Would Dems’ Pledge for “Change” Bring Transportation Reform?


Hillary Clinton ad now airing in Southern California

 
This is part two of a two-part series on where candidates for president stand on transportation issues, authored by Streetsblog Los Angeles correspondent Damien Newton. Damien currently runs the blog Street Heat, which is soon to become Streetsblog L.A., our first foray into foreign territory. Damien was New Jersey coordinator for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign before relocating to California last year. Yesterday he examined the platforms and records of the Republican presidential candidates; today, the Democrats.

For the Democrats, the race for the nomination has been about one thing: change. Each of the Democratic candidates offer some vision of change for how our government views and funds transportation. Streetsblog noted in one if its first posts of the new year that Senator Barack Obama is the only Democrat that promotes cycling as part of his platform. Back in November, I noted on my blog that Obama has also pledged to force states and municipalities to include energy conservation in any transportation plan that involves federal funds, and says he would equalize tax benefits received by car and bike commuters. While Obama is strong on stopping sprawl and promoting walking and biking, he doesn’t mention transit anywhere on his web site that I could find. However, a look into Obama’s record shows a strong history of transit activism. As a U.S. senator, Obama worked with fellow Illinois Senator Dick Durbin to get financial help for Chicago’s L-Trains. As a state senator, he worked with community groups to increase access to transit for the disabled and underprivileged. As first lady, Michelle Obama could emerge as a vocal supporter of urban transportation projects; Mrs. Obama served as chair of Chicago Transit Authority’s Citizen Advisory Board.

New York Senator Hillary Clinton is the only candidate to offer a specific proposal to improve transit: an annual increase of $1.5 billion in urban rail funding. The plan also offers specific information on fighting sprawl and increasing development density. As a candidate for the Senate, Clinton preached the value of "leaving cars in their garage," and has since acted to support transit measures. Recently, her Senate office released a statement on the potential Amtrak strike. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, an outspoken supporter of her campaign, often notes that more funds were available for urban transit projects when her husband was president.

Senator John Edwards’ energy plan pledges to promote policies that will slow sprawl and reduce vehicle miles traveled. However, Edwards only mentions transit as a tool for "restoring economic fairness." The former senator and Democratic VP nom has received support from a New York based transit union, but that seems to have more to do with his odds of being elected than his transit advocacy. At least when Nevada’s UTU endorsed Clinton, it managed to mention transportation related issues. Edwards’ one term in the Senate didn’t produce a strong record either for or against any major transportation plans. He even skipped a vote on the Highway Transportation Funding Bill.

So it appears that each of the leading Democratic candidates does embrace the notion of some sort of transportation reform, but wholesale "change" doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

Tomorrow, January 31, NYU's Wagner Rudin Center will host a transportation and infrastructure forum, moderated by "Gridlock Sam" Schwartz, to which all Republican and Democratic candidates have been invited.  

Video: YouTube via Street Heat, which offers analysis from an L.A. perspective