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Vol. 10, No. 5 - September/October 1999

In Search of "Livability" - Commentary
Vice President Gore's "livability" agenda - a thinly disguised political manifesto that bemoans vanishing open spaces, rising traffic congestion, long commutes, lack of sidewalks in suburban subdivisions and other horrors of suburbia - has been hailed by environmentalists as an opening salvo in the battle against "sprawl." But the likelihood of mobilizing an army of aroused citizens to march against sprawl strikes most observers as wishful thinking."The issue of sprawl does not energize the electorate. Quite the contrary, it's the prospect of higher densities that brings out citizen opposition in most cases.

The "Supercar"
Not long ago the auto industry was promoting the electric car as the vehicle of the future and dismissed fuel cells as a technological pipe dream. Now, in a remarkable reversal of fortunes, the fuel cell is threatening to dethrone the electric battery as the most likely alternative to the century-old internal combustion engine. Auto makers promise to roll out commercially viable fuel-cell powered cars within five years. Also expected in the showrooms as soon as next year will be low-emission, high mileage hybrid cars using both a gasoline engine and an electric motor. On the other hand, the outlook for battery-driven electric cars is anything but rosy, with only a few thousand EVs sold.

The Politics of Rail Transit: A Tale of Two Cities
Recent developments in Miami and Seattle attest to the fact that rail transit proposals have lost none of their capacity to stir controversy and divide public opinion. As the Miami referendum testifies, even powerful pro-rail interests may be unable to prevail when the case for rail investment is fundamentally flawed. The trouble is that in rail politics, as in bureaucratic warfare, nothing ever gets settled conclusively. Just because a rail proposal has been defeated one year does not mean that it will not be revived a year or two later, with just enough cosmetic changes to ensure its acceptability to the voters. This approach often pays off. Which, sad to say, explains why even rail projects of doubtful value eventually get built.

Empowering the Carless
Is helping poor people acquire cars a legitimate approach to moving welfare recipients to work? Until recently only a small handful of conservatives, welfare official, and charities subscribed to this seemingly unorthodox theory. Now, however, the influential Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), the think tank of the Democratic Leadership Council whose past chairmen include President Clinton and House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO), has added its voice in support of this notion. In the words of PPI's newly released study, WORKING FAR FROM HOME, "...the shortest distance between a poor person and a job is along a line driven in a car," The PPI report sends a powerful message of support for an idea long espoused by social conservatives: empower people to seek their own path toward economic independence and self-sufficiency.

The Lessons of BART
How strong is the influence of new transportation facilities on land use? Can rail transit invest-ments be used to focus development and reduce sprawl? A new study of the impact of San Francisco's Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system on regional growth and development patterns throws some new light on this long-debated question. The study findings have come as something of a disappointment to rail advocates.


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