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The opposition to Light Rail is rebutted by our Editor.

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I'm concerned about the antagonism toward light rail from traditional progressive/neighborhood/environmental allies, not to mention the hostility from the more predictable anti-light rail forces. Light rail seems, to me, such an obvious choice for our long-term urban planning. I'm afraid the alternative is not to build more roads (and we need more roads) but to face the same problems in 10 or 20 years.

The biggest fiction of the light rail campaign (which strikes me as a series of fictions from both sides) is that if we take the light rail money and spend it on roads, then we can really alleviate congestion. The reasoning goes that if light rail is defeated, then the Legislature will redirect either a 1é4 or 1é2 cent to road-building. There will then be billions available for roads, and we can dramatically reduce traffic congestion. According to this theory, light rail won't work and is just the product of those big-government-loving, Smart Growth-promoting, environmental fools.

Okay, think about this. Central Austin is pretty much built out. More money for roads may mean improvements (and think how that would tie up traffic) but outside of expanding I-35, double-decking MoPac, or finally building a crosstown expressway, little can be done to impact traffic flow in the city's downtown. I think some of those projects are unlikely, and at best they will facilitate some traffic flow. Therefore, most new road money will go toward building additional roads in the less-developed areas. These will encourage more development. More roads will see more of the Hill Country developed with businesses and residences everywhere. But some portion of this new population will head downtown or through downtown, where the congestion is already overflowing. New roads will bring more cars into Central Austin.

Imagine you have a container. There are many hoses running into it. It fills too quickly. The solution is not to put more hoses in the bucket. Building more roads in the greater Austin area will mostly add to downtown congestion rather than relieve it, especially during morning rush hour. Simply put: Building more roads will not improve congestion. And think of the delays during construction. Also keep in mind there is no guarantee the Legislature will redirect money toward building roads, and more traffic means worse air, so the city won't be getting any federal road funds.

Living in Boston for a number of years, I traveled on the MTA every day. In one place I lived, I took the trolley, transferred to a bus, and then took another trolley to get to work. I had a car, but traffic was unbearable and there was no place to park. I cursed the trolley some days; it broke down in the cold and ran late in the heat. But I used it. Not because I was taking an environmental or modern urban living stance but because it worked. Mass transit worked. It was the most effective way to get to my job. After work, I'd come home, we'd get in the car and go shopping or visit friends. But we also always used the trolley.

What is Austin going to do instead of mass transit? Build more roads and then more roads? Restrict growth? (We tried that, and most of the forces against light rail fought us every inch of the way.) If we don't give downtown a tool by which it can survive and remain vital, the consequences will be devastating.

Look at the north-south route, the first to be built. How many riders will it really carry in its first decade? But think about 50 years from now when light rail is built out and housing and commercial developments have evolved adjacent to it. We won't think about it; we won't argue about it; we will use it.

The solution is not to stick our heads in the sand. Let's say we defeat light rail. Then in a decade, when traffic is unbearable and new roads have just added to the downtown congestion, think how expensive light rail will be then. There is a problem, and it is getting worse. To deny the solution does not take the smallest step toward solving the problem.

Some businesses are against light rail because they think construction will have a negative impact on them. Given the current traffic situation in downtown Austin, which is a lot worse than it should be, one has to sympathize with them. Let this be a city concern, about which we can work together to ensure quick, logical construction with careful thought given to neighborhood integrity and small businesses. The issue will be a lot more serious in a half-century when, instead of the thriving downtown we now have, it will have become unlivable.

Mass transit preserves neighborhoods. You don't think so? Imagine traffic jams sending more and more drivers down residential streets. Mass transit also makes neighborhoods more livable by making residents less dependent on cars.

Light rail is only a part of the solution. We need long-range regional transportation and development planning. Immediate steps in the right direction include SH 130 and some kind of rail connections between major Texas cities.

One of the ironies of the current debate is that somehow Smart Growth has become cast as the cause of downtown problems rather than a long-term visionary solution as to how to deal with them. People who fought any restriction on development are now shocked that our city is filled to the brim, and they want to blame those in the pro-planning community for causing it.

The only solution to growth is planning. We need light rail -- not now but for every day of our future.


When I walked into the Chronicle's endorsement meeting, the members of the politics staff had largely decided to endorse Nader for president. I threw my body on the tracks and slowed that train. Since we endorse by consensus, one hold-out can doom an endorsement. I said I was willing to go for a split, not dual, endorsement. Many of the staff agreed. Somewhere in the confusion of the meeting, this distinction was lost, and we ended up endorsing just Gore. We remedy that mistake in this issue. If you want to know why I don't endorse Nader you can start with the fact that I think he would be a lousy president and end with the tedious sanctimony of the letters in this issue from people shocked we didn't endorse him. If the Green vote allows Bush the presidency (not an issue in Texas, I acknowledge), it will do the progressive cause no good. end story

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