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Part 1: Mark Baumer Reflection: Impounding Vehicles & Immigrant Rights

This is part of a multi-part reflection I've been doing following the death of my friend, Mark Baumer . There's nothing graphic i...

Overlaps of Interest

Rounding errors from the budget are put into long-overdue bikeway extensions, but RIDOT director misattributes these to 
RhodeWorks, which is really a project to rebuild the failed 6/10 Connector urban highway.
The Rhode Island Tea Party and its various offshoots have been been rallying against what they view as the extreme waste of using RhodeWorks money for bike path extensions. They point to pictures of Director Peter Alviti standing at RhodeWorks signs as proof that the truck toll plan was a "bait-and-switch". 

This is a case where both sides are not telling the truth, but for different reasons (and to different degrees). 
RIDOT has been the only agency at any level of government gunning to complete the 6/10 Connector as a decked highway, with a Big Dig-like green space above the highway. As a fig leaf for its extreme spending on this one project (estimates have gone as high as 80% of tolls, which Republican groups incorrectly attribute to bus lane costs) it has allocated a tiny amount of money for bike projects. The $2.5 million being allocated above in the extension of the Blackstone Bike Path to the Massachusetts border would be a rounding error on the $1 billion+ budget for the failed 6/10 highway. 
The money for these bike paths doesn't actually come from tolls. There's supposed to be some spending on biking and walking as part of normal transportation policy, but RIDOT continues to mismanage roads money, and then drops or delays biking and walking projects to make up for that. The Providence pedestrian bridge, for instance, appears to be back on schedule after five years of delays, but people should remember that that project was cost-neutral because it had been budgeted off of the decision not to remove the moorings from the I-195 highway. So, even when a project doesn't cost anything, if it's related to walking or biking, RIDOT will put it last on the priority list.*

What happened with tolls was that RIDOT found new money for roads, and so it freed up some of the mismanaged money that should have gone to biking and walking. Gov. Raimondo and Dir. Alviti now have a situation where they want to represent RhodeWorks as great for biking, because for many voters that represents a positive. The Tea Party seizes upon that to say AH HA! WE KNEW IT! THE TOLLS WERE JUST A PLOT TO MAKE EVERYONE BIKE EVERYWHERE! CAUGHT YOU!

In the RI Tea Party column, "save money" should probably say "allegedly save money"
since they support maintaining the same broken priorities without tolls to pay for them.
Transportation policy isn't really that complicated, which is why a lot of times I feel like a broken record, writing the same basic advice over and over again. 

Nonetheless, in our binary system of politics, there's a lot that can get lost in the conversation. 

I drew two Venn diagrams to help sort things out.

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation believes that building transit and bike routes is just grand, but OOOOH! BIG ROADS! LET'S SPEND LOTS OF TAXPAYER MONEY ON BIG ROADS comes first. They're also okay with tolls, because tolls help with the BIG ROADS BUILD LOTS OF BIG ROADS plan.

The Rhode Island Tea Party is against tolls, because tolls sound like taxes, and taxes are EVIL. They, however (with exceptions, I should say!) are for big roads, and believe that those projects should have priority. They're against spending on transit or biking at all.

I believe that we should save money on transportation projects. Taxpayers deserve a break! But they way we do that is by following the proven techniques of places like Denmark or the Netherlands. The city of Copenhagen spends just 4% of its local economy on transportation, but has optimal outcomes (compare that to a transit-oriented but not-yet-very-bike-friendly city like New York (10%), or a city that's pimped out on highways like Houston (16%).

RIDOT supports tolls in order to continue building urban highways, whereas a smart usage of
tolls would help manage congestion and reduce infrastructure costs.

I also believe biking and walking comes first. It's like Occum's Razor. You solve transportation problems with the simplest solution. The simplest solution is actually land use (not having to travel at all, because what you need is right there). But after that, biking and walking are the simplest and cheapest, and so those come first. Big roads come by far last. They are the most expensive, and have the least return in transportation outcomes.

Because of this Venn diagram overlap, there are times when I agree with the Tea Party and times when I agree with RIDOT, but both are inherently not oriented towards my general political views. The Tea Party just hates the idea of collective government action, and I don't agree with that. RIDOT believes in spending as much as it can on road projects, because it's stuck in models of transportation that were designed in the 50s and 60s. RIDOT modifies those models by putting lipstick on a pig (building a bike lane here, and bike lane there). But it's still stuck on cars-first.

~~~~
*You could make the argument, I guess, that money is fungible, and thus any new money (i.e., tolls) does go to bike paths, because bike paths appear to be the newest priority. The reason that's not true, in my opinion, is that in order to truly manage your transportation system in the most cost-effective way, biking and walking should be the first things you spend on. So the whole houses of cards that holds up the Tea Party's argument falls apart when you point that out.


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