In the News & Observer this morning State Representative Paul Stam said, “Light rail is sort of a dinosaur of the 20th century or the 19th century.” Well, that sure is the pot calling the kettle black. Stam is certainly a leading member of the GOP Flat Earth Society but I figured even he would tell you that dinosaurs were at least 6,000 years old or so.
The larger story, though, is the Republican take on any sort of transportation that’s not an automobile. They’ve staunchly opposed light rail in the Triangle for years. They even tried to pass a provision that would make it harder for cities and towns to build bike lanes. What was that all about?
Over the next twenty years or so, the Triangle will double in size, reaching close to 3 million people. The region will continue to be the state’s leading economic engine and moving those new residents around efficiently is certainly in the best interest of the state. If everybody is driving cars, this region will be a mess.
In the summer of 2012, we lived in St. Paul, MN for a month. The state was building a rail line that stretched from Minneapolis to downtown St. Paul. The rail line was incomplete but it followed a major road that was lined with dilapidated buildings and abandoned houses. This summer, we road the train from Minneapolis to St. Paul and the transformation was dramatic. At almost every rail stop, shops and stores had opened up. New apartment buildings lined the tracks. There were still some areas that were struggling, but it was clear that the rail system had spurred economic development in these areas.
The Twin Cities are a metro area of 3 million people, about where we’re heading now. There was a lot of complaining about building the rail system when I first started going there about 12 years ago. The arguments sounded like the ones we hear in the Triangle today. Nobody is complaining much now.
The people moving into the Triangle are going to want various modes of transportation. The millennial generation, in particular, is less attached the automobile than any generation in the past 50 years. Some will want to bike. Some will want to walk. And a lot will look for public transportation.
For some reason, the GOP wants to discourage any of this behavior. Some people would argue that they are driven by the Koch brothers and their attachment to oil. I think it’s far less sinister than that. I think they have very little foresight because they are too busy trying to take us backward to the Stone Age. Talk about dinosaurs.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >