A city's public investments are a reflection of its social priorities. Oklahoma City has a history of deliberately supporting highway-induced suburban sprawl and a car-dependent culture. With the poorest one-fifth spending more than 30 percent of their budget on automobiles, the necessity of car ownership is a poverty trap in this community.
Our unreliable and fragmented transit system also contributes to poverty. More than 90 percent of former welfare recipients do not have access to a car, and 3 in every 5 jobs suitable for welfare-to-work participants are not accessible by public transportation.
MAPS provides a unique opportunity to combat sprawl and address the inequalities it has created in our community. A modern streetcar system at the core of the Oklahoma City area will lay the groundwork for a regional system that can redirect growth in a more dense, sustainable and equitable manner. While some Democrats may balk at the sales tax and other projects they do not like, such funding will only be the front-end mechanism for transit financing. With some transit in place, regional and federal funding can be leveraged in addition to the higher property taxes that will come from businesses locating along new transit corridors.
I witnessed firsthand this type of transit transformation in Dallas. The criticisms I hear today are all too familiar. In the end, Dallasites wisely decided that investment in rail transit at the city's core via a sales tax was the only way to create the necessary nexus for a regional system in a sprawling city. Dallas proved the skeptics wrong with the success of the starter system, and DART expanded and improved its light rail and bus systems, resulting in increased access to jobs and sustainable and equitable transit-oriented development now envied around the region.
Cities with modern streetcars have seen a 10 to 1 return on the investment, making this piece of MAPS worth every penny spent on the other projects. We cannot afford to wait any longer to start a transit system that provides access to good jobs, education and training and needed services.
With grassroots involvement, the MAPS streetcar can be the beginning of a regional transportation system that directly combats poverty and economic inequality. That alone is enough reason to support MAPS on Dec. 8.
"Josiah Daniel, Oklahoma City
Daniel was a legislative aide to Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, from 2001-2004.