It’s probably not fair to say that conservatives have no idea, but this entire George Will column is basically the same as the column he wrote about how he hates jeans, except this time it’s about how he hates Portland. But now he wants national policy to be driven by his hatred for Portland:
LaHood, however, has been transformed. Indeed, about three bites into lunch, the T word lands with a thump: He says he has joined a “transformational” administration: “I think we can change people’s behavior.” Government “promoted driving” by building the Interstate Highway System—”you talk about changing behavior.” He says, “People are getting out of their cars, they are biking to work.” High-speed intercity rail, such as the proposed bullet train connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco, is “the wave of the future.” And then, predictably, comes the P word: Look, he says, at Portland, Ore. [...]
Where to start? Does LaHood really think Americans were not avid drivers before a government highway program “promoted” driving? Does he think 0.01 percent of Americans will ever regularly bike to work? Intercity high-speed rail probably always will be the wave of the future, for cities more than 300 miles apart.
Where to start? LaHood didn’t say that Americans didn’t drive before we built the interstate system. He said that building the interstate system promoted driving. I don’t see how you could possibly deny this. Had we spent less money on highway construction and more on mass transit or intercity rail, then there would be less driving. That seems obvious. In a different context, completing WMATA’s Green Line promoted use of Metro. And this is true even though Washingtonians were avid Metro riders even before the Green Line was complete. A seven year-old ought to be able to master this.
Will claims to find it unbelievable that as many as 0.01 percent of Americans would ever bike to work regularly. But rather than tossing off ridicule, he might have looked up the Census Bureau’s statistics on commuting patterns and seen that right now 0.4 percent of commuters normally get to work on bicycles. Now that’s a small percentage. But it’s forty times larger than a percentage that Will deems unrealistically utopian. This would be like saying Dwight Howard is 2 feet tall.
As for high-speed rail, San Francisco and Los Angeles aren’t that much more than 300 miles apart. Indeed, they’re about as far apart as Barcelona and Madrid, which are currently served by a very successful high speed rail link. What’s more, while metropolitan San Francisco is about the same size as metro Barcelona (4.2 million people, give or take), metropolitan Los Angeles’s 12.8 million residents is a much larger city than Madrid with its 5.3 million.
But even if you accept Will’s idea that LA-SF HSR can’t succeed because it’s over the magic 300 miles line, the United States has plenty of city-pairs closer than that. For example, there’s Seattle and the dread Portland, Oregon. And Vancouver’s less than 300 miles from Seattle. Milwaukee to Chicago, Chicago to Indianapolis, Chicago to Saint Louis, Miami to Orlando and Orlando to Tampa, and Houston to Dallas—all fitting under the Will line.
Why does Newsweek want to offer its audience a columnist who wants to write about transportation polic but can’t be bothered to bring any facts or logic to the table?