Contrary to the prevailing discourse that mass transit is an unending money pit that should be avoided, now is the time we should be aggressively building out our light rail system. It will catalyze a real estate investment and construction boom that Buffalo hasn’t seen since the 1920s and it will remake the city’s image in the national consciousness.
The argument that public transit systems are unworthy because they require public subsidy is an ignorant position. Highways require massive public subsidies for maintainence and ongoing reconstruction into perpetuity. Suggesting that highway subsidies are reasonable while public transit subsidies are offensive, is a notion rooted in blatant self interest that has been intwined in a radicalized history at the root our socio-spatial segregation patterns.
That is why it is disheartening that the local Republican Party has nominated an Assemblyman for County Executive who espouses ignorant hostilities towards investment in public transit. It’s a text book “dog whistle” designed to motivate a certain type of suburbanite — the kind of small town simpleton who thinks that cities are to be feared and avoided.
The argument could be made that this is smart politics for the right wing Assemblyman. Erie County is home to one million residents; Buffalo is home to 260,000. Sometimes ignorant people constitute a majority of voters in Erie County. Carl Paladino has been successful among this constituency, playing the same style of politics.
That being said, we should demand a mass transit system that a modern, forward thinking city would have in the 21st century. Demanding a $2 billion investment from New York State over the next 5 to 8 years certainly wouldn’t be out of line. Of course, New York State has among the highest costs of infrastructure construction — which is an injustice of extraordinary magnitude, largely gone unrecognized.