Texas Liberal

All People Matter

Light Rail In Houston And The Chimpanzee I Don’t Want To Be

It is difficult to know how to feel about the proposed extension of light rail in Houston.

(Above–Transportation in Minsk, Belarus.)

Four new lines, all in the inner loop as far I can determine, are on the table for a vote of the Metro Board in March. The cost of this project is said to be $2.6 billion. 

On one hand, I support mass transit. On the other hand, I support mass transit for all the people. Not just inside the loop.

For example, there is no bus on Highway 6 in-between 1960 and Westheimer. Yet many people live and work in this area and Highway 6 gets more busy each day.

How can we commit $ 2.6 billion for transit inside the loop without addressing all of Houston and the suburbs? (And when will all our Harris County suburbs grow up and incorporate and elect mayors and city councils and establish a police force beyond the Harris County Sheriff? Maybe these folks would get better services if they’d incorporate and find a coherent voice. )

A regional transit authority is clearly needed. Please click here to see my previous post of the likelihood of a regional transit authority in the Houston-area.

Then you have the issue of the folks on each side of the debate.

Seemingly against any extension of mass transit are folks who reflexively oppose government, hate taxes more than they value the future, and who think that if only they can stop the bus from coming their neighborhoods will be able to keep out “undesirables.”  I have supported light rail in Houston so far because it annoys conservatives to such a degree.

On the other side of the rail debate are what are often the most annoying folks of all. Liberals that I share 90%  in common with, but that remaining 10% is a difference in sensibilities that makes me want to send a check to the National Rife Association. An inside-the-loop focus that in the end values pragmatism and order over imagination and justice. These are the kind of folks I see getting most excited over these train cars. 

( And the idea that some have of streetcars for Houston! Oh!  As it says in Ecclesiastes– “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities…..”  Must we spend public dollars to remake a small portion of the county in the imagined self-image of a narrow few? )

Here is part of the Phil Ochs song Love Me I’m A Liberal

I cried when they shot Medgar Evers
Tears ran down my spine
I cried when they shot Mr. Kennedy
As though I’d lost a father of mine
But Malcolm X got what was coming
He got what he asked for this time
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal.

It’s like how I can’t stand chimps and monkeys. I despise them for being so like myself, yet being something I very much don’t want to be.  I don’t want to be a nasty chimp. I don’t want to be a process-orientated  liberal who gets excited about boondoggle train cars in my neck of the woods while folks out in county can’t get a ride to work. Mass transit should not be about what seems cool or neat. It should be about getting people where they need to go. 

So where do I come down on the question of light rail for Houston?

When all is said and done, I’m for it as an extension of government in a small government region and state, as a job creation project, and because of the people it frustrates. It’s not like we’ll spend the money on something useful if we don’t build the trains. As for light rail being part of a coherent transit policy for the entire region, that is not part of the debate at this point. 

Light rail, so far, seems more an inner-loop vanity and a conceit to try to turn Houston into something it is not. But since it’s opponents offer nothing more useful than more highway building and endless government bashing, I say build the damn thing and let them stew. I’m with the chimps on this one. (Because, as I  sometimes face up to, I’m one of the chimps more than I’d like to admit. It can take so much effort not to revert to a less developed state. )

Now if we want to be serious and plan for light rail across the county and region, that’s something I could be on board with.

February 19, 2009 - Posted by | Houston, Music | , , , , , , , , , , ,

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