Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Letter to Barack Obama and Joe Biden

I was alerted yesterday by one of the mainstream internet news outlets that President-Elect Obama and Vice President-Elect Joe Biden had launched a website to track the progress of their transition team. Upon visiting, I noticed that they were actually soliciting input on people's American Moments, a chance to "Share your vision for what America can be, where President-Elect Obama should lead this country." I had planned on sitting down one night and penning my well-rehearsed diatribe, but instead inspiration struck at 5:30 this morning. The following is my letter to the dynamic duo discussing what else? The recentralization of local economies and commitment to mass-transit and intercity rail.

President-Elect Obama and Vice President-Elect Biden,

My name is Bob Williams. I am a 27 year old electrical engineer who currently lives in Rochester, NY. Like Joe Biden, I am a native of Scranton. I currently write about urban, energy, and transportation concerns at
http://urbanchamp.blogspot.com/ and volunteer at the Rochester Regional Community Design Center which promotes excellence in design of the built environment to improve the public realm.

As you may have surmised from my side interests, my vision for America is rooted in a re-emergence of the major downtowns and city centers of this nation to their former glory and strength as regional economic drivers. To this end, I am committed to raising awareness of the great flexibility and rewards inherent in city living.

I believe that regional public transportation networks as well as intercity passenger rail service are two keys to recentralization and restrengthening our traditional city cores in a time when we can't afford to squander resources continuing the practice of unbounded suburban sprawl.

I have been taking Rochester's bus system to work since March. It has never been a money saving tactic. though this is a pleasant side-effect. In fact, I could never go back to an individual motoring commute that I deem at odds with the interests of the common good. Public transportation in cities can be a huge contributor to the concept of energy independence. Cities like Cincinnati, who have begun to implement a streetcar plan, and ones like Grand Rapids, who are conducting feasibility studies, are attempting to get out ahead of the pack in the effort to reduce fossil fuel consumption. This of course can be for other reasons such as encouraging economic development along transit corridors, encouraging additional walking to improve public health, decreasing pollutive emissions, and very simply using less because using more isn't necessary. My vision of urban life in 21st century America would see urban centers of all sizes follow the lead of a city like Toronto with integrated subway, streetcar, and bus service, scaled appropriately to match the needs of city residents who have invested in the strength of their community.

I feel that before we jump head first into the advanced technology of high-speed trains, a good step in the right direction would be a mere expansion of current railroad capacity to replace what has been lost since the second World War. As I understand it now, Amtrak is forced to share track with freight railroads on upwards of 90 percent of their routes. I have also read that increasing the frequency of service comes down to a lack of available rolling stock to create additional trains. I hope that the new administration will take a proactive role in either increasing Amtrak funding or fostering competition in the form of additional rail carriers. I know that Senator Biden has sung the praises of Amtrak in the past and I hope that he continues to do so with a renewed vigor.

I sincerely hope that my vision is taken seriously as we have spent far too many years disinvesting in places like Scranton and Rochester. It is time to step to the plate for the Great American City, the original incubator of the concept of community. I hope to hear from you regarding this matter as I consider your administration, elected on a mandate of change by many constituents like myself, receptive to the positives in this vision for America and far more likely to act to make them happen.

While I don't know who actually reads these and I'd imagine Senator Obama is kind of busy at the moment, I'd encourage anyone who reads this and shares similar interests (or even if you don't!) to take a few minutes to speak up and let your voice be heard. On the flip side, has any President-Elect even pretended to care as much as this one seems to genuinely want to?

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