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Consensus denial persists, according to Paul Krugman (to cite one who is highly experienced in denial), because "there are powerful groups with a strong interest in rejecting the facts."

Consensus denial appears headed to Wake County. The sweep of county commissioners’ races by Democrats certainly makes it seem inevitable.

The consensus that this powerful group would deny is one The News & Observer has been denying for years, while angrily insulting those who didn’t join in. They dismiss the consensus by calling it "the same tired reason." As in: "Gee, it looks like it would be fun to jump off this cliff and glide safely to the bottom." "Don’t do that, you’ll plummet to your death!" "Oh, silly, that’s the same tired reason people always give me. Fun wins this time, Geronimo-o-o!"

So what is this tired old consensus? Here:

The Triangle area, including Wake County, is too decentralized, too spread out, and not nearly population-dense enough to support expensive light rail.

In the space of two years, Wake County commissioners and local media cliff-divers heard that message from not one, not two, not even five, but six different transportation experts. They included light-rail advocates:

  • Cal Marsella, longtime head of the Denver regional transit authority, who had previously managed contract services for Miami-Dade Transit and helped the city of Hartford, Connecticut, develop its transit service, where the Urban Mass Transportation Administration (predecessor of the Federal Transit Administration) hailed him as an "innovative thinker"
  • Steven Polzin, director of mobility policy research at the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida, who had served on the boards of directors of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (Tampa, Florida) and the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization board of directors and had also worked for transit agencies in Chicago, Cleveland, and Dallas
  • Samuel R. Staley, managing director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University in Tallahassee where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in urban planning, regulation, and urban economics; senior research fellow at Reason Foundation and former director of urban growth and land-use policy for Reason; and the author of several books on transportation and land-use planning
  • John Pucher, professor in the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University in New Jersey and visiting professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the Department of City and Regional Planning who has over 40 years’ experience in transportation planning and is a self-described supporter of "alternative modes of transportation"
  • David T. Hartgen, a widely known and well-respected transportation scholar, an emeritus professor of Transportation Studies at UNC-Charlotte, and president of The Hartgen Group who had previously directed the statistics and analysis functions of the New York State Department of Transportation and served as a policy analyst at the Federal Highway Administration
  • Thomas A. Rubin, a consultant based in Oakland, California, with over 35 years of experience in assessing and directing the capital and operating budgets of numerous transportation agencies, who served as the CFO of the Southern California Rapid Transit District (now Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority) and the Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District in Oakland

As stated before in this newsletter:

That’s formidable consensus. It’s not something any responsible civic leader should ignore.

Especially not leaders in this highly decentralized, highly spread out area, where so very few of the population opt for any kind of public transit (see Raleigh third from the bottom; that’s right, we are making Birmingham eat our transit dust!):

Responsibility isn’t fun, however. What is fun is to envision all the civic magic that light rail will supposedly bestow. The illusion and the new tax revenues it will require give the politically powerful ample reasons to reject the facts.

Nevertheless, in the words of transportation expert Randal O’Toole,

light rail is an obsolete form of transportation that does not promote economic development, relieve congestion, save energy, or reduce air pollution. All it does is cost lots of money.

It is to be hoped that the new commission doesn’t decide that irresponsibility wins this time. Rail consensus denial is not worth this leap of folly.

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