There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Monday, April 27, 2009

Conservative case for transit and walkable communities

An article posted at a website associated with the conservative Witherspoon Institute is generating a lot of supportive noise among transit enthusiasts. (HT: Trains for America) I, for one, am excited about any opportunity to put an end to the fallacious argument that only a Democrat could support expansion of transit.

The Witherspoon Institute is not a liberal think tank: "The Witherspoon Institute is an independent research center that works to enhance public understanding of the moral foundations of free and democratic societies." The article was published at As the site explains, "Public Discourse: Ethics, Law, and the Common Good, is an online publication of the Witherspoon Institute that seeks to enhance the public understanding of the moral foundations of free societies by making the scholarship of the fellows and affiliated scholars of the Institute available and accessible to a general audience."

David Schaengold, the author of the article, is a research associate at the Witherspoon Institute and a former transportation policy researcher at the Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago.

Schaengold writes:

"Sadly, American conservatives have come to be associated with support for transportation decisions that promote dependence on automobiles, while American liberals are more likely to be associated with public transportation, city life, and pro-pedestrian policies. This association can be traced to the ’70s, when cities became associated with social dysfunction and suburbs remained bastions of ‘normalcy.’ This dynamic was fueled by headlines mocking ill-conceived transit projects that conservatives loved to point out as examples of wasteful government spending. Of course, just because there is a historic explanation for why Democrats are “pro-transit” and Republicans are “pro-car” does not mean that these associations make any sense. Support for government-subsidized highway projects and contempt for efficient mass transit does not follow from any of the core principles of social conservatism."
In fact, as Schaengold points out, "Pro-highway, anti-transit, anti-pedestrian policies work against the core beliefs of American conservatives in another and even more important way: they create social environments that are hostile to real community."

The full essay -- Why Conservatives Should Care About Transit: Public transit and walkable neighborhoods are necessary for the creation of a country where families and communities can flourish -- is worth reading, especially if you are a social conservative looking for a reason to feel good about leaving your car at home and taking transit to work.

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