The Transportation Research Board was thrilled to be approached by the National Association for Urban Debate League to hold a unique session where students would debate the investment in transportation infrastructure. Not only would it provide a great learning experience for the students, it would give the TRB audience an opportunity to learn from the perspectives of students.
The National Association for Urban Debate Leagues works with 19 affiliated leagues and they focus on competitive policy debate. Policy debate focuses on one single topic question which demands the students go deep on the issue for the pros and cons.
Last year, of the 19 leagues, 100 percent of the participants graduated from high school, in high schools that have a 50 percent graduation rate. Also, 98 percent went on to college or in to the military.
In addition to competing nationally, they invite debaters to participate in public debates, which are shorter versions of a competitive debate with guest judges to have their arguments evaluated by outside experts.
The topic of the policy debate was: The United States federal government should substantially increase investment for transportation infrastructure.
The affirmative team consisted of Raiesa Fraser and Avril Gordon Joseph of the Achievement First Brooklyn High School and part of the New York City Urban Debate League. The negative team consisted of Darius Adejo-Liely and Jabree Gordon of Knowledge and Success Academy and part of the Baltimore Urvban Debate League.
Judges for the event:
Dorval Carter, chief counsel at the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Julie Cunningham, president and ceo of the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO); Susan Kurland, assistant secretary for Aviation and International Affairs of the Department of Transportation (DOT); Shirley McCall, director of the TransTech Academy at Cardozo High School; Lucy Priddy, incoming chair for TRB's Young Member Council; Jeffrey Shane, former associate deputy secretary of transportation under George Bush, between 2002 and 2008; and Charles Wright, executive director for the James E. Clyburn University Transportation Center at South Carolina University
The debaters referenced numerous reports and studies, as well as related to personal experiences of their points. Raiesa Fraser presented the affirmative case for topic stating that there is not enough attention and support to mass transit in urban areas and that there is an unfair distribution between low-income and high-income populations. Funding currently and historically has favored suburban areas and the cutbacks in transit subsidies have further isolated the poor and inner city neighborhoods.
Fraser stated that near her school in Brooklyn, many people can't afford cars and they rely on the C Train. A commute is more than an hour to school and they often have to wait more than 15 minutes for a train, even during rush hour.
Several points she discussed were that substantial urban mass transit funding would provide for adults looking for jobs, educational opportunities for students to attend schools that may not be in their neighborhood and access for urban residents to quality grocery stores and farmers markets.
On the economic side, she talked about investing in mass transit providing higher-wage jobs, generating tax revenues and revitalizing U.S. manufacturing.
The cross examination was conducted by Darius Adejo-Liely, who asked about good examples of federal money being spent on transit, how it is determined those are good investments and how long and how substantial of an investment would it take for a place like Baltimore to have a system closer to that of New York.
The negative constructive was presented by Jabree Gordon, who began his case with a rap and its theme: substantial investments in mass transit in urban areas leads to gentrification of communities that hurts poor families struggling to make ends meet. Increased inequality from increased transit in cities is often a negative, unattended consequence, he stated, referencing an example of the West Baltimore area near where he lives.