My Comments on the Encompass 2040 Association of Central Oklahoma Governments transportation plan.

October 9. 2016

ACOG Transportation Planning Division
21 E Main Street #100
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73104

Re: Comments about the Encompass 2040 Plan

To whom it may concern:

I have reviewed the “draft executive summary” of your Encompass 2040 Plan and listened to the webinar Sunday evening.

This plan does not even begin to address the needs of the common good in Central Oklahoma when it comes to transportation.

1. The list of named projects has not one single public transportation project listed. There may be some sidewalks associated with the road construction and widenings, although that isn’t clearly stated in the draft. There are little pedestrian and bicycle icons throughout the list of named projects, but their meaning is not explained in the document. One hopes that means that there will be sidewalks and bike lanes, but if so, that needs to be explicitly spelled out somewhere.

2. In response to a question during the webinar, the ACOG rep stated that it would be at least five years before any improvements to the bus system could be considered. This is because despite all of the work of ACOG, no one has actually gotten around to forming this regional transit authority that is going to do all these good things, supposedly, for public transportation in Oklahoma.

3. Looking at the locations for the road projects, the Encompass 2040 plan is obviously a subsidy for sprawl in the form of providing road amenities for upscale housing developments. This involves taking money from existing transportation infrastructure and using it to subsidize new home construction. So we take from the poor and working classes and give to the rich and politically well connected.

Why is this inadequate planning proposal such a problem? Because local governments throughout central Oklahoma are involved with many activities that, added together, constitute a system of structural oppression of lower income residents.

For example, all the ACOG governments are involved with operating various debtors prisons in their counties. Non-violent people, many of whom have not been convicted of a crime, are routinely incarcerated for long periods because they don’t have the money to pay bail. While incarcerated, they are charged for every day in jail. In Oklahoma County, that amounts to more than $1,200/month.

If they are unable over time to pay for those charges, they will be locked up again. None of the court systems in the ACOG area properly advise people coming before them of their rights to a hearing to determine whether or not they can actually pay a fine. Many of these courts routinely find that even homeless people are not “indigent” and thus require them to pay their fines and costs. Even when a hearing is lawfully requested, many of these judges simply refuse to schedule them, and demand that the individuals continually return to court instead of honoring their legal requests for hearings. I know these things because I often accompany very poor people to court in Oklahoma City and Norman and I have seen first hand the way that low income people are treated by these judges.

Another aspect of the structural oppression of lower income peoples is our inadequate public transportation system. Public funds that could be used for the bus system are routinely routed to other projects, such as subsidizing sprawl, and the notorious downtown OKC streetcar to nowhere. This is facilitated by planning processes such as this ACOG Encompass 2040 program. Of what use is a planning document that does not identify the structural problems that are causing the present dilemmas? If such problems are never called out, how will they ever be resolved?

Let us count the ways that the present transportation of central Oklahoma system oppresses low income people.

  • Most jobs in central Oklahoma are not accessible by the bus system.
  • Most retail stores in the area are not accessible by bus from the various neighborhoods of the City. E.g., none of the retail in the NW Expressway corridor is accessible by the bus system, nor are those jobs.
  • It does not get people to worship. Well, I suppose some Jewish and Seventh Day Adventist congregations are served by bus service on their Sabbath, but for the Christian majority, there is no bus service on Sunday. There is also no bus service for any one who works on Sunday.

What this adds up to is a situation where if you want a job, you have to have a car. Since many employers in the Oklahoma City area do not pay their employees just wages, maintaining a car on an $8/hr job is very difficult, even if the household has two incomes. So low income people often cancel their insurance, after getting their car registered for the year. This puts people at risk of scenarios like this:

  • A policeman stops the car because they have a broken rear light.
  • Finding that they don’t have insurance, the car is impounded.
  • The family loses the car because they can’t afford to get it out of impound.
  • The workers in the family loses their jobs because they can’t get to work. The bus doesn’t go there.
  • The household’s lights get cut off because they can’t pay the bill.
  • Someone tells social services, and the government swoops in and takes away the kids (disconnected utilities is grounds for putting kids into foster care).
  • Because they have no income, the parents are evicted and become homeless, splitting up. Another family down for the count.
  • Maybe the woman is pregnant, and she decides she can’t afford a baby in her circumstances, so she has an abortion, coerced by her financial circumstances.

This is a lot of human misery that could have been completely avoided if this family had had access to a reasonable public transportation system.

This is not an outlandish nor an extreme example. Something like this, in some form or another, happens every day in central Oklahoma, on multiple occasions. I have personally seen this happen again and again in my activities with the Catholic Worker House. When you are poor, a cascading series of catastrophes can easily result in homelessness, family collapse, and abortion. These tragedies are the consequences of the structural oppression of the poor by local governments.

So the lackadaiscal, “one of these days, we’ll get around to it,” attitude of the Encompass 2040 planning system regarding improvements in our bus system is a deliberate government decision to continue and increase the human misery, pain, and suffering of low income households that can be directly traced to the poor planning choices made by central Oklahoma governments, and the consequent maldistribution of public resources. As a primary planning organization for central Oklahoma, ACOG must shoulder its share of the moral blame.

ACOG is an essential aspect of the “leave the poor behind for the wolves to devour” social darwinism that is a characteristic of all the local governments in central Oklahoma. ACOG provides the necessary patina of “public input” that allows these governments to continue to ignore their responsibilities to the common good. ACOG facilitates the process of rewarding their friends and campaign contributors with all the transportation sprawl that they demand, and the consequent punishment of the poor who have no access to a reasonable transportation system. In the central Oklahoma planning process, the poor have no friends.

Oklahoma City always has all the money that any politically well connected developer wants, but it never, ever, under any circumstances, has enough money for an adequate bus system. The reason for that is obvious: the City Council’s voting majority cares nothing for the pain and suffering of low income people, and they care everything for the appreciation, friendship, and campaign contributions of the politically well connected upscale segment of the population.

In summary –

+ The ACOG Encompass 2040 plan does not even minimally meet the needs of the common good in central Oklahoma.

+ The plan subsidizes sprawl which will have enormously deleterious impact on the environment and quality of life of central Oklahoma.

+ The plan will do nothing to increase availability of public transportation options, because nothing in the plan provides any “SMART” goal markers. There is nothing about public transportation in this Encompass 2040 draft that is specific, measurable, agreed upon, realistic, or time based. Without those markers, nothing in a planning process will ever happen.

+ The plan enables local governments to continue the present system of structural oppression of low income households, and will therefore bring about an enormous amount of suffering, pain, and family dysfunction that will impact tens of thousands of people.

This letter also constitutes my resignation as a member of the Encompass 2040 Citizens Advisory Committee. I have no desire to have any affiliation with an organization such as yours, which is directly involved with facilitating the structural oppression low income people by the governments of central Oklahoma.

What do you mean by crushing my people, and grinding down the poor when they look to you? Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil, who change darkness into light, and light into darkness, who change bitter into sweet, and sweet into bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own sight, and prudent in their own esteem! To those who acquit the guilty for bribes, and deprive the just man of his rights!

Woe to those who enact unjust statutes and who write oppressive decrees, depriving the needy of judgment and robbing my people’s poor of their rights, making widows their plunder, and orphans their prey! What will you do on the day of punishment, when ruin comes from afar? To whom will you flee for help? Isaiah 3:15; 5:20-21, 23; 10:1-3

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