Argument: Christie case drawing so much attention because commuting affects so many people

Here is an interesting take on Chris Christie’s predicament: it is getting so much attention because commuting matters to a lot of people.

New York City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer just published this chart of the breakdown of constituent service requests and complaints his office fielded during 2013 (“no problem is too small for us to handle,” Van Bramer writes in his annual report card):

How we get around has an enormous influence on our quality of life, and so it’s central to what we expect from our elected officials. This is why unplowed roads can undermine an entire administration. It’s why arcane changes to residential parking permit policy stir such public ire. It’s why problems with transportation make up the largest single set of concerns that a local city councilman must address – beyond even jobs, public safety, and housing.

This is also why New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is in such trouble. Were he neck-deep in a petty political spat involving a public park or a job-training program or a real-estate project, the scandal wouldn’t resonate quite so widely. We often talk about transportation – and its sub-genres of parking policy, street design, traffic management and mass transit planning – as a niche interest of nerds at the national level. Locally, though, no issue is more politically potent.

Don’t mess with the commute of the average American. It might be much worse because driving is involved because driving usually implies more independence and privacy. On the other hand, when mass transit is at fault, like it has been this past week with Metra in the Chicago area, there is less that the individual commuter can do. Uncontrollable situations are bad enough but intentional sabotage of commuting would infuriate all commuters.

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