Courtesy BikePortland via FlickrTwo weeks ago, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood climbed on a table and told a group of bike advocates that federal transportation planners were finished raising the almighty auto above cyclists and walkers.
“I’ve been all over America, and where I’ve been in America I’ve been very proud to talk about the fact that people do want alternatives,” he said (video below). “They want out of their cars, they want out of congestion, they want to live in livable neighborhoods and livable communities … You’ve got a partner in Ray LaHood.”
He followed up on his blog: “Today, I want to announce a sea change. People across America who value bicycling should have a voice when it comes to transportation planning. This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.”
This is great stuff, particularly from a 65-year-old Republican from downstate Illinois who was never expected to be one of the Obama cabinet stars. Progressive transportation advocates were clearly underwhelmed when Obama chose him. But when I watched him announce a new Smart Growth partnership with top EPA and HUD officials in Seattle last month, he fit right in with the sustainable-urbanism types there. Seemed to be making friends.
And now he’s making enemies.
A National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) advisor, speaking for grownup business people everywhere, bashed the new policy: “Treating bicycles and other non-motorized transportation as equal to motorized transportation would cause an economic catastrophe.”
Matthew DeBord at The Big Money, in a cynical take on the tabletop speech, essentially said the hell with trying to improve this country: “A more over-the-top example of shameless pandering you won’t find anywhere in the halls of our current government. The transportation system of the United States is set up to accommodate one thing and one thing only: the automobile. I’m not going to say whether that’s good or bad. It just is. We can talk all we want about light rail and urban mass-transit and even flying cars and jetpacks—when push comes to shove, we’re Americans and we drive.”
Now that he’s catching flak from NAM and Republican lawmakers, maybe LaHood feels like he’s really one of the Obama team.
This doesn’t mean you’ll see bike lanes on that new expressway through town. The feds are still going to bankroll conventional roads and highways and so forth. But you’ll see bicycle connection points to these roads, such as trails and shared use pathways to create multimodal transportation.
Beyond making it easier for cyclists and pedestrians to get around, the move is intended to make it safer for them to get around. A report released late last year by Transportation for America and the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership found more than 43,000 pedestrians nationwide have died since 2000 on roads the authors complain don’t provide adequate crosswalks and other safety features. The authors say states aren’t spending enough to make roads safer for people who are on foot, on a bike or in a wheelchair.
Watch LaHood’s tabletop speech: