"? Have a look at this, which shows public construction spending at its lowest point in 20 years after a peak around 2009. The peak coincides with the stimulus. Which a certain then-senator from South Carolina decried as "wasteful."

Despite receiving federal subsidies for three decades, transit has failed to relieve traffic congestion, which actually has worsened over the life of the federal transit program …

The Federal Transit Administration was formed in 1964. That year, the U.S. population was about 192 million. There were about 86 million vehicles on the road. The population now is 314 million, and there are roughly 260 million vehicles on the road. That may have something to do with the congestion.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood described his livability initiative as a way to “coerce people out of the cars.” Do you endorse such government intrusion into Americans’ lives? LaHood defines livability as “being able to take your kids to school, go to work, see a doctor, drop by the grocery or post office, go out to dinner and a movie, and play with your kids in a park, all without having to get in your car.” To reach this goal, the Administration must herd Americans into denser urban living, deter them from using automobiles, and nudge them onto streetcars and bicycles. Yet livability by this definition embraces outdated, 20th-century modes of transportation and ignores the reality that trolley cars and bicycles would not help Americans get to work faster or make grocery shopping quicker; increased safety and capacity on roads would.

The existence of a streetcar does not entail an ATF agent forcibly yanking you out of your Blazer and "herding" you at gunpoint to the nearest transit stop. If you're so worried about "government intrusion," maybe a simple rebranding would work; let's call expanded transit options "Transportation Choice," a kind of voucher or "charter transit" program designed to give consumers more options and "transit freedom." That kind of language has been very effective in selling the concept of taxpayer subsidies to private schools.

Also — minor point — trolley cars do help Americans get to work faster. I know some of them. They don't miss inbound Independence Boulevard at 7:45 a.m. on a Monday.

Transit itself is largely concentrated in just six cities (New York, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, and San Francisco), making it truly a local program.

Transit is concentrated in densely populated cities because that's where the people are, and that's where transit works, and has for more than 100 years. Sorry to say, the nation depends on those cities to function, and that means reliable transportation, and those places are more important to the national economy than, say, Alliance, Neb. (Which, wonder of wonders, has this, a literal mock Druid burial ground for the automobile.)

For people who supposedly support freedom and consumer options, the "thinkers" at Heritage certainly seem tied to one transportation mode for us all: It's the internal combustion engine or bust.

Of course we all know what's really going on here. Heritage's eight questions for Anthony Foxx can be boiled down to one: Mayor Foxx, how much pleasure on demand can you give Big Oil?

Categories: Poking the Hornet’s Nest