The Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal

Informed but opinionated commentary and analysis on urban transportation topics from the Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal. Names have been omitted to protect the guilty.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Wendell Cox Blows a Fuse

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"Truth passes through three phases: 1) It is ridiculed. 2) It is violently opposed. 3) It is accepted as self-evident." Albert Schopenhouer. In the United States, rail is currently passing through Phase Two.

From the Cabalmaster:

As just about everyone in cyberland knows by now, a large-scale power outage struck the northeastern U.S. and southern Ontario, Canada, starting on the afternoon of August 14, 2003. The cause has been attributed to overloading of the interconnected networks of transmission lines – “the grid” – serving the region. Deregulation of electric power generation during the early 1990s has imposed loads much greater than grid components, some of them a century old, were designed to carry.

The blackout also led to the following pronouncement by our favorite target for ridicule and satire, self-styled Sage of St. Louis, the one, the only, the . . . well, Mr. Fudge.

“. . . The blackout demonstrated the vulnerability of downtown areas that rely on electric urban rail. But it goes further. Toronto's extensive GO Transit commuter rail system, though dieselized, had to suspend service because of computer failures.”

“. . . And then there is land use. People who live in suburban one and two story houses ("ticky-tack" or not) do not have to depend on elevators, which of course don't operate during blackouts. Nor are they forced to abandon their lofty living quarters out of fear that there would be no way to warn or rescue them in the event of fire.

“. . . The land use lesson is simply this. Higher density urban areas are more vulnerable to all manner of malady. This is most recently illustrated by the SARS epidemic, which got its start in the high-income world's most dense urban area, Hong Kong, took the highest toll in densely populated Beijing and reached its North American peak in densely populated Toronto.

“The blackout is just one more reason to reject the current fashion in planning dogma that would force us out of cars and force us, on the flimsiest of fabrications, to live closer together.”

The full article, posted on the “PLANetizen” website, is here

We’ll give Wendell credit for one thing – he did not, as various “Coxwatch” sites reported, call for the abolition of electric transport owing to Blackout 2003. However, his PLANetizen piece inspired the following ditty by an FOC, which we couldn’t resist sharing:

Dah, dah, dah,
a wacky tabacky,
a wacky tabacky,
Has Wendell been smoking,
that wacky tabac?

Or has he lost (ha!)
lost (ha!)
lost his marbles?
Well, I just don’t know what to say!

(We don’t, either.)

We doubt that Wendell Cox has taken up the “Wisdom Weed” (as it’s known among Rastafarians), but his “PLANetizen” post reached a new apex of asininity (. . . but, whatd’ya expect . . . he’s Wendell . . .).

Wendell also inspired a rich variety of commentary on “PLANetizen.” Choice excerpts:

“Is there a cartoonist out there who can take on....(‘da...da...’)...
The adventures of...(more trumpets)...
‘Captain Paveman!!!
...Today, our hero has just learned of a meeting of evil light rail advocates tonight in Metropolis
...can he get there in time to save us? He peels out of the 'sprawl-cave' (disguised as a quick-lube joint on the arterial) and onto the freeway
...but wait! Traffic is backed up! Can he make it? Tune in next time...

[“Captain Paveman!” WE LOVE IT!! How we wish it was one of US who thought of that . . . but maybe it WAS one of us . . . we are, after all, a SECRET cabal . . .]

“So you can get home, then what? I can walk home (single family townhouse), and walk to the store. Those in the suburbs, once home without electricity are stuck there without a chance of getting anywhere else.”

“Has Wendell been so busy formulating his clever essay that he is unable to receive any news of the situation in Arizona and the failure of their hi-tech fossil fuel delivery system? I think that this commuter utopia in AZ has been a great example of the "real" benefits of Mr. Cox's ideas and assertions. I do find it more reasonable to expect more interruptions in petroleum delivery as opposed to more failures with the power grid. Yes these cars are great when you can put some gas in them, but short of continued supply they have about a 300 mile life span, and if we design our world in such way that we cannot get basic needs without the motor car we really are short-sighted fools.

“The commuters of Toronto and New York seemed to fair pretty good in this unusual circumstance, considering the unexpected nature of the event. I haven’t heard of any of them rushing out to buy cars and move to the Midwest as of yet, but I’ll keep looking!

“I have to go, I need to walk to my house so I can drive my truck to the filling station, in case there’s a black out later today and the sidewalks get closed (chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon here, you know!).”

“Where was Mr. Cox last winter when the east coast was being hit by snow storm after snow storm, during each of which, the metroplitan areas commuter rail systems brought people home much quicker than the ‘flexible’ automobiles. . . . Seach mode has its role. ‘Consutancies’ funded by interest groups contribute little to a healthy discussion regarding transportation policy.”

“I live in Brooklyn, my mother lives in suburban Detroit. I WALKED home from work after the blackout. I visited the store on the way, buying food and supplies. My greatest inconvenience was a couple of blisters on my feet and a sweaty night's sleep. My mother, who doesn't have a job, was stuck in her house with an electric garage door she couldn't open, no water from the faucet, a freezer full of rotting food, and her closest outpost of civilization (the strip mall) about 3 miles away. I was home partying on the roof, listening to the ‘sweet symphony’ of your precious cars all night as they moved 1/2 mile per hour to their suburban chateaus (an automobile isn't very ‘flexible’ when it's surrounded on all sides by friends) while my mother worried when she would next experience civilization, quietly contemplating starving in the land of plenty. All in all, my dense urban surroundings were considerably more convenient than the pre-industrial ghost town my mother had to face last Thursday.”

“Right there [on the post] are four anecdotal counter-examples to Mr. Cox's ever-so-thoroughly-researched-by-watching-the-evening-news assertion that Detroit was untouched, plus my own story of the convenience of urbanized, clustered development.”

“Google Search: transit stranded blackout: 1670 hits just days after the biggest [blackout] in history.
“Google Search: motorists stranded snow storm: 2590 hits in the middle of summer.”

“I hope that Mr. Cox tells the Parisians to decamp for the ‘burbs since their reliance of subways and regional rail is just asking for disaster as well inviting disease epidemics. Also, didn't you know a low-density city can survive a nuclear ‘exchange’ better than a high-density metropolis.

“We've probably got about 25 years to get ready for the next major black-out (since the last one was in 1977). Let's start unbuilding New York tomorrow!”

Blackout 2003 caused major disruption to ALL transportation – not just rail systems, which were the focus of mainstream media attention. The media ignored the impact on road transportation – perhaps because this could not be assessed from a few “central” locations.

In New York and other major cities, traffic quickly became gridlocked owing to lack of traffic signals. Lack of ventilation forced closure of tunnels, and gasoline could not be obtained because no electricity was available for pumps. After darkness fell, driving became hazardous owing to lack of street lighting.

Many New Yorkers and other big-city residents were able to get home – on foot – and stock up on food and supplies along the way. Foot traffic became so heavy in New York that it spilled over into streets – a graphic demonstration of how motorists benefit directly from the subway system.

These and other details are covered in an excellent commentary “August 2003 Electric Power Blackout: Massive Disruption of All Transportation”, see here,

Wendell stopped short of saying – but hinted rather strongly – that electric transport, in fact all rail transport, is a bad idea because of the posibility of service interruptions resulting from power outages.

An FOC had this to say: “Pardon mon impudence, but by the same ‘logic’ used by Wendell Cox, automobiles should be banned because, after all, girls get pregnant in them . . .”

Hmmm . . .

Another FOC weighed in as follows:

“Cox spent a number of years in L.A., where it is said that ‘there's no such thing as bad publicity.’ Maybe true, but there is such a thing as bad and ludicrous content. If he continues with the ever-more ludicrous pronouncements, he’ll eventually marginalize himself, just like [Ross] Perot did.”

(Which would mean, among certain other things, that we smart-aleck TransitCabalists would have to find someone else to serve as our prime target for ridicule and satire . . .)

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