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By Daniel G. Jennings
Like the American Right in the 1950s and the American Left in the present-day, advocates of rail-transit in the United States have become obsessed by conspiracy theories. Instead of working to create new transit systems or lobbying for more money from the government, rail backers, new urbanists and auto critics spend much of their time charting and plotting conspiracies. Worse, they often refuse to take action to make many of their dreams come true because they are afraid of an imaginary boogeyman called the "highway lobby."
A quick visit to the web sites of many transit advocates verifies this obsession with conspiracy theories. The websites of transit advocates are full of conspiracy theory talk, complete with charts and graphs that demonstrate how certain highway contractors are funding think tanks that issue anti-transit propaganda. Essays point out the connections between transit foes and large corporations that have historically opposed transit. And there are plenty of history lessons about how General Motors and Standard Oil of California (Chevron) ripped out the trolley lines in many American cities.
As with all good conspiracy theories there is quite a bit of truth to this talk. A lot of people have gotten rich off of highway contracting and car companies, and highway contractors and others do spend big money to finance anti-transit lobbying and propaganda. And, yes, big oil and Detroit did conspire to destroy the streetcars.
The problem is that transit backers seem to be spending all or most of their
time on these conspiracy theories. Instead of going out and making their
case to the public or lobbying elected representatives for more funding,
transit backers are sitting in front of computers banging out conspiracy
theory stories. In particular, they spend much of their time warning the
public about an evil, all-powerful monster known as the "Highway Lobby" that
can influence government and kill transit projects with the blink of an eye.
Daniel G. Jennings is a freelance writer and journalist who lives and works
in Denver, CO. He has worked as a reporter and editor for daily and weekly
newspapers in five states.
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