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A Former Public Transit Whore Gets Religion

A Former Public Transit Whore Gets Religion

I used to be such a mass transit whore. I had this post-'60s idea that cars and highways are bad, which they are, so that must mean trains are good. I examine that reasoning now, and I think, "So if smoking crack is bad, does that mean meth is good?"

Two days ago I had the pleasure of talking to Joe Nick Patoski, famous author and former Texas Monthly writer, in town working on a book about the meaning of life (can't tell you more, spoiler alert, but, man, did I ever have it wrong), and we talked about South Congress.

South Congress is the oh-so-cool area of Austin across the river from downtown where seedy old motels have been repurposed into expensive hip redone seedy old motels. It's very cool. My wife makes us stay there. I always wish we could stay across the river in downtown, where the big tall fancy hotels cost half as much, but there you have it. Why let me decide?

Patoski, who has written about South Congress, told me something fascinating -- that the salvation and reclamation of South Congress began when small business owners banded together to defeat a light rail line. He said their reasoning was: The transit agency will come in here, tear up the street for two years so we can't do business, and then, if we do survive, the values and the taxes and the rents will go up so high we'll all get put out of business anyway.

Yeah. So what's good about that? They defeated rail and built a really cool organically developed neighborhood and community in exactly the kind of terrain where big public works projects typically destroy everything in their paths.

Patoski and Schutze, together for the first time
Patoski and Schutze, together for the first time

Isn't it more realistic to look at light rail and just see one more big public works boondoggle coming at your neighborhood like a herd of flying pigs to screw up your life, pick your pocket and then blow town with the boodle?

To which I would add: Then you'll have a huge fat transit regional agency, responsive to no one, run by a board of anonymous hacks, bandits and morons who are totally sold out to the construction lobby. By the time they're done spreading the money around, it'll cost the tax payers about 10 bucks every time a passenger steps on a train. And the train line alignments will be so screwed up and gerrymandered that light rail will accomplish nothing, nada, zip in terms of encouraging smarter development patterns.

And the payoff, again, is what?

There's a guy named Bill Ceverha around town, a former six-term legislator who was involved in an anti-DART group called SMART in the late '80s, about whom I have said a lot of unpleasant things over the years. But he had a critique of DART on The Dallas Morning News op-ed page not long ago that raised what now seem to me like some very salient and challenging questions -- among them, why has DART's budget and staffing increased hugely while ridership is stagnant?

Oh, no. Am I going to have to put Ceverha on my apology debt list too? I'm thinking I may have to do some kind of apology bankruptcy thing and renegotiate.


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