The Real State of the Union: Beyond Bankrupt

All the twitter about President Obama’s sneak attack on the Supreme Court and Justice Alito’s silent rejection of it masked the real news of the day: Our nation is beyond bankrupt and Democrats are committed to making matters worse by increasing the debt ceiling another 15% to $14T.  For those who have trouble visualizing the scope of the disaster Presidents Clinton, Bush 43, and Obama have created for our children, that’s $14,300,000,000,000.

“Where did the money go?” would be a pertinent question to ask at this juncture, as would “When will these so-called leaders stop mortgaging the nation’s future?”.  Sadly, neither of these seem to be on the minds of Congressmen/women these days.

Republicans criticized Democrats for passing a massive increase, arguing that a smaller increase would have been more responsible.

Coming from the “conservative” party, this criticism is as weak as ice tea left out in the sun on a hot July afternoon.  What’s happened to the ideas of reducing the deficit and balancing the budget?  Fiscal responsibility isn’t sexy and so lacks appeal to those more interested in keeping their cushy positions than in righting a ship that’s taking on water. 

Still, at least one Republican has a sense of humor about the joke Democrats have played on us all by pretending the measure is one of economic soundness:

"It’s like the drunken sailor asking to have the bar open all night," said Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.).

President Obama didn’t take long to prove Gregg, who turned down a cabinet position last year, right by announcing an $8 billion dollar plan to create high-speed rail systems in several states, most of which are Democratic strongholds.  Texas, which has long eyed commuter rail links between its 4 major cities, was essentially ignored by the president’s plan, such as it is:

None of these cash amounts will actually be enough to build the lines, of course. And things get messier as you go further down the list. The Northeast Corridor, for instance — where the utility of trains is already well proven and a high-speed line from Washington to Boston would generate tremendous excitement — only gets $112 million, while the car-dominated state of Texas receives a mere $4 million.

How inspiring.  I’m old enough to remember the series of government handouts that kept Amtrak running long after economics dictated its failure.  There’s no reason to think that these projects, underfunded and doomed to cost billions more than the president dares ask for, will be any more successful.

Drunken sailor’s night out indeed.

Ride a Bike, Save Time


Look familiar to anyone?  The Houston Chronicle says that "traffic congestion in the Houston area and around the country is getting worse".  No kidding. 


Some drivers blame the supposed waste of highway dollars on mass transit, or the wrong kind of mass transit. Transit advocates, and some who say they’d ride transit if only it went where and when they want it to, blame the waste of potential transit dollars on concrete.

Peter Wang took a third path, pedaling serenely from his home in Copperfield to a meeting 12 miles away near Dairy Ashford and the Katy Freeway.

"It took one hour, with all of the stop lights, which I did obey," Wang writes. "The gridlock was un-be-liev-able at 7:45 am. I didn’t ride hard; it was pretty leisurely."

Wang figures he made the trip in about the same time a car would probably take, but without the unpredictable delays. The bike may go slower than a car, but at least it keeps wheeling along.

"It really is no fun at all to be in a powerful car capable of 100 mph, except the speedometer says zero."

Let the man gloat. Just wait till it starts to pour down rain, or gets really cold.

But he has a good point: "Bikes are a valid transportation mode … We need to plan to accommodate them."

Very true.  In the U.S., bikes have been traditionally associated with optional play and exercise time and dismissed as a low-tech transportation solution. 

I’d like to see that change.  It’s obvious that more bikes than cars can travel down a given stretch of road simultaneously.  Bikes are clearly more friendly to the environment and to our bodies as well. 

America is a fat country.  There’s really no other way to say it.  We’re fat.  It’s more than a little sickening, really, to hang around a McDonald’s and watch who is eating what.  Biking to work may not clear those Quarter Pounder-clogged arteries but it sure as heck would let a few people, myself included, fit into last year’s pants.

Unfortunately, Wang’s final point is all-too true:  America’s roads are too dangerous for bikers to use.  In 2005, 784 bikers were killed in traffic accidents, 2% of the U.S. total.  That’s not an unusual number, according to the NHTSA:


Imagine the carnage that would occur if people were to actually use bicycles as a real transportation device given the current mentality of American drivers who, while they may not be bad compared to those in other nations, in many cases do not consider bikes to be a valid use of "their" road.

That attitude would have to change, presumedly through enforcement of traffic laws and punishment of automobile drivers who infringe on the rights of bikers.  Not an easy or popular thing to do, especially in truck-happy Texas, but worthwhile nonetheless.

The Texas Transportation Institute’s 2007 report (PDF alert) for Houston shows that it is the 7th, 8th, or 9th most congested city in the nation, depending on your measure of choice.  The most important one to me personally is the number of hours wasted per year in traffic.  According to TTI, Houston’s number is 56 hours.

That doesn’t sound too bad, really.  Unfortunately it’s complete bull puckey to Joe Suburbs.  Things certainly have not improved since 2001, the year I last commuted regularly to downtown Houston, a 39 mile jaunt that took me 70 minutes, on average, to cover by car.  On Saturday, however, I could easily reach the office in 45 minutes or less, meaning I was losing 50 minutes every day to traffic congestion.  This equates to about 170 hours per year, a number far above the TTI number and one far more relevant to the average suburbanite.

Even if we accept the TTI’s number as valid – California also complained the report understated the problem – over 92 million gallons of gasoline were wasted on congestion-related idling of automobiles.

That’s a lot of barrels of oil, friends, and a lot of money going into Saudi, Iran, and Venezuela – countries that we don’t want to be funding any more than we have to.  We can do more than vote with our wallets if we put our minds to it.  The practical effect of cutting commuter gas consumption by half would be quite telling in the oil market.  Why shouldn’t we work toward that goal?

I understand that transportation entities are unwilling to retrofit existing roads to ensure bike safety.  That would cost a lot of money.  But neither is it acceptable for new road construction to ignore the need for bikes to be used as mainstream transportation devices.  All new roads should provide safe, dedicated bike lanes, particularly those moving traffic to and from living areas to working areas. 

It’s only common sense – give bikes the right!

Cross-posted at The Van Der Galiën Gazette.