Tuesday, October 1, 2019
Democracy and Transportation in America :: Politics Political Research Papers
Democracy and Transportation in America In 1952, Charles E. Wilson resigned as President of GM to become Secretary of Defense. At the confirmation he was asked if he could make a decision in the interest of the nation if it were adverse to GM. "Yes sir, I could," Wilson said. "I cannot conceive of one, because for years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors and vice versa. The difference does not exist."1 Yet his GM is accused of undermining the American transportation infrastructure and destroying a viable, superior streetcar network in order to sell more cars. Regardless of the validity of this conspiracy theory, the fact remains that America destroyed vast mass transit networks to make way for private and public automotive transportation. The question of whether the transfer from iron to asphalt was advisable also asks what makes a good transportation network. Both transportation systems are valid, but unique features of American cities and culture made automobiles the better choice. Conspi racies of the powerful in the USA pale compared to the tyranny of the majority. Regardless of economic or social considerations, public demand made the key decisions in building the American transportation network. A transportation network must be judged for its cost-effectiveness. The American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO) in 1952 made its tenet, "that a profit should be returned on an investment applies as well to highway projects as to general business ventures."2 Cost-effectiveness includes safety, ease of use, and flexibility in the eyes of both the local government and individual users. Unfortunately, "little or no supporting evidence"3 exists and few studies compared the systems. Since no monetary value can be placed on human life, comparisons of safety are even fewer and less thorough. A simple account of accident records, however, is a good judge of safety. Studies of system costs, ont the other hand, are purely monetary and more frequent. From the operator's standpoint, costs break down to overhead and construction, maintenance of cars and lines, operation costs, and profits. From the users' standpoint the only cost is the fare. Some considerations are particular to the town. Users must determine, first of all, whether it is even possible to go from one point to another. This is especially important for those who are not able to walk long distances. Riders must also decide whether the restrictions of a certain mode - say, timetables for trains, or driving laws - are acceptable.