There’s a lot of talk of budgets, and of “highway funding” versus “transportation funding” going down right now. Many cities, states and even the federal budget are cutting funds to mass transit. In this environment, I absolutely recommend giving a listen to “Back of the Bus: Mass transit, race and inequality,” a public radio documentary. It’s to air on Minnesota Public Radio at noon on March 11, but can also be downloaded as an MP3 from Transportation Nation.
This documentary makes a powerful argument that transportation has been a social engineering weapon to intentionally disenfranchise minorities and the poor. It tells the story of how transit use came to be equated with second-class citizenry, and how transportation planning since Eisenhower onward has focused primarily around accommodating middle-class whites. Included in the documentary is the story of the construction of I-94 through St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood, along with the modern update of how the planned light rail line might have gone through the neighborhood — without stopping.
This is another element of the argument that mandatory parking capacity rules for development, road construction and cheap gas subsidizes automobile use, even as many roadway advocates complain about the more obvious subsidy in most rail and bus systems. Less than 20% of transportation dollars are spent on mass transit projects. (Bicycle funding is often scattered in with road projects, rather than called out as its own line item.)