As vehicle miles are declining and dense urban areas gentrifying, advocating for better transit certainly makes sense from a long-term planning perspective.
However, I think there is a good argument to be made that focusing on stimulating suburbia will be more likely to give the economy the boost it needs right now.
First, if road infrastructure improves, driving will be easier (at least temporarily, but that’s the only concern right now). While gas is cheap, the combination of better roads and cheap fuel might encourage automobile sales — even sales of big motor vehicles still sitting around in dealer inventories . And the last thing the Treasury and the Politicians and taxpayers who support the Big Three auto bail out would want is for those companies to go down anyway because no one bought the cars.
Second, if road infrastructure improves, then the unsold housing in suburbia might be more attractive. Most of the unsold housing in outlying suburbs is low density, so wouldn’t support transit well.
Third, White House encouragement of better fuel efficiency standards and investment in greener automotive technology could help prolong the era of the individual automobile, and therefore suburbia. At least, I see this as a hope in the policy — that the American car-centred way of life can continue but in a more sustainable way.
If I’m right, the stimulus package is partially designed to support the suburban way of life. The question will be whether this can turn into something sustainable, or is just postponing the inevitable collapse of this economic and social way of life.
Another concern: if gasoline prices roar back to mid 2008 levels quickly, this could undermine the whole stimulus plan.