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Nowhere in the legislative landscape that constitutes the geopolitical makeup of America’s governing body is the mechanics of “efficient policy” more scrutinized (on a federal, municipal, and even local level) than in every single policy dealing with mass transportation in the United States

First off, that last sentence was way too long. Secondly, it’s true. This year, debaters will be challenged not only with “are the advantages of this policy legit” but also ‘is this policy logistically feasible?’

In one sense, the traditional sense of fiat that debaters have come to understand is useless this year. Sure – the bill (or plan) will get passed without any opposition, in the theoretical debate-round world. But beyond that, the implementation of said plan will be prey to the ravenous wolves of what Edmund Burke called “unintended consequences.” Read on further to get a full definition, as well as a citation.

Nowhere in policy-making as a whole, is the tendency and principle of “unintended consequences” more apparent than in the realm of public or private transportation.

Why is that? Well several reasons – but mostly because there are so many variables. Here are a few variables that affect almost every transportation policy initiative:

  • Funding
  • Public Opinion
  • Initial Public Support of new structure or policy. Aka old transportation structure recidivism
  • Construction time
  • The displacement of previous transportation infrastructure (aka – you’re creating traffic while fixing the old system)
  • Increased and prolonged construction costs (Because construction crews deal with variables too)

If one, forget two, if just one of these factors goes awry, a perfectly written and supported 1AC could go to waste. The implementation of every policy happens post-fact. So while many policies may seem like great ideas on paper, the success of any given policy is NEVER determined by its drafting, but rather, its Implementation.

With that in mind – let’s blast away at some of the history of transportation policy in America. Make sure you have something to drink, preferably something caffeinated, or maybe a fidget spinner. Those are awesome. (Editor’s note: Ignore Thad. The official stance of Ethos is that fidget spinners are NOT awesome.)

If you are a true nerd, you just pushed your glasses up on your nose and scoffed at needing a reading supplement. But secretly you got butterflies in your stomach that I would even suggest a length of text that is too long and too dry to understand. You read Jane Eyre in two days flat.

Buckle up.

Transportation Policy In the United States: An Incomplete History

No matter what policy you think you will write your 1AC on, understanding the principles of the policies you are dealing with is a MUST. If I had a dime for every debater that has looked at me and said, “But I don’t need to understand the policy-history, I just need to know how to beat this case!”

One: if you understand the drivers, and the history of the realm of policy your debate mind resides in, you will easily be the smartest person in every debate round. ERGO: Debaters that impress judges with their knowledge of the topic gain both credibility AND believability. If you have both, you will win the round.  If you happen to comprehensively read the links I included after this post, you’ll be better informed than most, if not all, of your opponents.

Two: Understanding the drivers and history WILL help you beat the case you need to beat on neg. The best debaters have strategies that derive from in-depth topic knowledge. If you ever want to learn how to beat squirrels, this is how you start.

With that little rant in mind, let’s start from the beginning. One quick observation: This discussion comes with the implicit recognition that the majority of transportation policy happens at a state and local level.

 The Wild Transportation West:

Most scholars consider the railroad to be the first true transportation policy regulation scare in the United States, because it was the first cross-national transportation system. What do you need to know about this first mass transit system?

  • It was largely privatized
  • It brought millions of jobs with it. Every train stop, every coal station, needed workers, even if it was in the middle of nowhere
  • Allowed the economy to evolve around it. After this transportation system was introduced, people could literally mail-order a house. A freaking HOUSE. Because the train system allowed for the transportation of key materials en masse.
  • This cross-national system went from north, south, and east to west, and allowed for more rapid middle-class migration, as well as quicker communication, mail, and even troop movements.
  • What does this have to do with transportation policy? Take note of the what the DRIVERS for this change were. Also, take note of what it affected. For example, the entire system of national time zones arose because trains taking off in the West could never arrive completely on time; because every single city in the US was keeping time differently. This led to some notable brawls between train conductors over whose pocket watch was actually correct. You get the idea.

For a quick but effective brain dump on the timeline, from the mid to late 1800’s, take a gander at the wiki page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rail_transportation_in_the_United_States

For the most part – we are going to skip ahead to 1967 when the Department of Transportation was created. However we are going to make one notable stop.

The Model T Ford:

A few things to note here:

  • Henry Ford was not a genius, he was in fact largely incompetent and he once created a banana farm in South America that ruined numerous peoples lives. That’s totally random but I thought it was funny.
  • What you need to look for here, is not the adaptation of the economy to the invention of the affordable car (as with the train example) but rather you should look for the immediate application. I can see a neg cross-examination going somewhat like this:

Examiner:  Your plan increases subsidies correct?

Respondent: Yup

Examiner: Why is that?

Respondent: Well aside from the fact that I just spent 8 minutes telling you…?

Examiner: Right. You increase subsidies so your plan(x) can stay alive until consumer recognition kicks in and everyone in the US buys into the benefits of your new program?

Respondent: Essentially, yes. Once people realize that this is the future, they will go for it. We even quoted PhD Blah Blah on this in our 3rd solvency point

Examiner: Gotcha, ok. Well when Motorola created the first affordable cell phone, did people need to be told to buy it, or did they just buy it?

Respondent: I mean. I think they just bought it….

Examiner: Great. When Henry Ford created the Model T, did he have to twist people’s arms for them to buy it?

Respondent: I mean, I wasn’t born in the early 1900’s but I assume people just bought it

Examiner: Perfect, Thank you


Basically – if anyone in any plan ever stands up and says, “were gonna make people buy our transportation green car product” or “Just wait until they see how good it is” Don’t buy it. Consumers operate off instinct, and no debater ever has accurately predicted consumer instinct. A successful product will never have to sell itself. A successful transportation policy will never have to sell itself. Exhibit A: Fidget Spinners.

The US Transportation Administration – and the Department of Transportation

“We’re Going to Make America Great Again, it’s gonna be YUUGEE.”

That was the phonetical pronunciation of the word “huge” in Donald Trump’s voice, in case you missed it.

As Edward Weiner wrote in his book, “The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1962 created the federal mandate for urban transportation planning in the United States. The Act was the capstone of two decades of experimentation and development of urban transportation procedures and institutions. It was passed at a time when urban areas were beginning to plan interstate highway routes through and around their areas. The 1962 act combined with the incentive of 90% federal funding for interstate highway projects caused urban transportation planning to spread quickly throughout the United States. It also had a significant influence on urban transportation planning in other parts of the world.”/

On a side note: Don’t be afraid to look into what other countries have done. In this case, policy analytics from other urban or metropolitan cities can be super helpful. However, a word to the wise, don’t put everything you own on a few examples from other nations. Part to whole and whole to part fallacies abound inside cross-global examples.

If you ever find yourself or an opponent saying, “Judge, it didn’t work in Germany, therefore, it won’t work here…” You should raise an eyebrow and rethink your whole speech. For the same reason it DIDN’T work in Germany, it absolutely could work in the United States or vice versa. Why is that? Go back to the variables I listed in the first part of this post. Unintended Consequences as defined by Edmund Burke:

If you ignore everything else in this post, please just memorize this principle.

(Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, ed. L. G. Mitchell [New York: Oxford University Press, 1993], 61 [first published in 1790]) http://keithburgess-jackson.typepad.com/blog/2009/02/edmund-burke-17291797-on-unintended-consequences.html

“(…)very plausible schemes, with very pleasing commencements, have often shameful and lamentable conclusions. In states, there are often some obscure and almost latent causes, things which appear at first view of little moment, on which a very great part of its prosperity or adversity may most essentially depend. The science of government being therefore so practical in itself, and intended for such practical purposes, a matter which requires experience, and even more experience than any person can gain in his whole life, however sagacious and observing he may be, it is with infinite caution that any man ought to venture upon pulling down an edifice which has answered in any tolerable degree for ages the common purposes of society, or on building it up again, without having models and patterns of approved utility before his eyes.”

I know what you’re thinking.

“But Thaddeus…The Law of Unintended Consequences is non-unique. We could argue it for ANY resolution, against ANY case. Give me something that is helpful.”

And yeah. You’re absolutely right.

But here is why I have mentioned it twice in this post – and why you should believe me. The success of all the policies that will be put forth as 1AC’s in this resolution, will depend upon implementation. If you find creative and innovative ways to run the Burke argument (rather than just – bad things will happen….maybe) then you can successfully tear down even the most idyllic or positive transportation policy ever to be drafted.

Transportation policy is so reliant on variables in order to succeed, that it would be almost moronic to not at least allude to the numerous variables that exist in the status quo.

Further Research:

If you are a massive research buff and plan on looking everywhere for a good case idea, the citation page at the end of this link is a perfect place to look: https://inside.artcenter.edu/ed/file.php/26041/2._Weiner_History_of_Urban_Trans._Planning.pdf

If you want a short, seismic, and comprehensive policy overview (including waterways), look here: https://amhistory.si.edu/onthemove/themes/story_48_1.html

If you are looking for a history of JUST highways, look here: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/history.cfm

A great statistical or analytical view of spending money to fix America’s roadways:


This article is probably the easiest to navigate and learn from: https://ntl.bts.gov/usdothistory/usdothistory.html

Bibliography, Works Cited, Continued Reading:




(look at the reference list here)


Urban Transportation Planning in the United States: An Historical Overview, by Edward Weiner (Praeger Publishers, New York, an imprint of Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc., 1987). Copyright ©: by Edward Weiner


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