In the past, private companies ran the trains, interurbans, trolleys and buses. They were usually able to make a profit providing freedom and personal mobility to people of all ages and income levels. Then the government interfered in the market, forcing operators to charge fares that were too low, and subsidizing roads, garages and oil so that private cars had an unfair advantage. The private operators went out of business, and since then a skeleton transit system has been operated by the government at great public expense.
Government subsidy of driving has also destroyed our traditional small towns and cities, leaving hard-working families with a difficult choice between long drives and a gentrified urban lifestyle surrounded by intellectuals and criminals.
A conservative solution would gradually phase out driving subsidies and allow entrepreneurs to start new bus and train services. As publicly-owned transit routes become more profitable, they could be sold off to the highest bidder.
He put our beliefs more succinctly that I could – when you’re as passionate about the history of transit and land use in America as we are, it’s hard to distill it to a few short sentences. I should also note before continuing that I don’t really agree with lumping libertarian and conservative ideas on transit/land use together – “conservative” these days is nothing more than shorthand for Republican-leaning, and Republican constituents are almost all suburban/exurban/rural and are highly dependent on cars and will always vote for cars and against transit and density.
But anyway, something I also found interesting was his typology of conservative/libertarian tendencies other than market urbanism. He finds three (emphasis his):
1. The Wendell Cox Closed System. Roads are all paid for by drivers, in the form of “user fees” like gas taxes and tolls. Not many people will actually discover the number of local and state roads that are paid for with general property, sales or income taxes.
2. The Joel Kotkin Real Americans. It’s okay for government to spend money on things Real Americans want, and they want roads, cars and sprawl. This conveniently ignores the fact that “Real Americans” often change what they want depending on what they think will bring them the most happiness. It also ignores the frequent adjustment of the category of “Real Americans” to exclude those who decide they don’t want roads, cars or sprawl. This is a special case of the more general Real Americans argument beloved by conservatives, notably Sarah Palin.
3. The Randal O’Toole Transit Socialism. Transit involves people getting close to each other, which is against American rugged individualism, and therefore it is an appropriate use of government funds to defend us against the commies. Somehow this is not a problem when people get close to each other on airplanes, in spectator sports arenas, or in shopping malls. Getting around on foot or by bicycle also somehow doesn’t make you a rugged individualist, just a weirdo.
I think the Joel Kotkin (who blogs here) description is dead-on, and is an accurate characterization of the conservative/Republican stance on land use and transportation. The Wendell Cox one is also pretty accurate, but I think he’s selling Randal O’Toole (blogging here) short – I think Randal’s approach to the issue is the same as Cox’s, and I’ve never heard him justify roads on any grounds other than libertarian grounds. I don’t agree with his conclusions – that sprawl-limiting regulations are more common and relevant than density-limiting ones – but I don’t think it’s accurate to say that he believes in sprawl despite the market.
So in sum, I’d say there are two non-market urbanist conservative/libertarian positions – Kotkin speaking for most conservatives, and O’Toole/Cox speaking for most libertarians – and that these two positions are held by the vast, vast majority of self-identified conservatives and libertarians. Do you think that that about sums up the positions, or would you organize them differently? Are these distinctions even relevant, or is there a generalized local opposition to density among car-owners that transcends party identification and ideology? (My money might actually be on this last one…)