Charles Crumpley Should Stop Talking About Transportation

When I got an email pointing me to “Stop the War on Drivers,” a new piece by Charles Crumpley, I was giddy. Crumpley’s fact-free transportation writing is easy fodder. I knew I had my story for the day.

Crumpley is right that America doesn't spend enough on infrastructure, but he also presents no ideas on how to increase that investment. Image: ##http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2013/06/usa-infrastructure-dead-last-in-trains-and-roads/##Der Spiegel##
Crumpley is right that America doesn’t spend enough on infrastructure, but he also presents no ideas on how to increase that investment.

The last time Charles Crumpley, the main editor of the Los Angeles Business Journal, wrote about transportation and politics, it was a shambling mess of a story about CEQA reform built around the idea that jobs were lost because of delays constructing Phase II of the Expo Line. Oddly, there was no delay in the construction of Phase II of the Expo Line. Crumpley’s piece was built around a complete falsehood, a reality that has yet to even be acknowledged by Crumpley or Fox and Hounds, the publication that published this falsehood three years ago.

Today, Crumpley’s piece in the Business Journal about the “war on drivers” is actually a big step forward compared to his Expo/CEQA piece from 2012. It’s full of his opinions based on his personal experiences instead of made-up facts or studies based on an alternate reality.

But that doesn’t mean he is right. So let’s bring some research to Crumpley’s story and see how he does.

Crumpley claims that the goal of the government is to make driving so expensive and uncomfortable that people give up driving. While I can’t speak for the motives of everyone in government, I’ve been to a lot of meetings about traffic safety, traffic calming, bicycle and pedestrian planning and freeway construction over the past fifteen years. I’ve never once heard this mentioned as a goal.

If it is a goal, the government is doing a terrible job. Gas taxes in America are literally among the lowest in the world, and have been for generations. To support infrastructure spending, governments are taking money from sales and property taxes, taxes that are paid for everyone regardless of how much or how little they drive.

If you don’t believe me, maybe ask the folks at Jalopnik, a website that is devoted to cars and car-culture. They recently compiled a list of the ten most expensive places to own cars. On this list, America is nowhere to be found.

California doesn't have much money to spend on transportation. What it does have it spends on cars. Image: ##http://www.lao.ca.gov/reports/2011/stadm/infrastructure/infrastructure_082511.aspx##California Legislative Analysts Office##
California doesn’t have much money to spend on transportation. What it does have it spends on cars.

While Crumpley may be upset that the state and federal governments are not spending enough on highway and road maintenance, the issue is not the pittance spent on occasionally providing the bare minimum needed to appear to support transportation options. The issue is that America spends almost no money on transportation infrastructure. The “good” news is that what little government does spend, it spends on promoting automobiles. That’s even true in California.

Crumpley falls further down the rabbit-hole when he laments that the state has raided transportation funds to pay for other state needs. While I agree with him on this point — it is bad that the state has borrowed and bonded against funds that were supposed to be dedicated towards transportation until there was nothing left — he discards the idea of raising new revenue for transportation. Crumpley places himself in the “something for nothing” camp, unironically asking that the state spend money to fix roads and bridges that it does not actually have.

The piece goes on in this vein for two Internet pages, stumbling through every tired, unoriginal trope about the besieged driver. Not once is there a mention of the tens of thousands of people killed every year in car crashes in America, nor the thousands in California nor the hundreds in L.A. County. Bringing up the people killed to support the desire of drivers to move fast is inconvenient when one is throwing themselves a pity party. After all, it’s hard to present oneself as the victim if you have to answer the question, “How many people is it ok to kill so that I can have a quick commute in my car?”

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