In his Aug. 18 commentary “Sign here: A Contract with Common Sense,” Doug Berdie advocates seven promises each candidate for public office should be required to make and keep. Adherence to these pledges would go a long way to restoring civility to the public discourse.
I am not challenging any of Mr. Berdie’s pledges, but I argue for an eighth pledge for candidates — one that can’t seem to gain any traction in the public discussion:
Eighth, I promise to calculate, to the best of my ability, the cost of any spending proposal or tax proposal and explain how that cost would be financed — increased taxes or increased debt.
Why does this matter? With the national debt exceeding $21 trillion (that’s 12 zeros after the 21!), debt is approximately equal to our national GDP. This ratio, now at 106%, has not been this high since postwar 1946 when the percentage was 119. As recently as 1981, this ratio was in the low 30% range.
Unfortunately, other than a rare editorial (“A welcome but worrisome debt deal,” Star Tribune, July 28) and an obscure presidential candidate from South Carolina, no one is acknowledging this problem. Our national debt is the product of a broken system:
• Short-term appeasement is rewarded over long-term sustainability, so we avoid tough decisions.
• Partisanship is rewarded over progress, so we avoid compromise.
I agree with Berdie that this is a bipartisan issue and that a third party is a nonstarter. Education is our best alternative.
Nick LaFontaine, Richfield
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Berdie’s thought-provoking “Contract with Common Sense” had much to commend it; however, he could not have chosen a worse example than a Ramsey County “road diet” project to illustrate his third point: “I promise to respect the results of sound research and ask critical questions necessary to identify it.” The “sound research” on the topic of “road diets” is clear: These four-lane- to-three-lane road conversions dramatically improve safety for both motorists and pedestrians in almost all contexts. Had Berdie himself done the due diligence that he so highly recommends, he would’ve discovered Minnesota Local Road Research Board report 2006-25. This 2006 report included a comprehensive review of the previous literature on the topic, which found that “Nearly all of the published research studies found positive improvements in safety with little impact to traffic operations.” The researchers also conducted their own rigorous before-and-after studies on nine Minnesota road-diet projects from around the state and found that there was an overall average crash reduction of 46%. You can read that report yourself at www.lrrb.org/pdf/200625.pdf.
State Rep. Steve Elkins, DFL-Bloomington
‘CAR WARS,’ CONTINUED
‘Multimodal’ is a helpful word that comes to mind
Regarding Scott Lambert’s Aug. 19 counterpoint “Let people choose how they get around, even if it’s by car,” responding to the Aug. 11 commentary “Car wars,” by Mike Meyers, this is one of those arguments that has merits on both sides. For example, what Lambert says about getting around with kids and running errands is true; those things are hard to do without a car. It is also true that many jobs are difficult to access without a car and that a working couple can rarely land jobs close to transit. And we are in an age of choices — we want what we want when we want it, whether we are talking about transportation or video and music streaming.
The problem with his solutions — more and newer cars with more parking and roadways — is that it kills off the alternatives by demanding more space that decreases density and forces everyone to travel further for everything. In the process, it also makes more elemental modes of travel like walking and biking more dangerous, and less desirable — because of the increased distances that must be walked or biked. Wide multilane roadways create barriers to everything but cars. So it stays too hard to ditch your car — because it’s too hard to do anything else in a car-centric city. And if you are forced to own a car, the fixed costs of depreciation, opportunity cost on the money you spent for it, insurance, and licensing all remain whether or not you drive it. So of course you drive.
Then there are “traditional” mass transit systems: Buses and trains. Both are relics of the last century, as they force users to comply to a fixed route and schedule. It’s like 1950, when we had only a couple of TV stations and you “watched what was on.” But these modalities still have their place — trains, which are the least flexible and thus hardest to adapt to changes in the urban landscape, are good for longer linear routes with fewer stops. Buses are more adaptable, since they can follow roadways and change routes as the needs of the city evolve. Still, they do not offer the granularity of “last mile” travel that many people need. That is why transportation experts tell us that we need multimodal solutions.
The challenge, then, is to remake our cities as more livable places — one not dominated by cars, but yet comfortable with them. One in which smaller vehicles allow for better personal choices for those who must drive (or be driven by ride-share services or autonomous cars). One in which biking and walking is more practical and safe. One in which working at home and flexible hours are common and expected as part of all jobs for which they are practical.
And let’s also make it one that encourages all of us to travel safely, respecting the choices of those around us.
Patrick W. Tice, Woodbury
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It is another day and another set of dueling anti- and pro-cars editorials. Driving is evil. Anyone who drives doesn’t care about our city, our planet and is just immoral. Driving is necessary. It is the only way to get to jobs, get kids to school, to get groceries, to go to the doctor, to see family and friends and just plain survive. Anyone who attacks driving is immoral. Round and round we go on the same hamster wheel of attacks.
The problem is that it is the wrong question. We don’t have transportation issues — we have land-use issues. If people have reasonable alternatives to driving, they use them. And when they don’t, no amount of dunning will lead them to stop driving, because they don’t have reasonable alternatives. And doing things like taking away parking, narrowing streets to deliberately cause traffic jams, adding unneeded bike lanes and pylons to slow traffic, and other anti-car actions just make their lives worse. And most specifically, the lives of people who are least able to use other transportation alternatives, like parents, children, people who are older and people with disabilities. And government shouldn’t be in the job of making its peoples’ lives worse.
Changing land use is a much harder topic than shaming people for driving. In Minneapolis, the existing land use is valued at over $55 billion, and any changes will cost substantial money and take decades. But we can change. We have seen walkable communities develop around downtown Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota over the last 20 years. We could create more if we intentionally focused development into these areas or another specific area of the city. Unfortunately, the city of Minneapolis has chosen not to do that, instead scattering development through dozens of square miles of single-family homes. This will not create land use that is supportive of walking, biking and taking transit. Until the city changes its policies and focuses development to create land use that supports alternatives to driving, we will just remain on this hamster wheel of the Star Tribune publishing attacks on people who need to drive and defenses from people with no alternatives.
Carol Becker, Minneapolis