Battle Mo-dal

Has there ever been a more contentious time between transportation modes than right now? Cyclists vs. motorists, mass transit vs. new roads and highwyas; light rail vs. bus systems...Its enough to leave a multi-modal person (which is just about everyone to some extent) a little weary.

Of course any time that competing interests are fighting for scarce resources there will be conflict, but is our current situation unique in history? In particular, I find it interesting that citizens are so involved in this debate. This isn't simply a matter of competing economic interests fighting for a slice of the pie. Have people, who don't have an economic stake in the outcome, ever fought so diligently for a mode of transportation?

In the late 19th and early 20th century bicyclists founded the Good Roads Movement in order to convince the government and the public to invest in well-built and maintained roads. But were they calling for investment in roads at the expense of other modes? What other movements have worked for a transpotation mode? Was there a Good Rails Movement?

Are we witnessing a new chapter in transportation history, or simply a new spin on an old battle over scarce resources?

Photo by Jonathan Maus,


adron_bh said...

"Was there a Good Rails Movement?"

Hell no. The railroads where one of the most heavily funded PRIVATE ENTERPRISES of the previous century. Funded not by city, state, and federal money, but by investors, loans, bonds, and other such notions. Initially there wasn't even really bonds, just loans or existing "profits" that paid for them.

Then of course the same was to be said for the initial roads in this country. The first "paved" or "built" roadways where private enterprise. Then people started getting extra greedy, fussy, or what have you, and started demanding their entitlements via more taxation and more "Government" pet projects.

Our current situation with transit and roadways/railways/airways is completely different then the original inception of such in the last century+ of transportation in America.

Over the last 50 years private stake is almost zero for infrastructure (except with railroads), and large parts of operations and maintenance are also no longer a private stake (except for airplanes, cars, and railroads)

Today we don't build transportation, we beg for it.

So yeah, there IS a huge difference in the civic participation today than there was in the past.

Scott Cohen said...

when i wrote "Good Rails Movement" I was thinking more along the line of streetcar rails and intra-urban transport than heavy rails and inter-urban.

As for roads, there was a movement by citizens and industry to encourage federal building and maintenance of roads in the late 19th and early 20th century. A good book (that is out of print right now, but available at many libraries) to check out on the federal government's involvement with roads is Bruce Seely's "Building the American Highway System" (

adron said...

I think I might have read that - checking my list. :)

eeldip said...

i dunno what history books i have been reading, but when i read about the history of rails, i see companies that are still public/private entities.

typically, some private seed money starts them (and usually this seed money came from previous public/private ventures), then it involved bribing a few officals, getting some right of ways, selling right of ways and making a profit on the publics dime.