Believe it or not, some conservatives actually opposed the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956 because — get this — this largest public works project in American history represented “another ascent into the stratosphere of New Deal jitterbug economics.”
The value to the national defense, as well as intense campaigning by the highway construction, automotive and petroleum industry lobby, sold them on the project, though, and the rest is history: huge networks of private, non-subsidized transit systems were wiped out by nearly a century of government intervention in transportation that endorses car ownership for everybody, and leaves the rest in the dust. In most American cities today, if you can’t drive, you can’t get around.
It warms my heart, then, to see Warren Lind’s proposal for a National Defense Public Transportation Act. Lind is the conservative who wrote Moving Minds: Conservatives and Public Transportation with the late Paul Weyrich of the Heritage Foundation and and Free Congress Foundation.
In his essay in the current issue of American Conservative magazine, Lind appeals to several conservative values in promoting public support for transit. Conservatives, he writes, hearken back to former days, when the past was better in some ways than today. “Thanks to the Pullman Company, the night boats, our cities’ excellent streetcar systems, and the fast, electric interurbans that connected cities with towns and the countryside,” writes Lind, “earlier generations weren’t merely transported like so many barrels of flour. They traveled. Today, whether driving on the bland Interstate Highways or flying, Americans are just packaged and shipped.”
Lind also makes a national security argument, arguing that our demand for imported oil weakens us as a nation. If the oil supply is cut off as happened in 1973 and 1979, he points out that our national dependence on imported oil is a single point of failure that can bring our economy and movement to a standstill. He proposes a National Defense Public Transportation Act to increase federal funding of public transportation.
Lind’s article is a very worthwhile read. Transportation for America has a summary and a copy of Lind’s entire article at their website.