Planet Gore

PBS: Detroit’s Public-Transit Savior

Detroit – Never mind federal welfare policies that drove Detroit illegitimacy rates to 85 percent, or a public-school system that leaves 49 percent of Detroiters functionally illiterate, or a crime rate that is among America’s worst, or the region’s highest personal-income taxes, or corrupt city services that drive business from the city . . . PBS has found the real culprit behind the Motor City’s decline: lack of public transit.

In “Blueprint America: Beyond the Motor City,” a documentary remarkable for its green propaganda and one-sided sourcing, correspondent Miles O’Brien rues the day Detroit developed the car, which led to interstates, suburban flight, global warming, and the decline of America. But wait! There is opportunity in crisis, concludes O’Brien: If Detroit spends millions on public transit it will not only revive itself, but also a declining America that has fallen “a generation behind” the rest of the world.
O’Brien claims to be a Detroit native, but his documentary reads as if he just arrived from Mars. He is oblivious to government welfare polices and the resulting social pathologies that helped made this city unlivable for the middle class (both white and black). Determined to flog a utopian, centrally planned green agenda, O’Brien and his sources lay the city’s ills at the door of that four-wheeled demon siren of suburban sprawl: the automobile.
There is Robin Boyle, a professor of urban economic development at Wayne State, who waxes nostalgic for the young, cramped, dirty, 1920’s urban metropolis that was serviced by electric trolleys and trains. “When that transit system went away, that’s when the problems arose,” he groans.
“That’s when the cars took over,” echoes O’Brien.
There is the community activist who regrets that Eisenhower built the Leviathan interstate system. “They destroyed the neighborhoods. They took a lot of people away from here.” Kidnapped to the suburbs and dumped in leafy cul-de-sacs! “They” also include the Dark Lord, Ronald Reagan, who gutted public transit funding, and “people” who activist Lee Gaddis says “want to be still further away from each other.”
This suburban sprawl horror film has been made over and over, yet America has refused to listen. But climate change has breathed new life into O’Brien and the armies of goodness. Americans have another chance to not only save themselves but the planet by “catching up with the world” and investing in high-speed rail. Post-Reagan Washington is back on board too, says Lynn Schenk of the California High Speed Rail Authority: “Nationally, we’ve taken a huge step by electing a president who has uttered the words ‘high speed rail.’”
There will be deniers, like my Michigan-based Reason colleague Shikha Dalima, who inconveniently points out that Detroit does not have the population density to support rail and that transit systems in car-happy Europe “are losing market share.”
But PBS’s progressives see the larger vision, a vision “worth sacrificing for.” It’s a government-forced future where Americans leave their cars, learn to integrate their vehicles into a broader electric grid, and get back to the cities where the races are reunited in harmony.
Just like in the good ol’ 1920s.
Henry Payne is an editorial writer and cartoonist for the Detroit News.

Henry Payne — Henry Payne is the auto critic for the Detroit News.

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