Wednesday, November 22, 2006

So much for the "horse-race" bias

The Dispatch headline reads:

Pryce’s lead over Kilroy grows with 2 counties’ totals

The first sentence reads:

Deborah Pryce’s lead over Mary Jo Kilroy grew by 181 votes yesterday in their still-undecided congressional race, a smaller gain than expected in the Republican strongholds of Madison and Union counties. (emphasis added)

I thought the media was primarily interested in seeing competetive races. So why the headline emphasizing the numerical expansion of the gap rather than the narrowing of the predictive gap? For that matter, why does the discovery of 30 uncounted voting machines not warrant a headline?

I am, however, glad that my complaint is only with the headline writer, not the article itself nor the events described.

FWIW I, like many bloggers, have been quick to criticize Matthew Damschroder and the Franklin County BOE when I thought they've done a less-than-acceptable job. This year it should be noted that the Unofficial Abstract of Votes and the distribution of provisional ballots cast were immediately posted in Excel format and the distribution of voting machines was posted along with the formula-based guidance on machine numbers/precinct for each voting location. So far, the 2006 election looks much cleaner on paper than the 2004 election did, and the transparency added to the data reporting means I haven't had to work nearly as hard to get the data to examine that this time around.

I didn't much care for the way that M.D. verbally responded to criticism last time around, but to give credit where it's due: actions speak louder than words, and although there are some new problems, the BOE has taken visible steps to remedy every one of the complaints from last time around. That's a whole lot better than a bunch of mea culpas and the same old same old come election time.

Let's hope they keep it up through the provisional count, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed for Bev Campbell and MJK.

P.S. I'm kind of late to the party publicizing Marie Wilson's talk at OSU next week. I'm particularly embarrassed because I got a personal heads-up from Jill at WLST, who did a really good interview with Wilson, and because good female candidates like Emily Kreider and Bev Campbell don't grow on trees.

I can't go but I'm working on a proxy. If you plan on going, drop me a line.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Who's Been Working on the Railroad?

There's a story in Sunday's Dispatch about local stakeholders grumpily muttering about a proposed streetcar line in Columbus. Well, it's Monday morning, and I figure I can be grumpy with the best of them...

Why can we not get some real leadership on mass transit? I get really damned sick of this. Energy is arguably the #1 domestic issue nationally, and increased mass transit is always mentioned in conservation plans. Then we try to implement it locally and/or regionally and nothing happens. Some background:

in 1999, Columbus voters had the opportunity to provide funding to a local commuter rail network. They supposedly were in favor of it when they talked to pollsters. They decidedly were not when they got into the voting booths. Then, when contacted by pollsters again, Ohioans overwhelmingly supported rail.

In 2006, after years of study, the Central Ohio Transportation Authority came up with a modest light-rail proposal, a streetcar proposal, and a hi-speed bus proposal for the north corridor, linking downtown to the Short North, Campus, Clintonville, and Worthington. After a public meeting discussing the alternatives, it was determined that there wasn't enough support for any of them. They approved endorsing a plan to increase regular bus service.

Public support for increased taxes for increased bus service was lukewarm at best, with people telling the Dispatch that they would support light-rail or other new technologies, but never support increased automotive mass transit.

Regardless, the issue of a new tax levy for increased COTA bus service was on the ballot in Franklin County this election, and it passed. We think. The margin is less than 4000 votes with 20000 provisionals outstanding.

Of course, people might be more inclined to support local rail options if they provided convenient connections to regional rail networks. Like the Ohio Hub network, which would connect to the MidWest Regional Railway System. If that system ever gets built. It was proposed in 1996, and made slow progress through at least 2004. The Ohio Hub is still being discussed, but nobody seems to be talking much about MWRRS any more, although it is apparently still a living project.

Despite the efforts of conservatives who believe that passenger rail is too unpopular to ever become a reality, and that studying the issue is just low-grade pork.

So we have multiple local and regional mass transit proposals with extensive background research and support. A major part of the regional proposals involves connecting to air transport. If all were implemented we could have an incredibly convenient and efficient sytem of transport that uses less energy and creates economic opportunities. We see time and again that the public supports alternative transportation options generally.

What do we get? We get communities opposing the individual small pieces of the puzzle, and supporting the one mass transit piece that nobody really likes.

Is this inevitable? Apparently not. When we're talking about freight instead of passenger service, we can bend over backwards to get things done. The Rickenbacker intermodal facility, a partnership between local, state, federal, and private interests is moving forward without a vote by the people of central Ohio. Pushing this project is supposed what earned the three Republican Congressional Reps from Central Ohio the endorsement of the Dispatch in the November elections. It looks to increase the transfer between rail and OTR freight, with one of the benefits being reduced highway usage.

So, although Rail Transport has its advocates in Ohio, where is the coordinated leadership for local/regional/national, public/private integration of mass passenger transit? Because it needs to get done, and without a real vision to sell people, and a grand sense of shared responsibility that doesn't leave one community or neighborhood holding the bag, it won't. Connecting downtown to the Short North is a good start. Mayor Coleman has done a good job making that case. Connecting the streetcar to the Madison/Milwaukee Wisconsin Hi-Speed Rail Corridor is obviously a much tougher, but In my humble opinion, necessary job.

Doesn't anybody else want to see that case made?