Austerity and transport

A discussion of the affects of an austerity program on transportation, including public transit.
Yonah Freemark, writing for the excellent blog The Transport Politic, has written several articles of late on the subject of austerity and transit. At the time of this writing, it appears that a debt deal is nearly worked out in Congress; however, the long-term political outlook is fuzzy (the 2012 elections are anybody’s guess at this time–it’s entirely plausible that President Obama could lose but the Democrats could retake the House, given the local approval ratings of pretty much the entire DC establishment). In the short term, there’s a political stalemate which is focused somewhat on austerity, and lack of a consensus for further stimulus–either on the demand side (such as increased spending on infrastructure, as many Democrats support), or on the supply side (tax cuts for the rich, favored by the GOP). We’ll set aside the question of how genuine calls for austerity from various political factions are.

At any rate, there’s a good chance that the US may be in for a prolonged period of belt-tightening. Given that transportation infrastructure in the US has long been subsidized, including transit, how will this affect things?
The models of austerity

There are a couple of different austerity models which have been observed in the past century when major economic powers are faced with a significant withdrawal of capital. (In all cases, it is assumed that democratic political norms are preserved).

  • Leftist austerity. The classical example of this was Great Britain after World War II. Bankrupted by the war and by the terms of American financial support as part of the Lend-Lease program, Britain suffered through a generation of stark austerity. The British responded by electing the then-socialist Labour Party under Clement Attlee in 1945, and the country abandoned most of its colonial possessions and its role as global hegemon. Socialist policy in London would more or less continue until the 1979 election of Margaret Thatcher. Were a liberal austerity program to be pursued, inflationary monetary policies would likely be a part, which would have the effect of reducing the effective value of the current debt–but which would also result in higher prices for foreign-made items, including oil. (Were the national politics to produce this result, which I doubt in the short term, we would likely also see passage of things like carbon taxes and other environmental measures, and likewise a reduction of US military commitments overseas).

    This is probably the least likely outcome for the US, given the present political situation.

  • Shared sacrifice. This is a model seemingly favored by President Obama, much to the consternation of ideologues in both political parties. In the “grand bargain” that Obama favors, the Bush tax cuts would be eliminated, along with some reductions in entitlements, in order to pay down the public debt. Monetary policy would likely continue to be conservative. [It sounds like we’re getting the reductions in entitlements and defense with the recently-announced,but-not-yet-signed debt ceiling compromise; and if Obama keeps his promise to veto further extension of the 2000 Bush tax cuts, we may get the revenue side as well].
  • The conservative approach. Many conservatives continue to support a supply-side approach, in which growth is encouraged by reducing the costs to capitalists, and debt reduction comes from reduction in entitlements (and likely in the living standards of public employees)–with long-term economic growth coming from a return of jobs to the US when labor costs are reduced. A conservative approach would also involve tight monetary policy. Many of the rising economic powerhouses have economies which resemble this, with a significant percentage of the population in poverty.
  • All hell breaks loose. This is what might happen should the US default; with world financial markets thrown into turmoil, the dollar significantly devalued (and interest rates rising dramatically), and the potential for another serious recession, or even a depression. This would likely result in significant political turmoil; we’d be fortunate to see it crystallize into one of the three cases above. In other words, all bets are off. (Have a nice day).

All of the austerity models would result in reductions in the standard of living many Americans experience–with the big questions being how the pain is distributed and how much it hurts. In some cases, it might involve certain groups finding themselves in levels of poverty not seen since the Depression–an issue which I don’t like glossing over, but which gets a bit off-topic for this blog. (If people are starving and there are no jobs available anywhere, and the political system is unwilling or unable to remedy that situation, then how one gets to work becomes completely irrelevant). More relevant to Portland Transport, though, is the question of how people and goods will get around in the United States of Austerity.

Immediate impacts

Depending on the austerity policies put in place, effects could include the following. I’m not taking a position on the desirability (or lack thereof) of any of these; merely noting that they might reasonably occur.

  • A lower standard of living overall. A good indicator of “standard of living” is the disposable income, or amount of household budget spent on non-essentials–i.e on items other than things like food, housing, clothing, medical care, and (important for this discussion) transportation. A good indication of poverty is is a disposable income which goes negative, and forcing the poor to either borrow to pay for essentials (a risky proposition) or having to cope with lower-cost, lower-quality goods and services–which in many cases are inadequate. During lean economic times, decreases in wages lead decreases in prices; decreasing disposable incomes and pushing many families into a position where they have to economize. Brief downturns can often be weathered by depleting savings or temporarily relying on public assistance; but longer-term recessions often require structural changes in households–and downturns lasting a very long time will often cause structural changes in society. A period of austerity lasting a decade or more will have more lasting impacts on how people live.
  • Higher prices for fuel, especially petroleum products. Most of the oil we use is imported; and a devalued dollar would make oil more expensive. A reduction in US military presence could affect the stability of oil shipments, and the continued rise of emerging economies such as China, who will have their own increasing needs for oil, will further increase prices. But even if oil didn’t become more expensive, a lower standard of living would increase the percentage of the household budget paid for transportation–which would become an issue.
  • Fewer funds for capital projects. In an austerity-focused economy, there would be less money available for infrastructure projects–or for anything other than debt service, for that matter. (I’m assuming a genuine period of austerity here, as oppose to a program of redirecting funds from the safety net to wealthy taxpayers while leaving the public debt untouched). While in theory that should produce fewer boondoggles and more quality projects, in practice I’m not so certain. How this would affect the transit/highway balance is a bigger question–were the first two factors to produce a greater demand for transit, it could result in transit projects and not highways receiving more funding (even Car and Driver magazine has seen the writing on the wall). On the other hand, we may also see a shift of funding from new construction to the less-politically-sexy-but-direly-needed maintenance backlog, which would favor road repair over rail.
  • More migration to urban areas. One of the notable 21st century demographic trends in the US, and one which our fair city is a significant contributor to, is the rehabilitation of the city as a desirable place to live. For much of the latter half of the 20th century, cities were perceived as dirty and dangerous places, and many American cities became “donuts”, with wealthy and upper-middle-class (and often white) people, living in the suburbs, and the poor (typically minorities) living in the inner city. The opposite pattern, with the wealthy living in or near the city center and the slums on the periphery, is more common in the rest of the world. But in the past decade, that trend has started to reverse–and increases in the cost of driving might accelerate a return to the cities, and the decline of those places that are dependent on the automobile. Were this trend to accelerate, it might go so far as to make upzoning and redevelopment of existing suburbs–something which is often today fought tooth and nail, in order to keep the poor out–attractive for the residents therein.
  • Wage adjustments in the public sector. This section is above and beyond any reductions in wages to affect the broader economy. A generation ago, public sector and private sector compensation for non-professional jobs (roughly, those not requiring a college degree) of similar skill were comparable. Today, the bottom has dropped out on the private-sector labor economy, as outsourcing has eliminated many of the family-wage positions available to high school graduates, that used to undergird the economy. The public sector has been able, until recently, to stave off a similar fate, as many public jobs are service positions which cannot be outsourced, and public-sector collective bargaining is guided by different dynamics than that in the private sector. Much of the recent rise in unemployment, however, is due to public-sector workers losing their jobs–over a half million public employees have lost their jobs since Obama took office). Unfortunately for public employees, many a displaced factory worker seems to blame their troubles not on the billionaires who sent their jobs overseas, but on public-sector workers who have not (so far) suffered the same fate, and thus are seen as “overpaid”. (By coincidence, I’m sure, it’s the billionaires that own the major media outlets). Given the conditions in the labor market, public workers may well be “overpaid” in an economic sense, given the lack of equivalent deals outside of government. However, I prefer to think of the displaced factory worker who now works at WalMart selling the goods he no used to build, as “underpaid”. Moral judgments aside, long term I expect private and public-sector wages to equalize–what equilibrium they reach depends on the austerity model chosen. Were I to guess, I would expect to see accelerated erosion in the wages and working standards of public employees.
  • More people unable to afford cars. The combination of increased fuel costs and decreased overall disposable income will likely increase the number of households unable to afford an automobile, or cause wealthier households to cut back, perhaps to a single family car rather than one per driver. (And luxuries such as recreational automobiles for teenagers or “spare” cars kept for occasional use, probably will become rare in what remains of the middle class). Some households will shift to used cars instead of new or defer maintenance on their vehicles (which may increase pollution rather than decrease it) in order to hang on to their current standard of living, particularly if their neighborhood has no viable alternative; but many may shift to alternative transportation–both human-powered travel and public transit.


What will the effect of all of that be? I have no real idea, but here are some possibilities.

  • We may see less federal involvement in local infrastructure products. In the status quo, the bulk of taxpayer dollars go to Washington, and a significant part thereof gets kicked back to state and local government in the form of grants–with the result that the projects that get built are those which Uncle Sam deems worthy of funding. If tax rates are lowered, and/or if more federal dollars are directed to debt service, and thus federal transportation grants are harder to come by; local governments may respond by raising their own revenues to pay for local projects. This may have significant advantages, as projects not funded by Washington are not subject to its byzantine regulations and conditions; the original Portland Streetcar and the MAX Red Line both eschewed federal funding, and were able to be done much more quickly than projects which needed to satisfy NEPA. Whether or not this is good or bad will depend on large part on the quality of local government; there are many parts of the country where a lack of federal oversight will result in more boondoggles and not less. (While I have my issues with the quality of governance in Oregon; we’ve got nothing on places like New Jersey or Louisiana when it comes to public corruption).
  • Dismantling or relaxing regulatory regimes. While I’m not an ideological supporter of deregulation-for-its-own-sake, there are many regulatory regimes and standards presently on the books in the US which are outdated, or which serve more to protect incumbent interests rather than advance the commonweal. There’s plenty more, in areas such as safety and design performance, which represent tradeoffs which might no longer affordable or practical in an austerity economy. The entirety of the Federal Railway Administration is a frequent target for critics, who (among other things) allege the agency pursues an outdated safety regime based on making railcars big and beefy, which is akin to improving highway safety by banning anything smaller than a Ford Expedition. When I travel overseas, I’m frequently amazed by urban highways in places like Hong Kong or Beijing which function quite well (most of the time) without the outrageously overbuilt design standards that bedevil US highway construction–standards which often require labyrinthine mazes of collector/distributor ramps, roadworks which both add cost and increase the urban footprint of the resulting roadway. (A big chunk of the CRC project is “improving” a stretch of I-5 to such standards, which has nothing to do with crossing the Columbia). A society forced by economy to make different trade-offs might well determine that maintaining an A level of service on a freeway during most of the day in a dense urban environment, is a luxury which can no longer be afforded.
  • Repurposing of federally-funded infrastructure. There are plenty of laws and regulations on the books which limit the ability of local governments to repurpose infrastructure which was federally-funded. The ability of local authorities to toll Interstate highways, for example, is restricted–generally, tolls can be erected only to fund new construction, and congestion pricing programs on existing Interstates are verboten. The ability to convert travel lanes to another purpose (such as exclusive-transit lanes). If austerity results in fewer cars on the road, there might be support to abandon these restrictions.
  • Increased private sector involvement in transit. Libertarians are fond of complaining about barriers to entry in the public transit market, suggesting that the state is oppressing the marketplace with burdensome regulations designed to exclude private-sector competition with state-run monopolies. For the most part, this is hogwash. Other than a few places like New York City, where privately-operated transit services exist in addition to the public providers, the reason that you don’t see private operators in public transit is that transit doesn’t make any money. (I’m excluding from this discussion the outsourcing of operations, where the operator does not incur revenue risk, which is already commonplace). However, if greater driving costs increase transit patronage, and operator wages go down–we may reach the point where public transit does become a lucrative business. (And driving down operator wages is frequently touted as an “advantage” of privatization, as private employers are far more immune to political pressure from unions than are public agencies). Whether that will be good or bad for riders depends on how well it is managed–Hong Kong’s system where routes, fares, and schedules are set by the government and franchised to private operators, produces excellent results; other privatization schemes have been less successful.
  • An end to the transit stigma. Right now, in much of the US (and to a lesser extent, in much of the English-speaking world), most people can afford cars, and so public transit carries with it the stigma of poverty. Thus, it has little political support and is often viewed as welfare; is often neglected (sometimes intentionally) in land-use planning, and in many places, only bare-bones service is offered–a vicious cycle that cements its second-class status. But if a greater share of the population needs transit for some or all of their travels, the stigma may vanish, and transit may be more widely viewed as a public good than as a social service.

Putting it together

In an earlier thread, I made a comment that transportation in a “post-Imperial America” might look like Curitiba, Brazil. While I was half-kidding there, and this article assumes that the US remains a significant power with far-reaching global influence, albeit a lower domestic standard of living for a while (hardly “post-Imperial”), if there is a long-term period of austerity, I suspect that we’ll be looking at a significant shift of transportation mode share to the bus. The factors that led to the creation of Curitiba’s acclaimed BRT network (widespread poverty at the time, and rather authoritarian government) probably won’t come into play in the US. But in an austerity environment, the bus may well be a “winner”, with greater expansions of both roads and rail “losers”.

  • As mentioned above, energy costs will rise and car use will drop.
  • Limited funds for infrastructure will likely mean a drop in new project starts, with must funds going to maintenance and for projects made necessary by geography (such as bridges) as opposed to surface improvements.
  • Loss of overseas purchasing power will further disadvantage rail; there is a thriving domestic bus manufacturing base, but the US’s capability to produce DMUs and EMUs is limited.
  • Reduction in wages for bus drivers will “solve” one of the main disadvantages of the bus–its higher per-passenger operating costs in busy corridors.
  • An increase in BRT or other enhanced bus services (with infrastructure and service improvements designed to improve speed and reliability) is likely, particularly if less demand for driving (and reformed regulations) makes it easier to do the inexpensive-yet-effective way of installing BRT: removing auto travel lanes.

A rather cruder way of putting it is as follows: If standards of living in the US decline due to an austerity program, the US, over time, will start to resemble other countries with similar living standards–and therein, public transport is a key fact of life, rather than something which is overlooked and ignored. A few transit critics I can think of are fond of making the claim that countries who can afford it, prefer cars–pointing to rising automobile usage in places such as Europe and China as proof. While this analysis is highly superficial (a lot has to do with how old habitations and infrastructure are, as well as cultural factors which shouldn’t be cited as universal fact, not to mention failing to control at all for service quality issues); it does have a kernel of truth to it–cars are what economists call a normal good pretty much anywhere, and transit an inferior good (a rather unfortunate economics term which says nothing abut quality) in much of the world.

As noted above, an economy-driven shift to greater transit use will probably occur over a long period of time, and involve quite a bit of social discomfort. Cities like Portland, with a halfway-decent transit system in place, land use laws which have more-or-less prevented the worst sorts of urban sprawl, and a road system which is less hopelessly overbuilt, will be able to weather the transition more than areas whose built environment is far more auto-oriented. The Portland metro’s land-use planning, with its support for regional town centers, should help suburbs maintain their own economic vitality. Other parts of the country, however, may not be so fortunate.

Whatever the case, passengers are encouraged to hold on to the handlebars while the vehicle is in motion. We may be in for a bumpy ride.

43 responses to “Austerity and transport”

  1. Certainly, cycling would be a big part of it as well–I was focusing on those modes which require significant investment to provide.

  2. Three things:

    1. Where did you read that Obama favors ending the Bush tax cuts? What I’ve read is that the debt ceiling plan includes no rise in taxes, i.e. no change from last year’s continuation of the tax cuts.

    2. The austerity plan is not going to lead to inflation. Why would it? The US is at the zero lower bound, and even quantitative easing is controversial, with no way for the Fed to credibly commit to 5% inflation. As a result, contractionary policy is going to be contractionary. A rise in oil prices could come from and only from continued growth in the developing world.

    3. All the possibly optimistic things you say require far more farsightedness in government than currently exist. FRA reform won’t come out of this; Mica doesn’t seem to care, and neither does the administration. State and local investment in transit is not going to materialize, not when the new austerity plan dumps more responsibilities on already-stretched state governments. Federal intransigence about road tolling is not going to change, not when the only constituency that seriously favors making users pay more is a constituency that’s downright communist when it comes to highways.

  3. As I said earlier, this country got its head up it you know what.
    Waste is the name of the game when it comes to our beloved government.

    Ron Paul is the only sane politician right now, and of course we will all want Bike sharing!

  4. Alon, to address your points:

    1) The debt ceiling plan does not contain any tax increases, correct. Howeverm Obama has on several occasions stated that he will veto any attempt to further extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy; see here for instance. They expire in December 2012–even if he were to lose re-election, that would be during the interregnum. (Of course, a GOP successor with a GOP congress would likely make the matter moot).

    2) Inflation is only a component of the hypothetical “liberal austerity plan”; which would include looser monetary policy as a feature, and which I think is a political longshot. The other two scenarios (excluding default) assume tight monetary policy, and near-zero inflation. I’m of the opinion that moderate inflation would be a good thing for the economy, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

    3) In the short term, you are probably right about the prospects for reform, especially at the federal level. One wrinkle I failed to consider, and its a big one, is the large pile of state and municipal public debt–much of which is unfunded, unlike social security (ignoring that the trust fund consists of Treasuries and not cold hard cash; and stiffing the trust fund seems to be a popular element of austerity programs). How that shakes out will have a big impact going forward; but it strengthens, I think, a key point: there won’t be much money available for capital improvements, so lower-capital solutions like bus will become increasingly important.

    One backdoor possibility to regulatory reform, though, might be the waiver process. If it becomes clear that compliance with the rules is financially difficult across the board, that might open things up. Or not–especially when the rules protect a powerful incumbent interest.

  5. Al,

    501(c)(3) means “nonprofit corporation”, which is how Portland Transport is organized; as such we can’t endorse candidates for political office. We can take all the positions on the issues we like, and we can (and do) discuss officeholders and candidates, but we can’t endorse ’em. Whether that applies to commenters who are not on the Portland Transport board, I don’t exactly know (I’m not a lawyer, yadda yadda yadda), but discretion is the better part of valor, and focusing on issues and not personalities can improve the debate.

    I’d be happy to discuss Ron Paul in you by email, if you like.

  6. And I’m pretty sure Picard NEVER said that line.

    On topic, I agree: if we go through a period of austerity, we’ll see an end to significant rail projects in favor of BRT in one form or another. Rail might still be on the table for very short projects: extending the Yellow line to Jantzen Beach, maybe extending the Blue line to Mt Hood Community College, adding a half mile to the Portland Streetcar. We’ll probably see purchases of new rail vehicles to increase service levels on existing rail corridors, since they’ll still have an advantage in operating cost once the infrastructure is in place.

    But I don’t see the Barbur corridor (for example) getting light rail under this scenario. We won’t even be able to look at a MAX tunnel.

    That said, it’s quite possible that all of this will become academic in the long run: once all the bugs are worked out, robot taxis could someday make all current forms of mass transit obsolete outside of a few densely populated areas like New York City.

  7. ES says:
    Certainly, cycling would be a big part of it as well–I was focusing on those modes which require significant investment to provide.

    $613 million for bike trails in Portland isn’t a major investment? I think even former Mayor Adams will have a hard time living that one down. Pay me one tenth of that and I would come up with a reasonable plan.

  8. $613 million for bike trails in Portland isn’t a major investment?

    Spread all over town and over a long period of years, not necessarily.

  9. Compared to the cost of one light rail line, or one major freeway project, $600 million is peanuts.

    And it’s really only “required” to provide an alternative for car-filled roads, anyway. Take the cars off the roads and they become excellent bike trails. :)

  10. In order to tell the cost effectiveness of bike lane vs highway, you’re going to need to find the cost per passenger mile. I don’t think bicyclists want to open that can of worms. Even before considering the whole user fee gap.

    Anyways, I think when people say that 600+ million dollars is not a lot of money in the age limited funds, massive unemployment and a sputtering economy 2 years after the *official* end of a recession; I feel that is really disingenuous to the taxpayer and people struggling in life.

    Even if you support the use of said money for bike infrastructure, (which we need better bike infrastructure, I agree for the record) you should at least be respectful of where that money came from.

    Saying _____ isn’t that much money because ______ costs sooooo much more is sort of insulting, imo.

    Acknowledging that 30 million a year over 20 years is a major investment would be beneficial to the bike community.

  11. Acknowledging that 30 million a year over 20 years is a major investment would be beneficial to the bike community.

    It’s major if you compare it to bike infrastructure investments of the past. It’s not much of anything if you compare it to other big projects, even on a cost-per-passenger mile basis (assuming an uptick in bicycle mode share as an end result). You also have to factor in greatly reduced ongoing maintenance.

    On a per-capita basis, we’re talking spending of less than $4 per Portlander per month (assuming normal population growth) over 20 years.

    Take a look at what we’re spending on handling stormwater runoff and, largely from roads and parking lots and, well, $600m over 20 years is a drop in the bucket.

    In any case, I definitely acknowledge that such a plan, were it to be done (nothing guarantees that future administrations will continue to build bicycle infrastructure), it would definitely be an investment and it would definitely benefit bicyclists as well as all Portland citizens.

    Saying _____ isn’t that much money because ______ costs sooooo much more is sort of insulting, imo.

    It shouldn’t be insulting if it’s true and provides perspective.

  12. Right, and then look at the city’s pension obligations and other budgetary items and say that 30 million a year is not a lot of money, because it is.

    30 million this year is more like $50 per resident this year. I’m not sure what type of population adjustments you’re using, but Portland hasn’t grown that much and much of its population gain in past years is through annexation, not domestic migration.

    I agree with the advancement of the bicycling community. The Eastbank Esplanade was a good (30 million, just so happens) investment, as an example.

    I’m not a fuddy-duddy anti-bike person, far from it.

    Just saying things are a “drop in the bucket” is not true and really hurts the community, so I am sticking to my initial sentiments.

  13. Let’s be clear. We’re not spending anything like $30M a year. The master plan has an aspirational project list and a timeline of 20 years. So if you put a price tag on every project, add it up and divide by 20, you do indeed get something like $30M/year.

    But we’re only spending a fraction of that. At the current run rate, it’s more like a 100 year plan :-(

    We fund projects, not plans, and each project has to have a justification and a funding plan. Nobody has allocated $600M.

  14. $50 per resident per year is $1 per resident per week. That really is a “drop in the bucket.” Sure, a LOT of $1 per week projects add up, and after a while you’re talking about real money, but the bike wish list really isn’t very expensive as public projects go.

    I’d give up the Portland side of the CRC in a heartbeat to get the entire bike wish list done in five years.

  15. 30 million this year is more like $50 per resident this year. … I’m not sure what type of population adjustments you’re using

    Note that I said per-month, not per year. My estimates are in line with yours.

    And as Chris points out (and as I mentioned when I said “were it to be done”), we’re not funding all of those projects.

    The real harmful, insulting thing is to voters is how these modest bicycle goals get characterized as some big, expensive thing when they really aren’t.

    The lack of perspective on just how (relatively) little it costs to upgrade bike infrastructure is what leads to distracting debates such as these, focused on bicycle costs, when the larger topic is a reduction in transportation funding for all modes.

  16. “I’m not a fuddy-duddy anti-bike person, far from it.
    Just saying things are a “drop in the bucket” is not true and really hurts the community, so I am sticking to my initial sentiments.”

    Right. For example, running close to NW Cornell Rd. in the heights I’ve notice a one lane gravel road that goes from NW 28th or so out to NW Cornell Rd. Finding routes like that, or abandoned trails, such as the abandoned rail route through the Oak Grove area, would make sense, or perhaps extending blacktop off to the side a few more yards. Or maybe a commuter trail through Forest Park. Whatever is reasonable and costs the least.

    I don’t care if the bicyclists have to ride a few extra miles. And there is some needed planning that would shorten other routes, so all would benefit. Every other transportation expenditure is going to come under intense scrutiny, too.

    It’s just ain’t the “American Century” anymore. We have to get used to it.

  17. Gas prices mean that even in the third world, buses are becoming problematic.

    The really bankrupt countries are going for bicycles.

    The less bankrupt third world countries are building electrically powered rail, emphasis on the electric.

    (Alon, the rise in oil prices will come from supply restriction. Demand is going nowhere… but supply is also going nowhere,. And in particular, cheap oil supply is over. This makes for a ‘secular’ rise in oil prices, as they call it, without any ‘general inflation’ — a painful, painful scenario.)

  18. or abandoned trails, such as the abandoned rail route through the Oak Grove area

    It’s called the “Trolley Trail” and Clackamas County plans on doing something with it along those lines. But that’s outside of the City of Portland’s bicycle planning jurisdiction, of course.

    I don’t care if the bicyclists have to ride a few extra miles.

    Well, the bicyclists care (as do would-be bicyclists who are waiting for safer, better infrastructure and routes). So do people who don’t bicycle but wish to see an improved balance in our travel modes.

    Right here in Portland, it’s more a case of “motorists won’t even drive 400ft further” — look at the stalled effort to convert one lane and 40 parking spaces on Holladay street into a bikeway, despite studies showing low automobile use and that Holladay is the best street for a bikeway in the Lloyd District. There is no shortage of private parking opportunities adjacent to Holladay, and Multnomah and Lloyd Blvd., each 400ft away or less, can handle the few cars that now use the single, one-way lane on Holladay.

    Every other transportation expenditure is going to come under intense scrutiny, too.

    Yet strangely, as evidenced by this very thread, relatively (by far) low-cost bicycle projects are getting the most scrutiny. It’s a distraction from the big issues.

    We have to get used to it.

    There’s no reason to be complacent. Taxes are at long-term lows. Cut back on war spending, cut back on general military spending, and restore taxes to traditional modern levels, let the government negotiate on medical expenses, and presto, no more false austerity.

  19. It’s also worth pointing out that every option other than “leftist austerity” is psychotically bad for the vast majority of the country. But that’s our broken political system for ya…

  20. Every other transportation expenditure is going to come under intense scrutiny, too.
    Yet strangely, as evidenced by this very thread, relatively (by far) low-cost bicycle projects are getting the most scrutiny. It’s a distraction from the big issues.

    And this thread is a lot of evidence? The question should not be: “How does the cost of this transportation element compare with another?” The question should be “How much do we actually need to spend for it?
    (JFK Inaugural Address, Jan. 20, 1961)

    That way we can get the cost of everything down.
    It’s a distraction from the big issues.
    Such as what?

    I’m for reductions at all govenment levels, except in basic safety net programs like SS and Medicare. (The latter is rife with abuse by the medical professions, anyway.) However, until China discontinues its current rapid military buildup, ( of course, having the CA East Bay Bridge fabricated in China doesn’t help) let’s not throw all caution to the winds:

    But the reason to reduce most government spending is that we are no longer in a field of non-competitive rivals. That day is over. We’re going to need even more money circulating in the private economy than before.
    It’s sundown on the unions, and what’s made in the USA
    Sure was a good idea until greed got in the way.”
    Bob Dylan, 1981.

  21. And this thread is a lot of evidence?

    No, just another example.

    We’re going to need even more money circulating in the private economy than before.

    There is more money circulating in the private economy than before. It’s just that most folks don’t get to take as much part in the circulation as they used to.

    Such as what?

    Transportation: Airports (see: FAA shutdown), massive highway projects (CRC), city street safety (crosswalks, sidewalks), freight rail (CRC-related), high-speed rail and medium-speed rail, BRT.

    All of those things get discussed, for sure, but if you count up all the stories we get locally on transportation and look at the proportion of bicycle stories compared to actual money spent, it’s way out of proportion, and often from a perspective of “greedy” or “freeloading” cyclists looking for a hand-out.

  22. So you’re saying anti-bike people are harping about bike trail costs so people won’t complain about the high cost of other projects? Sort of a camouflage? A lot of the complaint here was from pro-bike people.

    Why can’t bike trail costs be examined as a stand alone issue? Next, dirt trails are going to become a big ticket item.

  23. However, until China discontinues its current rapid military buildup, ( of course, having the CA East Bay Bridge fabricated in China doesn’t help) let’s not throw all caution to the winds:


    United States Military Expenditures, 2010:

    % of GDP: 4.7%

    China Military Expenditures, 2010:

    % of GDP: 2.2%

    (And that’s one of the more “generous” estimates for China.)

    China spends less than 1/6 of what we do, even though they have 4.3X our population. That’s a per-capita spending disparity of 25:1. A lot of that can be explained by wage differences (and the fact that in what is still a largely central, totalitarian government, it’s easier to get conscripts for military service), but not all of it.

    If the US wants to spend and spend and spend to avoid some kind of increasing military parity with China, we’ll spend ourselves into oblivion without anyone needing to fire a single shot.

    And speaking of perspective: $698,105,000,000 in one year equals over ONE THOUSAND PORTLAND 30-YEAR BIKE PLANS. We could outfit TWENTY CITIES IN EVERY STATE with a 30-year bike plan in just one year of military spending.


  24. Why can’t bike trail costs be examined as a stand alone issue?

    Sure they can. But it still doesn’t change the fact that when talking about budget austerity, bikes aren’t the problem.

    Analogy: If someone’s got a serious, life-threatening medical problem their doctor wants to talk about, but the patient keeps steering the conversation to laser eye surgery, which may be important and useful to talk about, they are still avoiding the most pertinent issues.

  25. United States Military Expenditures, 2010:

    % of GDP: 4.7%

    Please send this info to:

    She if she gives a —–.

    Furthermore, one of our other NATO partners, like Holland, could have led the effort in Libya.

    Bob, I’ll agree with you that there are a lot of things that need to be cut. But once we save the money I would rather not blow it on something else that we don’t have to have. Example: Like an ACLU office in City Hall, or something like that.

  26. I think military spending puts more perspective into our current debt talks thank bike infrastructure. Those hawkish people on the right side of the aisle want cuts cut cuts cuts, just not military cuts (not all GOPers fit that category and some fiscal conservatives have asked for reduction in military spending).

    I just think it’s funny our order of priorities in this country. I believe in a strong defense, but spending on military like we do is absurd. I have a stronger chance of getting lethal cancer from a degraded environment than getting blown up from a Jihadist, but the EPA’s budget is peanuts compared to Pentagon’s.

    Defense constitutes 25% of the federal budget.

    God help us all.

  27. The ACLU is a private organization, not a government pork-barrel project.

    True—-except when it needs to shake down a government for more money (OK, I will turn the sarcasm off; ES didn’t get it the first time, anyway.)

    I just think it’s funny our order of priorities in this country. I believe in a strong defense, but spending on military like we do is absurd.

    It’s not just who publicly advocates for these things as a matter of strategy. It’s also the states and counties that benefit from those expenditures as a matter of economic interest. I’m just saying that the political trail gets a lot more complicated than at first glance. Massachusetts got a big boost under Reagan. Washington state is a regular beneficiary, too.,-defense-spending-still-butters-our-croissants/
    Watch what happens to Seattle if there is some huge across the board reduction in military spending, which we need in some form.(Reagan’s military spending, I tended to not agree with.) And, economically, our state was in a s—hole during his administration,too. The final result, with the end of the Cold War was pretty good though, but a lot was due to his bud, Gorby.

    And if you are enjoying the “Arab Spring” ( partly the result of a rather long strategy) just remember that such things CAN get out of control. Are you ready?

  28. So as not to further bury this tread in irrelevant distractions, please provide a link to a credible web site which lists all of the cases in which the ACLU has “shaken down” a local government, the sum total of the funds involved, and the proof that the ACLU claims on behalf if its clients were unwarranted. Bonus: Show (just like with bike infrastructure as to transportation) that ACLU claims are more than a drop in the bucket in terms of legal judgements.

  29. The information is available, but I think it is off-topic.

    You brought up the ACLU, not anyone else. You’ve brought up a series of irrelevant assertions without proof. Don’t lead topics astray, especially if you can’t provide evidence for the distraction. (And if you didn’t get the hint, that’s why I said provide a link to an external web site. This ACLU and false bike-spending-is-major meme ends here.)

  30. (Back from the club…..)
    (Why do I need to provide proof? It’s above my pay grade. It’s not like I’m the CBO, or anything like that. Everyone can express an opinion.
    End of discussion.

    [Moderator response: You accused the ACLU of shaking down local governments and setting up shop in City Hall. If you’re going to make a strong accusation like that, you should have some shred of a reference to back it up. Otherwise, it doesn’t belong here. Just another pointless distraction. This is a moderated forum. No, not everyone gets to express every opinion. – Bob R.]

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