When Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced late last month a “sea change” at the department that would give biking and walking the same economic treatment as driving, he set off a storm of kudos from the alternative transportation community, but also an equally vehement response, a negative one, from parts of the business and automobile communities.
It started when La Hood gave this address at the National Bike Summit (link opens YouTube video) then the department actually released a policy that stated, among other things, “The establishment of well-connected walking and bicycling networks is an important component for livable communities, and their design should be a part of Federal-aid project developments.”
On his blog, LaHood put it this way:
“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.
We are integrating the needs of bicyclists in federally-funded road projects. We are discouraging transportation investments that negatively affect cyclists and pedestrians. And we are encouraging investments that go beyond the minimum requirements and provide facilities for bicyclists and pedestrians of all ages and abilities.
Today, LaHood again defends this position in a Q&A with the New York Times, by saying this is not a top-down directive — it’s a policy that has bubbled up from the American people themselves. From the Q&A:
“My response is that this is what Americans want. Americans want alternatives. People are always going to drive cars. We’re always going to have highways. We’ve made a huge investment in our interstate highway system. We’ll always continue to make sure that those investments in the highways are maintained.
But, what Americans want is to get out of their cars, and get out of congestion, and have opportunities for more transit, more light rail, more buses, and some communities are going to street cars. But many communities want the opportunity on the weekends and during the week to have the chance to bike to work, to bike to the store, to spend time with their family on a bike.
So, this is not just Ray LaHood’s agenda, this is the American agenda that the American people want for alternatives to the automobile.”