Sec. LaHood Promises an End to Car Favoritism

Back in February I wrote a post asking why we weren’t doing more to protect bike commuters. As it turns out, some in the Obama administration must have been asking the same question.

Earlier this month, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood wrote in a blog post:

“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.”

This is fantastic news, of course. But does he really mean it? I mean, announcing “a sea change” is pretty bold, and seems almost too good to be true — especially when that bold new policy initiative is announced in a post on “Fast Lane – The official blog of the U.S. Secretary of Transportation.” Can it really be?

LaHood’s announcement followed a “tabletop speech” he gave at the National Bike Summit in which he told the assembled crowd of cycling advocates that he’d met many people across the country who want to live in more cyclist- and pedestrian-friendly cities: “People want to get out of their cars, out of congestion. They want to live in livable neighborhoods and livable communities.”

He also told the crowd about how he and his wife love to bike Washington, D.C.’s C & O Canal on nice weekends. (You can watch the speech for yourself on Streetsblog SF).

This came just a few days after LaHood released his “Policy Statement on Bicycle and Pedestrian Accommodation Regulations and Recommendations,” which the League of American Bicyclists calls “simply the strongest statement of support for prioritizing bicycling and walking ever to come from a sitting secretary of transportation.”

So, okay, I’m convinced that LaHood means it. But can he follow through?

Turns out he can — at least to a certain point. The Recovery Act signed into law by President Obama on February 17th allocated $1.5 billion for the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery Discretionary Grant Program, better known as the TIGER Program. The aim of this program, in the words of the Dept. of Transportation, is “to spur a national competition for innovative, multi-modal and multi-jurisdictional transportation projects that promise significant economic and environmental benefits to an entire metropolitan area, a region or the nation.”

I think that means it supports regional mass transit and projects making the streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians.

Scanning the list of projects that have received funds from the TIGER Program, there are plenty of investments in train, streetcar, and bus infrastructure, which is all well and good, as public transit is just as vital to livable cities as pedestrian and cyclist safety measures. Happily, there are also two prominent bike and pedestrian projects: the Philadelphia Area Pedestrian & Bicycle Network and the Indianapolis Bicycle & Pedestrian Network, which together received over $40 million in funds.

The $43.5 million given to these two projects represents a significant investment in cyclist and pedestrian safety in two major metropolitan areas, which is a whole hell of a lot better than nothing. But it is less than one percent of the total $1.5 billion TIGER Program allocation. That’s not really going to end the favoritism shown to motorized transport, per se. At least not by itself.

So let’s hope this was a down payment, and not the final installment.

Image credit: MoBikeFed

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