Link Think: Still Number 1 : Daydreaming California rules... in congestion and deficits.
NPR logo Link Think: Still Number 1

Link Think: Still Number 1

Another day, another study detailing the twice-daily hell that passes for a commute in many California cities. As the LA Times' traffic blog Bottleneck reports:

Study finds California urban congestion still tops the nation
The Reason Foundation, the group that promotes libertarian values, just released its annual highway report. California, predictably, had the worst urban freeway congestion — along with Minnesota and North Carolina — but the 9th fewest deficient bridges. The state's urban freeways also ranked 48th in terms of their condition. Only New Jersey and Hawaii were worse in that category.

(A tip of the hat to LAist for that Bottleneck link.)

Bottleneck goes on to point out that 2-hour commutes and essentially unsusable roads can make for strange political bedfellows, the small-government libertarians at Reason apparently having been, well, driven to embrace the relatively bigger government implied by traffic solutions like congrestion pricing. "Although the Reason Foundation certainly has a distinct political viewpoint," Bottleneck notes, "there really isn't much politics in their report. The group is also a big proponent of congestion pricing, as are many other organizations across the political spectrum."

Some conservative activists (Grover Norquist, in particular) have long dreamt of a government so small it can be safely drowned in a bathtub, but California's unique mix of urban congestion and yearly confrontations with Mother Nature (earthquakes, mudslides, fires, marauding bears) make us a state where government will always need to be robust enough to enforce building codes and pick up debris. As one diarist at the Daily-Kos-style state political blog Calitics argues:

It really is remarkable what serious attention to building codes has done. Not too long ago yesterday's earthquake would have been a disaster - today it's a blip. California has recognized the problem, taken steps to constantly improve and innovate, and made sure that the regulations stayed stringent, so that developers would just have to find other means to reduce costs. The fact that the epicenter was around Chino Hills and Diamond Bar, relatively new areas with new buildings that were constructed according to the strictest building codes, was only a further testament to that. The after-action reports from the 1989 San Francisco quake and the 1994 Northridge quake were taken seriously and applied in this case. [full diary]

According to the Reason study, our earthquake-ready bridges are high on the nations list of "fewest deficient," and although that sounds (to my ear, at least) like praising someone for being the "least ugly," it's good news and proof that preparedness efforts are producing results. Now we only need to figure out how to keep paying for all of it:

Thousands of state workers were told to stay home Friday under an order by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger aimed at cutting expenses for California's cash-strapped government, but a lawsuit filed by a union claims the governor is overstepping his authority. [Full story]

California's projected budget deficit will hit $22 billion this year, another #1 for us. Figures.