To my urbanist and Sanders supporting friends, a word.

To my urbanist friends supporting Bernie and other government-funded solutions to problems of everyday Americans: I think I can open your eyes to something.

In my earlier post about Trump and Sanders supporters I said that in places like the Ohio Valley, government solutions seldom work because they almost never occur at a useful scale. Not since the Post Office and electricity. And thus the rise of Trump: “Why would I pay for something for someone else when we know we get nothing?”

Let’s shrink this down to a smaller area: Marion County.

Here are some perfectly valid claims, ones that many of you are highly supportive of:

  1. “Can I get some sidewalks near my home? It’s dangerous on the street without them, and at night people can’t go out without risking death.”
  2. “Can we build some trails so my spouse and I can have a place to exercise and lose weight?”
  3. “It’s getting tough to for us and the city to afford to operate a private car, and the city’s unable to maintain the roads well, how about more mass transit?”
  4. “Can we get our now 15-year old road re-surfaced? It floods a lot, too.”
  5. “Can we get more streetlights? Maybe it can help reduce crime?”

To many of my friends, these are all fantastic things that must and should be done. We’ll vote in referendums, we’ll lobby for increased funding, we’ll talk to our political leaders.

I know I have. I’ve been saying every one of those things for about 9 years now. Why such a specific number? Because that’s when I bought my house. In Marion County. 7 miles from Downtown. Just a few miles from Fountain Square and Irvington.

What do I have?

  1. No sidewalks anywhere outside my neighborhood.
  2. No trails nearby except the Pennsy Trail, which is unsafe by any means to get to on a bike from me, and appears to be on a completion time of 67 years. For most of the last 9 years it was a 1.25 mile stretch.
  3. My bus route gets “streamlined” to a 15-minute walk away from my house (it used to be right out the door), and I get to walk along a crap road that’s barely lit with a muddy, hole-ridden, chemical-stained shoulder.
  4. My arterial street hasn’t seen much beyond some quick hot-mix patches over the last 12 or 13 years. Stretches so bad people drive in the turn lanes to avoid the driving lane.
  5. Streetlights burn out and don’t get replaced, or are spaced so far apart I’m better off using my phone’s flashlight function.

What do I get told?

  1. We have a master plan for sidewalks, and we’re building it out 3 years at a time.
  2. We’re working on our master plan for trail connectivity over the next 20 years.
  3. We’re working on a new bus master transit plan with higher frequency and faster service. It’ll be great in 2021!
  4. We’re waiting for funding. It’s on the list.
  5. We’re going to replace every street light with new LED ones and put more in where they’re needed most.

Great!

Except not a single one of those things impacts me at all. And I do mean at all.

  1. The sidewalk plan has me in a tier 2 area. So expect something in about 15 years, if ever.
  2. The master plan for trails doesn’t come within 7 miles of me.
  3. The new transit plan leaves my route largely unchanged. Same 15-minute walk, same 60-minute frequency. Just some longer hours at times of night I don’t go anywhere anyway. In fact, the part of my route I care most about (Prospect, along through Fountain Square) will go away and instead carry me along English Ave. I think there’s a Dairy Queen along in there somewhere.
  4. Southeastern Ave. hasn’t been repaved in at least 13 years. In that same time Fall Creek Parkway is paved like the Speedway and Kessler, another Tier-2 road, has been resurfaced 4 times.
  5. We’ll see if Joe Hogsett lives up to his promise for more streetlights, but I’m not holding my breath.

And why am I told all those? This is where my urbanist friends have reasonable suggestions:

  1. We have to build where there’s the most demand!
  2. The trails will be great in high-density neighborhoods!
  3. Transit works best when it’s simple routes through dense places!
  4. We should have fewer roads so we can afford to maintain them!

You can see where this is going, right? You’ve chosen a set of “winners” and a lot of “losers”.

Can you imagine why a person loses faith very, very, quickly in these sorts of things? Government promises something, and doesn’t deliver. Or what it does deliver is lousy. And the reasons why are simply, “There’s just more over here.” More voters, more money, more everything. And here I sit, in a moderately dense area with nothing special. We’re not 38th street and we’re not Wanamaker.

And you want me to say, “Yes, let’s pay just a little more in taxes to cover these things!” Ok…but, do I like, get to use any of them? I’d rather not have to drive 20 minutes to Broad Ripple to use the Monon with my dog. I don’t think that’s asking too much.

This is how rural voters feel about everything. They don’t even get water. After a while, those of us who live in cities start to look really stupid for promising things to people that never come. These folks aren’t stupid. They’re literally working in their best interests because they’ve seen this movie before.

And here I am, 7 miles from the epicenter of our city, in a house I bought in Marion County to fight against suburban flight and I’m rewarded with, well, not much. Fire protection is pretty good.

So when someone comes along like Trump and says, “You know what, let’s just stop all this nonsense”, there’s some there there for a lot of people. This is why I have such a libertarian streak in me, too. It’s why I trudge along in ways no one else would. Not many of my urbanist cyclist friends would bike where I do and in the conditions I do. Not many people would put up with the walking I do. Because all I can do is what I do for everything: will it into existence. My desire to not spend money on a car is far above my desire to stay a little dryer when it rains. I’ll just wear a rain coat.

I still support all those things for Indianapolis. I just wish that after all my jumping up and down someone would at least throw me a bone. I can hear someone now saying, “Well this is good for all of Indianapolis.” Yeah, that’s nice, but it’s also sorta like saying, “What’s good for New York is good for Indianapolis.” No, it almost certainly is not. That’s patronizing and I wish you’d stop.

2 Comments

  1. Except that rural areas tend to be net recipients of tax dollars. They may feel like they don’t get anything out of taxes, but they’re already getting more than they put in.

    http://www.indianafiscal.org/Resources/Documents/IFPI_IntrastateTax.pdf

  2. Justin – a great exercise would be to graph the Federal, State and County Payrolls over the last say 20 years. Take that graph and put it into context with what is essentially reduced services for taxpayers – note that taxpayers is a different term now. Last I checked, taxpayers amounted to now less than 50% of able working adults. You can probably also graph taxpayers over the last 20 years and see a decline in numbers similar to the incline in numbers of government payrolls.

    I think that if you start to show everyone graphically the truth of where and who benefits the most it will start to open some eyes to be more sceptical of all the government largess going around.

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