Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Action Committee for Transit's 25th Anniversary Gala // Plus, Purple Line Gets Engineering Approval (woot!)

UPDATE: The Sun reports that Baltimore's light rail Red Line proposal has also received FTA preliminary engineering approval.

Cabin John Streetcars (from Nat'l Capital Trolley Museum)
Tonight, the Action Committee for Transit (ACT) celebrates its 25th of year of aggressive advocacy for the region's bus, metro, MARC, and Amtrak riders. Check out their event invitation below, along with a quick discussion of their work -- and a flashback to Montgomery County's streetcar lines. We also discuss a key federal approval for the Purple Line. But first, a quick sidebar (sorry in advance) -- ACT also opposes MoCo's curfew proposal:
The traditional urban form of downtown Silver Spring is not an experiment that is at risk.... The renaissance of our downtowns...will fully succeed only when they are welcoming environments for everyone in the county. This requires strenuous efforts to ensure safety, but not a safety achieved by excluding one segment of the population.

Sure enough, ACT bumps heads with politicians and sometimes engages in guerilla tactics, but think about the policy context for those who rely on transit. Nationally, the auto, oil and related industries wield significantly more influence than the rail and transit-rider "lobbies" (if such things really existed).

Our Lost Streetcar Legacy: Indeed, the Washington region used to have an extensive streetcar network that extended into Montgomery County. The National Capital Trolley Museum has this information:
[The map below] shows Street Car Trackage in Washington, D.C. and the Maryland Suburbs as it existed before the final set of abandonments began on September 7, 1958....

In the wee hours of Sunday, January 28, 1962 preceded by Museum cars 1101 and 1053, car 766 entered the Navy Yard Car Barn for the last time, and Washington's Street Cars became history.
D.C.'s streetcar lines serviced Cabin John, Friendship Heights, Takoma, and more.

The Great American Streetcar Scandal: Do you remember the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit? It described a real-world scenario where the auto industry conspired to ruin public transportation in America. Here's a brief Wikipedia clip about the issue:
The Great American streetcar scandal ... refers to allegations and convictions in relation to a program by General Motors (GM) and a number of other companies to purchase and dismantle streetcars (trams/trolleys) and electric trains in many cities across the United States and replace them with bus services; a program which has been blamed by some for the virtual elimination of effective public transport in nearly all American cities by the 1970s.... 
In 1946, Edwin J. Quinby, a retired naval lieutenant commander alerted transportation officials across the country to what he called "a careful, deliberately planned campaign to swindle you out of your most important and valuable public utilities—your Electric Railway System". GM and other companies were subsequently convicted in 1949 of conspiring to monopolize the sale of buses and related products via a complex network of linked holding companies including National City Lines and Pacific City Lines... 
By the time of the 1973 oil crisis, controversial new testimony was presented to a United States Senate inquiry into the causes of the decline of transit car systems in the US. This alleged that there was a wider conspiracy—by GM in particular—to destroy effective public transport systems in order to increase sales of automobiles and that this was implemented with great effect to the detriment of many cities. 
Only a few US cities have surviving effective rail-based urban transport systems based on tram, metro, or elevated train.... There is now general agreement that GM and other companies were indeed actively involved in a largely unpublicized program to purchase many streetcar systems and convert them to buses, which they often supplied....
One author recently summed the situation up as follows: "Clearly, GM waged a war on electric traction. It was indeed an all out assault, but by no means the single reason for the failure of rapid transit. Also, it is just as clear that actions and inactions by government contributed significantly to the elimination of electric traction."
Other Challenges for Transit: On top of corrupt behavior from the auto industry, it is also the case that legislators from non-urban regions simply don't prioritize transit funding. This doesn't even take into account the racialization of public transportation funding requests. Next drill down to the local level, where many people who live near the path of a transit line will oppose it for various reasons (ie: aesthetics or crime fears). Lastly, transit systems require great startup costs and are not "profitable" based solely on farebox revenues (their true benefits are in economic development). It isn't difficult to see how challenging it can be to achieve policy successes in the transit advocacy world.

Nevertheless, the Action Committee for Transit has been a key player in the push for the Prince George's and Montgomery County light rail Purple Line -- a 16-mile East-West line that would run from New Carrollton to Bethesda, crossing through College Park and Silver Spring. Disclosure: I previously served a stint as the campaign director for Purple Line NOW!

Purple Line Receives Engineering Approval

Last Friday, Governor Martin O'Malley announced that the Purple Line received critical engineering approval from the Feds:
Governor Martin O’Malley today announced that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has given its approval for the Purple Line to move forward and enter the Preliminary Engineering (PE) phase.... FTA approval means that work on the project now moves to preparation of more detailed plans, schedules and cost estimates, as well as completion of environmental studies. 
“In order to create jobs, a modern economy requires modern investments. The Federal Transit Administration’s approval today will help us continue to create jobs and expand rapid and reliable transportation in the Washington suburban region,” said Governor O’Malley. “The Purple Line will connect citizens to jobs and economic opportunities throughout the region. Today’s approval affirms that federal and state investments create jobs and promote economic growth. Together, with our federal partners, we can secure the future of transit in Maryland and continue to move the Purple Line forward.”
Maryland Juice is eager to see an amicable resolution to Maryland's redistricting discussion, so that our members of Congress can work together to find us more transit funds.... In the meantime, you can attend tonight's 25th Anniversary celebration for ACT. If you can't attend the event, sign up for their email list to find out more about opportunities to weigh in on transit issues.

1 comment:

  1. Anyone interested in more information on the dismantling of street cars and electric cars should read "Internal Combustion" by Edwin Black. It is very informative, and very readable.