|The World as Wendell Cox Sees It
By now many people in the Charlotte area have heard the name Wendell Cox. He is a self-appointed "transit expert" that was hired by Hornets Net.com, a local conservative group and website founded by former city councilmen Mike Jackson and Don Reid. Cox is a self- employed consultant and privatization proponent who has written attacks on mass transit for the Heritage Foundation, the Highway Users Alliance and other such groups. He claims to have killed rail projects in dozens of cities across the country, a worthy cause in the opinion of Mr. Cox, Jackson and Reid. Their local effort consists of a paper they have entitled "A Breach of Faith" in which they attempt to show that rail transit will not work here in the United States and will be too expensive to build. Mr. Cox told and audience in Huntersville that rail transit would only work well in cities with the density of Tokyo or Hong Kong. He conceded it might work in the U.S., but only in cities with the density of New York or Chicago.
Up until now it has been considered "sour grapes" by some members of the press here to point to the fact Mr. Cox has little professional training as a transit expert. We will risk it as we are not familiar with any degree in transportation or city planning that Mr. Cox holds. His appointment to the Amtrak Reform Council is political. His time on the Los Angeles County Transit Commission was as a "citizen" membernot a paid professional. If the so-called academic circles think that is considerable transit experience then many of us who have served or been appointed to citizens committees could qualify as experts.
The one big difference is that not all of us could comfortably stand before an audience and appear well polished, as we twist one figure after another into our own inaccurate and misleading conclusions. While all of this is taking place, Mr. Cox sprinkles his listeners with a little charm while attempting to make mass transit proponents look like idiots. All of the above is not to say Mr. Cox is not entitled to his opinion. It only says that his opinion is worth about as much as any other well informed citizencertainly no more.
Just how good are Mr. Coxs opinions? You be the judge. Lets examine a few:
MR. COX: "No new light rail system carries more than 1/3 of the volume of a single freeway lane."
FACT: Portlands Eastside light rail carries 120% of the peak hour capacity of the adjacent freeway lane.
MR. COX: There is no connection whatsoever between new urban rail and traffic relief.
FACT: Phoenix is presently spending $4.2 billion on new roads. Despite this, congestion during rush hour will be worse in 20 years than it is today. After investing billions in new roads cities like Phoenix and Houston, with the worst air quality in the U.S., have been forced to look at a more balanced approach to managing congestion. That balanced approach means giving commuters a choice. One of those choices is light rail.
MR. COX: Fewer than 25% of light rail riders are former automobile drivers.
FACT: New rail lines have been successful in attracting new riders to transit. For example, new riders (those that did not use public transit before) comprise 45% of the riders on the new light rail system in Salt Lake City and 39% in Denver.
MR. COX: Portlands light rail has been a failure, and it has not relieved congestion.
FACT: Transit ridership has increased continuously since light rail opened in Portland.
MR. COX: "Faced with the reality of little development, Portland now grants 10 year property tax rebates for development within walking distance of light rail stations.
FACT: Wrong again Mr. Cox! More than 2.4 billion dollars in investment in new development has occurred within walking distance of stations along Portlands light rail lines. Portlands transit tax rebatements accounts for less than four one-hundreds of that total.
We could go on talking about the myths that Mr. Cox spreads wherever he is brought to damage transits image, but lets talk for a minute about his "solutions". He spends so much time on negativism he hardly has time left to tell us how he would fix things and make them right.
Mr. Cox favors some form of buses over any kind of rail, if you press him about transit. Both he and Mr. Jackson seem to favor whatever is cheapest when it comes to transit. This clearly seems to be the case since they have already indicated transit in Charlotte will fail regardless of what is built. Their view therefore seems to go something like this: If youre going to throw your money out the window, build the cheapest thing you can get by with.
What they do favor is bigger and better highways. CEMT asked Mr. Cox how he plans to build all these new roads in Charlotte when we are in danger of violating federal clean air standards. This would put a temporary stop to their construction, until we made improvements. His answer was that he hoped the new administration would lower the clean air standards so the roads could be built. That ought to make all of us breathe a little easier!
Mr. Coxs political incorrectness does not stop there however. Wait until you hear about his "new vision" for Atlanta. He believes it would be realistic to create a grid of arterial roads 6 to 8 lanes wide, no more that a mile apart, throughout metro Atlanta. Build freeways underground, in double-decked tunnels and double-decked aboveground freeways.
To quote AccessAtlanta: "Even if we had the money, would we really want to pay the environmental, aesthetic and social costs? Will quality of life be improved when we are all within earshot of a roaring freeway? Will we still love metro Atlanta, carved into so many rat mazes, living in neighborhoods cowering beneath multi-decked freeways?"
One final word from Mr. Cox: "Nobody gets caught in traffic in Los Angeles if they know what theyre doing." Could it be that Mr. Cox is secretly riding the new Red Line Subway?