Saturday, September 17, 2005

Sadly, Impossible

Yglesias is certainly correct that a big gas price hike, with revenues being thrown into smart mass transit projects, is a great idea. It's also the best way to get chucked out of office. A gas tax hike would've been a great idea when gas cost a buck a gallon, taxes included, a buck fifty, two bucks, two fifty, and whatever it currently costs in your area. But, it was a politically impossible thing to do when it was "only" a buck and it's certainly a politically impossible thing to do now that the price of gas is really hurting people.

I would like to believe that at some point there would be a larger political constituency for mass transit, and there probably is a greater one than we are often led to believe, but nonetheless land use patterns in much of the country have made it quite difficult for any proposed transit systems to really improve the lot of most existing homeowners/commuters. Expanding rail systems into existing suburban areas reall only makes a lot of sense if its accompanied by some land use changes in those areas (there at least needs to be higher density development around the stations themselves). But, between the rigidity of zoning laws, basic Nimbyism, your standard suburban fear of property value decline, and the competition between development and the parking that those who need to drive to the stations demand, all make the necessary changes highly unlikely in most areas.

Ideally, transit improvements would be made in those areas which already have sufficient density. Los Angeles is one of the best candidates, as its basic layout grew up around the old streetcar system and still is quite a dense city relative to most of the rest of the sun belt car cities.