ShareThis Page
News Columnists

Big Transit rides again

| Sunday, May 28, 2006

Two Fridays ago the folks responsible for the Pittsburgh region's collection of mass transit boondoggles and inadequate highways uncorked another mega transportation/planning study.

Ignored and unread by the tax-paying masses, as these dangerous things always are, it's called "A Regional Strategic Vision for Public Transportation Serving Southwestern Pennsylvania" -- "20/20 Transit Vision" for short.

A joint production of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, Port Authority and the Heinz Foundation, "20/20 TV" aims to integrate an expanded public transportation system with economic development across a 10 county region.

Nearly everything about the 147-page report (stored at www.SPCregion.org .) is wrong. It cost $2 million. It took years to complete. Its executive "summary" is 23 pages long. Its big promise -- that economic growth will be achieved by mixing more transit (i.e., deploying more half-empty buses) with the principles of "Smart Growth" -- is bogus.

Smart Growth sounds wise. But it really means "no growth -- and we hate cars." It's basically a planning tool used by the anti-sprawl, anti-car crowd to create more densely populated and more public transit-friendly communities.

How is Smart Growth implemented• By following plans like "20/20 TV," which urge local governments to control land use and economic development patterns with zoning and things like urban growth boundaries.

But Smart Growth, which inevitably drives up housing prices and creates traffic congestion, is the last thing Pittsburgh should mess with, says transit consultant and Heritage Foundation scholar Wendell Cox, who just wrote a study of housing affordability in 100 markets in six countries.

Pittsburgh's enviable rank among the top five would be jeopardized by Smart Growth's strangling regulations, which Cox says have made housing in cities like L.A., San Francisco and Portland, Ore., impossible to afford for the poor and middle class.

Cox has come to accept the public transit sector's wasteful spending. "But the real damage," he says, "is Smart Growth -- taking away housing affordability for young people and minorities."

As for "20/20 TV's" claims that expanded public transportation will spur economic growth in the region, it's a lie Big Transit never gets tired of telling.

Unless you count park-and-ride lots or gargantuan three-fourths-empty $24 million parking garages, evidence of economic development along Pittsburgh's transit lines is impossible to detect.

That doesn't surprise Joel Kotkin, arguably the country's greatest guru of urban economic development. He can think of no city in the country where transit expansion has spurred genuine economic development, he told me Wednesday from Salinas, Calif.

"Transit developments don't create jobs, obviously. They don't create economic wealth, per se. Transit doesn't create the demand. There's got to be a demand for it. Transit developments should be there to serve the needs of businesses and people."

When told planners here are toying with Smart Growth, Kotkin quipped, "Why are they worried about Smart Growth• You should be worried about no growth. It's like worrying about the sex drive of a cadaver. Haven't they seen the region's job and population numbers?"

Of course they have. But what do today's facts matter to Big Transit when there's a bright future to be planned•

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me