A ‘sea change’ in how we get around


Since Henry Ford’s Model T’s began chugging out onto America’s primitive roads in the first decade of the 20th century, U.S. transportation policy has catered almost exclusively to cars and trucks.
Bicycles, which enjoyed a golden age in the 1890s, were abandoned for Ford’s “flivvers” and Ransom Olds’ “merry Oldsmobiles.” From the 1920s through the early 1950s, perfectly good streetcar systems were dismantled and destroyed all across the United States. President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 tied the nation together in a seamless network of interstate highways, designed, of course, for cars and trucks.
But, now, President Obama’s transportation secretary, Ray LaHood is leading what National Public Radio calls a “quiet revolution” in American thinking on how people get from place to place.
Citing a “sea change” in transportation policy, NPR interviewed LaHood as part of a Sunday broadcast piece on the development of trails and street lanes for cyclists and pedestrians in such major cities as Washington, D.C.
“Right now, about 90 percent of the country commutes to work by car,” the NPR story said.
LaHood is trying to change that.
In a policy statement announced March 15, LaHood’s department urged local communities to consider “walking and bicycling as equals with other transportation modes.”
“Why devote resources to a transportation mode that fewer than 10% of the nation is using?” LaHood asked on his blog, Fast Lane, which posted a link to the NPR story.
“Well, bike infrastructure is relatively inexpensive — particularly if you compare it to, say, adding a lane to an existing roadway. Now, imagine if those people who do bike around chose instead to make all of their trips in single-occupancy vehicles. Our already congested roadways would be brought to a halt.”
LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois and a weekend cyclist, noted that Lance Armstrong urged his more than 2 million followers on Twitter to listen to the NPR story. The transportation secretary also posted a link to an April 5 interview he did with the New York Times blog Green.
The idea of elevating biking and walking to the level of driving has, of course, stirred criticism.
Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio, asked, for example, if Lahood’s judgment had been clouded by drugs. And the National Association of Manufacturers said on its blog, ShopFloor:
“LaHood’s pedal parity is nonsensical for a modern industrial nation. 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.”
But LaHood says he is heartened by grassroots support for his policy. “On Facebook,” he wrote on his blog, “I sometimes have trouble seeing my own wall posts because bicycling fans have been so busy posting their support for DOT’s bicycle-pedestrian initiative in such strong numbers.”
Local support is key to implementing this “sea change” in transportation policy. As LaHood told NPR’s Guy Raz:
“We’re elevating it to the point where, as we develop new road systems, as we develop communities where people can use light rail or streetcars or buses, bike trails and walking paths will be equal partners, if you will, and equal components of those kinds of transportation opportunities in communities across America.”
With a comprehensive bike plan approved by the City Council and tentative steps taken to resurrect streetcar routes, that seems to be happening in Fort Worth.

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2 Comments

Filed under Americana, History, Urban cycling

2 responses to “A ‘sea change’ in how we get around

  1. Jim
    This is a GREAT blog! Glad I found it! LaHood has been LaGood for LaCycling, eh? Having been to several National Bike Summits, I don’t think anyone in the past few administrations could SPELL “bike” let alone condone any type of policy expressing positive sentiments for cycling.

    BTW –>I cited your post on Arlie Robinson in my Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Loveland-OH/Ohio-Bike-Lawyer-Steve-Magas/116310091736573?ref=ts

    I’m definitely adding you to my Favorites!!
    Keep up the great work!
    Steve Magas
    The Bike Lawyer
    http://www.OhioBikeLawyer.com

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