‘Running for dear life’

It seems altogether fitting that Republican Rep. John Mica, the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee who called projects that encourage bicycling and walking “not in the national interest,” is from Florida.

John Mica

The Sunshine State, according to data in Tuesday’s New York Times, has four metropolitan areas, led by the Orlando region, that rank as the most dangerous places to walk in the country.
The Times story, headlined “On Wide Florida Roads, Running for Dear Life,” cited a recent survey by Transportation for America, a nonprofit safety advocacy organization.
“The Orlando-Kissimmee region was first out of 52 in the rankings of most dangerous pedestrian regions, with more than 550 pedestrians killed from 2000 to 2009,” said the Times story by Lizette Alvarez. “This translates to an annual fatality rate of 3 per 100,000 people. Second was Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, followed by Jacksonville and Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach.”
But Mica, who represents the 7th Congressional District along Florida’s northeast coast that includes St. Augustine in the north and Daytona Beach in the south, announced on July 7 that his proposed long-term federal transportation bill will eliminate dedicated funding for projects that encourage bicycling and walking. (See May 7 post, “Federal bike path funds in peril.”)
The bill, which would cover the next six years of federal highway appropriations, would do away with the Transportation Enhancement Program, removing the requirement that 10 percent of the roughly $32 billion collected in federal gas tax dollars go toward bike lanes, sidewalks and the like. “Not in the national interest,” he says.
David Goldberg, communications director for Transportation for America, was quoted by the Times as saying that much of Florida was rapidly built up during an era of auto-centric design, so “the tendency there has been to build the big wide arterials; you have these long superblocks and you can get up to a good speed.”

A pedestrian bolts across Semoran Boulevard in Orlando. Photo by Chip Litherland for The New York Times

Pedestrian crossings on these wide, high-speed roads are few and far between, sometimes as much as a half-mile between stop lights. So pedestrians literally risk their lives to dart through a lull in the fast-moving traffic. Some don’t make it.
Mica may not have gotten the message on the need to make Florida more pedestrian- and bike-friendly, but the folks in Orlando have. After the region’s top ranking in the previous pedestrian fatality survey, issued in 2009, Orlando moved ahead in building miles of sidewalks, creating overpasses, improving lighting, setting up audible pedestrian signals and narrowing roads to calm traffic.
“We are trying to change the culture and this thinking that is car-centric,” Frank Consoli, Orlando’s traffic operations engineer, told the Times. “Any death is too many. We don’t want to see that. We don’t want Orlando also to get a reputation that we have problems here. We want to make it as safe as possible.”
But it will be hard to change that car-centric culture when one of the state’s most prominent congressmen is wedded to a transportation policy that favors cars and trucks over any other means of locomotion and who has family ties to the oil industry that fuels those cars and trucks.
And if Mica and like-minded Republicans succeed in pushing through his long-term federal transportation bill, the city planners aiming to make Orlando more accommodating to cyclists and pedestrians will be hard-pressed for cash to do it.



Filed under Americana, Environment, Politics

4 responses to “‘Running for dear life’

  1. Is there some real basis for Jim’s comment, slipped into that last paragraph, namely “and like minded Republicans” or is he slipping into partisan “projection” again?

    In my experience, legislation hostile to non-motorized traffic is equally likely to originate from either political party. I’m sorry, I don’t buy the theory that Republicans hate people that walk.

  2. Steve,
    Thanks for continuing to read my blog.
    As for your comment: The previous chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee was Democrat James Oberstar of Minnesota, an avid cyclist who championed cycling and other alternative means of transportation. He was defeated in the 2010 midterm elections by a tea-party Republican. His chairmanship of the Transportation Committee went to Mica, who had been the ranking Republican.
    The Obama administration’s transportation secretary, Ray LaHood, testified March 17, 2010, before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development. He had the audacity to assert that bicycling and walking are just as good ways to get around as cars. He was roundly ridiculed by Republicans on the subcommittee, with one, Rep. Steven LaTourette of Ohio, suggesting that LaHood must be on drugs. “What job is going to be created by having a bike lane?” LaTourette asked.
    On July 30, 2009, Republican Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and John McCain of Arizona, both re-elected in November, released a report called “Out of Gas,” which criticized all non-highway transportation spending. The report singled out bicycle and pedestrian projects as an unnecessary luxury and called on lawmakers to use the report along with their red pens. “Crossing out extraneous transportation spending should be our first priority,” the report said.
    LaHood was formerly a Republican congressman from Illinois, so I’ll concede your point that not all “Republicans hate people that walk.”
    But I’d be willing to lay a hefty bet that any transportation policy that includes public transport — commuter rail, street cars, high-speed intercity trains — and projects to encourage biycling and walking is far more likely to be crafted by Democrats than by Republicans, particularly at a time when many GOP members of Congress are swayed by the tea party.
    So I’ll stand by the last paragraph of my post.

  3. You’ll be happy to hear that I managed not to hurl any epithets at any pedestrians on my ride home from work today, which I managed to complete safely once again, despite a dearth of federal bike funding. BTW, Ron Paul rides a bike too. In my own experience, federal bike funding has mostly been money down the toilet – or even worse. Actually, come to think of it, one could say the same about an awful lot of federal highway funding as well. So I guess I’ll stick to the last sentence of my comment and add a note that the money has simply run out until we solve the cost of entitlements and come to grips with a debt that threatens to become overwhelming. Failure to understand THAT is why people like Oberstar, who I admire in many ways, particularly compared to trolls like Mica, are no longer around.

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