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You could call this old news, but I didn't see much press coverage on this rather momentous event, so I wanted to do my part to make sure cyclists and motorists knew the rules of the road are changing. Back on March 12 Ray LaHood, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, went to the National Bike Summit and dropped a bomb. Transportation policy might have, finally, made the right turn.

Finally, For Cyclists, Transportation Policy Takes a Right Turn

You could call this old news, but I didn’t see much press coverage on this rather momentous event, so I wanted to do my part to make sure cyclists and motorists knew the rules of the road are changing.

Back on March 12 Ray LaHood, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, went to the National Bike Summit and dropped a bomb. Transportation policy might have, finally, made the right turn.

The Summit organized the League of American Bicyclists, was held in Washington, D.C. so delegates could lobby administration officials and senators and representatives on bicycling issues. And somewhat unexpectedly, it seems, they found a very good friend in a very high place.

In a surprise visit at the closing reception, LaHood, the only republican on President Obama’s cabinet, showed up and wowed the crowd.

“Today, I want to announce a sea change,” LaHood said after hoisting himself up and standing on a table so the room full of bicycle advocates could see him. “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.”

Now, there’s something I sincerely doubt any other Transportation Secretary has dared say out loud!

“We are integrating the needs of bicyclists in federally funded road projects,” LaHood continued. “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.”

To implement the new national policy, Lahood said his department was sending directions to state transportation agencies and to local government officials. Chief among them was a recommendation to “treat walking and bicycling as equals with other transportation modes.”

Think about that a second. The top man in the U.S. Department of Transportation saying bicycles get equal treatment with motor vehicles in transportation policy and funding. Yep, that’s sea change!

Other missives going to state DOTs and local governments include:

  • Ensure convenient access for people of all ages and abilities.
  • Go beyond minimum design standards.
  • Collect data on walking and biking trips.
  • Set a mode share target for walking and bicycling.
  • Protect sidewalks and shared-use paths the same way roadways are protected (for example, snow removal)
  • Improve nonmotorized facilities during maintenance projects.

That’s all most welcome news to say the least, and I dearly hope he wasn’t just playing to his audience. I do disagree on one minor point LaHood made, though. He said, “This is a start, but it’s an important start. These initial steps forward will help us move forward even further.”

To me, that massively understates the significance of his new policy. It’s more than a start; it’s a long overdue transformation.

Let’s only hope that state transportation departments get the message and we start seeing equal rights and funding and priorities out there on the roadways where it really matters. We have a lot of miles to cover before we reach equality.

About Bill Schneider

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  1. Bill, while I appreciate your enthusiasm, I’m not holding my breath.

    First of all, politicians tend to temper their comments to their audience. I was surprised that the Secretary of Transportation showed at the Bike Summit, but once he was there, I’m not surprised that he delivered a pro-bike message.

    “This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.”

    How many ways are there to parse such a statement?

    You say bikes will get “equal treatment in transportation policy and funding.”

    Even that could be spun in numerous ways.

    Equal? What’s the formula? Per vehicle on the road? Per mile driven? Per tonnage? Per footprint? (Space-occupied… not pollution-belched.)

    Politicians who TALK are a dime a dozen. Politicians who make something happen are much more rare. And another thing – no matter how committed LaHood is personally, if he can’t sell his vision to the higher-ups (Obama) or his subordinates and deputies, he might as well be spittin’ in the wind.

    As a conservative… and as a John Forester believer… and as a dedicated transportation cyclist… I don’t need no “special treatment.” I don’t need a dollar spent on a special bike lane, for every dollar spent on a car lane. I just want equal access. A slightly-wider right-hand lane would be nice.

    If there were dollars to spend to make the world safer and more comfortable for cyclists (and there ain’t), I personally think they’d be better spent on enhanced education and enforcement.

    (My view is likely tainted by my personal situation. I live and do most of my riding in and around Boise. ACHD – our roadway agency – has for a number of years and as a matter of official policy included bike-friendly infrastructure in all new construction and maintenance… and they’ve done a mighty fine job. The pavement is getting better, not worse. But we’re woefully lacking in education and enforcement.)

  2. Bob Shank, Tucson


    ‘bikeboy’ is right about a lot of things in his observations. Nevertheless, I am encouraged by the fact that LaHood stood up on a nearby table so that all could see and hear him – IMHO, that’s making an effort to put yourself on the line.

    While ‘equal footing’ in the greater transportation overview has always been hard-fought for by peddlemen/women, many states and cities across the nation have risen to the the challenges of the League of American Bicyclists (predated by the League of American Wheelmen) and continue to help improve their own infrastructures to make them bicycle-friendly.

    In Tucson, most of our city buses have racks on the front to accomodate cyclists (usually only hold two bikes); and many of our streets and county roads have bike paths – which rarely get cleaned for accumulated stray auto parts, oil, glass, cactus thorns, etc. We don’t have ‘snow’ problems in Tucson – but we do get sand and accumulated dust which often makes cornering dangerous. I guess what I’m saying is, we get ‘minimul treatment.’

    If Lahood is serious, his memos get passed around enough and with attendant federal buy-in, the infrastructure could improve. I’d be happy if the bike lanes were just cleaned once in a while!

    Let’s hope your article will help shed additional light and bring fruition to projects for those of us who are peddling as ‘green’ as we can go.

    Thanks for making the effort!

  3. Bilcycling should not be condemed but also bicycling on public motor highways should not be tolerated. Active lobby groups have created rules(laws?) restricting the freedom of road use by automobiles to protect pedal power advocates. These bicyclist do not have or need a license, pay few taxes that support public roads and are rapidly becoming a public nuisance. If it is exercise they want, then jog, join the Y or some private gym but stay clear of motor designed roads. They cater about in their cuttie little uniforms and are creating road rage and endangering themselves with these poorly thoughout rules permitting them on public roads.


  4. yowza. John are you talking about interstate highways or all roadways?

    is it that cyclists are a) a nuisance, b)an inconvenience, or c) a problem that actually reduces the travel time from your house to the grocery store?

    My theory is that if we all just took a deep breath and backed off the aggressive gas pedal…bikes vs. cars becomes pretty much a non-event.

    Thanks Bill for a great story; this is great news, and a very big deal.

  5. I think LaHood didn’t get a lot of coverage because of the depth of his non sequitur. Motorized vehicles need bazillions of dollars for their roadways, and favor follows finbacks.

    Truth is, bicycling doesn’t need equality, we need sensible engineering that addresses the disparate needs of different transportation modes. I agree with bikeboy that the Ada Co. Highway District has been making good strides, even if I don’t share his belief that the pavement has improved all that much. I see the same mistakes (and some new ones, to be sure) and mismaintenance year after year, with the annual chipseal marketing mocked by the early cracks and road gardening. (Hey, new slogan for ’em: “We’re growing your Ada County roads!”)

  6. In georaphy when I was growing up we were taught the chinese all got around on Bycycles while we were driving cars. Now the Chinese have found cars and we are turning to Bycycles. Having little knowledge of the facts I admit I always thought most of the Highway funds came from gasoline tax. If the Bikeboys think motorists will accept higher gasoline taxes to support increased Bike use at no cost to the bikes they are naive. Most motorists dont mind bikes on the road as long as they have plenty of room to maneuver but Im sure many drivers have had to cut it close as a oncoming driver came over the centerline or appeared to. No one wants to hit a biker but the stress of watching the road and anticipating bikes can get tense at times. Perhaps the rear view imaging devices some bike riders use should be mandatory. And before cyclists think the are number one on the road now they should ride more defensively themselves. Many of our two lane roads bikes are flocking to have to little room for error and where possible they should ride as far to the right as they can and not the inside next to traffic when they have plenty of room to stay away from traffic. As you read some pro bike comments the riders seem to think they should have the right away over motorized vehicles ignoring their counterparts of the same age are slurping big gulps,texting and carrying on with inane conversations or arguments on cell phones as they share the road. A reciepe for disaster from time to time. Anyway I wish them well as I got my first bike at the end of WWII and the first thing I was told was stay out of the street. Times change.

  7. John P derr,

    Most cyclist do pay road/fuel taxes, because we also own cars. We are just not using it all the time and burning fuel, etc. As for the “motor designed roads”, here in the west they started as horse trails, then widened for wagons, etc. Few were originally designed for cars, just went that way in the last part of the 20th century. And yes, while riding to play disc golf, then lunch, and pick up some groceries, I burned a few calories. Sorry, but I’m not going to the gym when I can ride a bike.

  8. I believe the driving culture will change. Motorists in Europe are much more understanding of cyclists on the roads. When I’m driving and have to slow down behind a cyclist, drivers behind don’t honk or get mad. We all wait for a good place to pass the cyclist. On a winding road the cyclist thinks of the motorists and gives a signal when the road is clear ahead. I saw this happen many times during a vacation in Europe last month.

  9. Nice feed back on the issue of pedal power on motor roads. Here in Florida we are all cautioned to be on the look out for motor cycles yet they suffer accidents at a high rate. Bicyclists on pedal power keeping lines of cars at idle speed is not a logical thing for traffic engineers to support. Users should fund their fun and special levies on bicyclists should be the income source for bicycle paths where they are needed. It will probably take a few, too many, serious accidents with bicycles for the message to hit home and sanity return. We are now required to keep a three foot separation between our cars and bicycles! These pedal power enthousiasts might be advised to maintain a minimum speed and always cede stand on privilege to cars.

    John Derr