LaHood’s bike policy hits GOP potholes

(AP)

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a weekend bicyclist, might consider keeping his head down and his helmet on. A backlash is brewing over his new bicycling policy.

LaHood says the government is going to give bicycling — and walking, too — the same importance as automobiles in transportation planning and the selection of projects for federal money. The former Republican congressman quietly announced the “sea change” in transportation policy last month.

“This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized,” he wrote in his government blog.

The blog was accompanied by a DOT policy statement urging states and transportation agencies to treat “walking and bicycling as equals with other transportation modes.” It recommends, among other things, including biking and walking lanes on bridges and clearing snow from bike paths.

The new policy is a natural extension of the Obama administration‘s livability initiative, which regards the creation of alternatives to driving — buses, streetcars, trolleys and trains, as well as biking and walking — as central to solving the nation’s transportation woes.

Transportation secretary is normally a quiet post, a Cabinet backwater. But LaHood has been the administration’s point man on an array of high-profile issues, from high-speed trains and distracted drivers to runaway Toyotas.

The new policy has vaulted LaHood to superstar status in the bicycling world. Bike blogs are bubbling with praise. A post on Ridemonkey.com calls him “cycling’s man of the century.” The Adventure Cycling Association’s Web site calls LaHood “our hero.”

“LaHood went out on a limb for cyclists,” Joe Lindsey wrote on Bicycling.com. “He said stuff no Transportation secretary’s ever said, and is backing it up with action.”

Word of the policy change is still filtering out beyond the bicycling and transportation planning communities, but the initial reaction from conservatives has been hostile.

The National Association of Manufacturers’ blog, Shopfloor.org, called the policy “dumb and irresponsible.”

“LaHood’s pedal parity is nonsensical for a modern industrial nation,” said the blog. “We don’t call it sacrilege, but radical is a fair description. It is indeed a sea change in federal transportation policy that could have profound implications for the U.S. economy and the 80 percent of freight that moves by truck.”

LaHood said he has been surprised by the response.

“It didn’t seem that controversial to me,” he wrote in a second blog item. “After all, I didn’t say they should have the only voice. Just a voice.”

At a recent House hearing, Rep. Steve LaTourette, R-Ohio, suggested jokingly to a Transportation Department official that one explanation for the new policy is that the secretary’s thinking has been clouded by drugs.

“Is that a typo?” LaTourette asked. “If it’s not a typo, is there still mandatory drug testing at the department?”

The new policy is not a regulation and, therefore, not mandatory, Transportation undersecretary for policy Roy Kienitz responded to LaTourette.

But it’s LaHood’s view “that the federal government should not take the position that roads and trains are real transportation and walking and biking is not,” Kienitz said. “His view is it’s all real transportation, and we should consider it based on what benefits it can bring for the amount of money we spend.”

That didn’t satisfy LaTourette.

“So is it his thought that perhaps we’re going to have, like, rickshaws carrying cargo from state to state, or people with backpacks?” asked the congressman.

Bicycling advocates have been blasting LaTourette. Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists, with 300,000 affiliated members, called his comments “a little childish.”

LaTourette said in an interview that he thinks bike paths, bike lanes and projects that make communities more walkable are fine but shouldn’t be funded with money raised by a gasoline tax paid by motorists. The federal gas tax pays for most highway and transit aid, although lately general Treasury funds have been used to supplement the programs.

LaHood noted that LaTourette supports federal funds for a bike path in his district.

“The point is, on his Web site he’s bragging about the fact that he got some money for a bike path,” LaHood said. “He knows people in his district like them.”

LaHood, 64, said he and his wife have biked on weekends for years. Three days before his announcement of the new policy, LaHood stood on a table to speak to a gathering of hundreds of bike enthusiasts in Washington. He drew cheers when he vowed the Obama administration will put affordable housing next to walking and biking paths.

“I’m not going to apologize for any of it,” he said in the interview. “I think this is what the people want.”

___

On the Net:

League of American Bicyclists:

http://www.bikeleague.org/blog/2010/03/lahood-you-have-a-full-partner-in-ray-lahood/

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5 Responses to "LaHood’s bike policy hits GOP potholes"

  1. Almandine  April 14, 2010 at 8:04 am

    “He drew cheers when he vowed the Obama administration will put affordable housing next to walking and biking paths.”

    People’s communes… with affordable manual transportation… between the commnal gardens, communal markets, and their communal housing units.

    We don’t need no stinking freight haulers!

  2. Mightymo  April 14, 2010 at 10:46 am

    One of the great things I like about living in California is that almost any place that you go, there is a very strong emphasis on walking and bike riding. The paths are clean, in good repair, and are often very enjoyable to use. Not to mention that there are large parks just about everywhere.

    It reminds me of living in Utah and it’s supposedly strong “family” values. Those idiots wouldn’t know how to build a park if someone gave them the instructions! They wouldn’t know family values if it jumped up and bit them on the nose.

  3. woody188  April 15, 2010 at 1:46 am

    Preparing us for a future of little to no oil and gas?

    • Carl Nemo  April 15, 2010 at 1:50 am

      It’s going to happen; ie, a world of rapidly diminishing oil reserves. So folks best have climbed onboard with solar, wind, nuclear and physical power big time or the quality of life for the entire planet is to become a bicycle ride to hell… : |

      Carl Nemo **==

  4. Hoskins Traeger  April 19, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    LaHood will be a hero if he doesn’t knuckle under to the oil industry bullies on this. Bold new ideas, as Thomas Kuhn wrote, often go through three phases: they are (1) dismissed as silly; (2) violently resisted; (3) accepted in the end as obvious. But that only comes when the adherents to the old paradigm die out or fade away. That day, I’m afraid, can’t come too soon for our country in this case. Our mounting addiction to imported petroleum has brought huge social costs: a degraded environment, steadily rising obesity rates, and rising global resource conflict. The oil interests have had their day. We’ve now reached a point where we have to shake loose of our dependence on them. Our survival is at stake.

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