by Benjamin J. Kirby
There's a giant sign on 66th Street not too far from us that says "No Tax for Tracks!" or something like that. It's a group opposing proposed light rail in Pinellas County.
Of course, it's not too hard to figure out the group's agenda, nor is it too hard to figure out who they are: it's the tea party weirdos, and they're not so much pissed about light rail per se as the idea of having to pay taxes for it.
I'll just tell you now: light rail is good idea. Hell, it's a great idea.
The tea party freaks got a toe-hold in on this issue in Pinellas County because the bus system here is pretty screwed up and has lost money. But the answer to a sort of quasi-infrastructure issue that is having difficulty is not to defund it, or not do it -- it's to bolster it. Seems counter-intuitive, but it's the thing to do.
And light rail actually gives a cost-effective way to do this.
Bus systems incur sizable capital expenses, too, as well as rail, with typically much higher operating and maintenance (O&M) costs; often, when you add up all these costs and account for the relative life of all the infrastructure and rolling stock, plus the work performed (measured in passenger-mileage or passenger-km), you may find that rail actually gives amazing "bang for the buck".
About 90% of my commute is straight up 66th Street. A bit down Ulmerton, and the rest navigating my way out of Gulfport and turning on 58th Street North, to work. You know how many busses it'd take me to get to work? Three. And even them I'm not sure I figured it right.
There's a lot of good data and information to support light rail:
- Don't we have enough cars here? Road use destroys the environment and causes untold congestion—but the costs created by these externalities are imposed on the general public, not paid for by road users. (Wouldn't you think that would piss off the tea partiers, too?)
- Light rail is cheaper for the consumer. I thought everyone -- especially the tea party whiners -- were complaining about gas prices these days. Studies have shown that those who take mass transit spend a far smaller fraction of their total income on transit costs. (That same study shows that Tampa residents spend more on housing and transportation than anywhere else, just edging out Miami.)
- Light rail is low impact in terms of air and noise pollution. Hey, didn't I move here for all that awesome nature stuff?
- Rail-triggered transit-oriented development tends to increase local property values. I'm sold.
- Rail -- both heavy rail and light rail -- are some of the safest modes of transportation out there. Florida's I-95 is the most dangerous interstate in America. I-4 is third (the two meet in Tampa). US 19 -- straight up through Pinellas -- is the most dangerous road in America. So notorious is this road, it has a Flickr site.
The buzz kills at the no-tax place have their own arguments. Or they've borrowed them from the Cato Institute. I'd paste it all here, but you can probably already guess what it says. It's interesting to me that it is almost all about the taxation required to support it, instead of an argument against the real merits and drawbacks of what light rail would look like.
Right. For me, it's not so much about the money, about the facts and figures. I think the data probably supports light rail. I think it's probably a smart investment for a place like Pinellas County.
It's really more about what kind of place do we want Pinellas County to be in the future. Light Rail draws us closer together. It brings people and communities closer. Personally, I'd like that. I'd like to be able to get on a train and go up to Clearwater Beach. Or even to Tarpon Springs (they're not proposing that, but they could). I'd love to get on a train and have dinner in Ybor City, and not have to worry about crossing the bridge at night. Wouldn't that be great?
This is more than about a train. It is about our growing, evolving community.
What kind of community do you want?
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So the Supreme Court is in deliberation now, and I guess we'll find out their decision around June.
In the meantime, it's always a lot of fun when Republicans -- those suing the government to overturn health care reform -- step on their own message.
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And speaking of uh-oh moments caught on video, here's Rick Santorum this close to using the n-word to describe President Obama.
Normally I'd be inclined to give Santorum the benefit of the doubt -- hey, who knows what he was going to say... could have just been a tongue-tied kind of thing. But the problem is, Mr. Santorum is a repeat offender, and I believe that we're starting to see a trend, here.
Well, that'll about do it.
Of course, the Santorum campaign is just outraged that you'd think the man might say anything racist:
“Oh, come on!” Santorum spokesman Hogan Gidley told Raw Story when asked for comment. “Give me a break. That’s unbelievable. What does it say about those that are running with this story that that’s where their mind goes. You know, I’m not going to dignify that with [a response].”
“That is absolutely ridiculous.”
An outrage! OUTRAGE!
This is the guy who has made the GOP primary a real contest for Romney. That ought to tell you everything you need to know about today's Republican Party, gang. Shameful.
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I think it's interesting that we're being lectured to about "partisan rancor" by a guy who called a mostly-limbless Vietnam War veteran a coward in his campaign ad.
C-SPAN is the root of all evil? Really?
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This Dinner with Barack thing is just brilliant, it really is. I love the idea of it, but I also love that it's perfect for social media. You can watch it on YouTube. They're eating dinner (I'm curious which restaurant they went to), and they're eating dinner with regular folks. It's a remarkable visual, and it is a remarkable way to campaign.
Do the Republicans have anything even close to this? Anything at all?
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Good times with a scanner -- and Big Laffs at my expense, over at my other blog, Clintonaut, here.
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This week a man named Earl Scruggs died. He was 88.
Mr. Scruggs was a bluegrass pioneer and one hell of a banjo player. When I learned of his death, I found a good video of him with Steve Martin on the Late Show with David Letterman. Emeline was mesmerized. She seemed particularly enamored of the banjo, so I found more.
Then we found the video below. It's Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers at Jazz Fest a couple of years ago. They're playing "Orange Blossom Special." If you can forgive the quick jumps in the middle, and "King Tut" at the end, it's really good. Emmy loves the fiddle player, who is remarkable.
"Orange Blosom Special" is about a train, by the way. Imagine that.
It's finally Friday.