Transportation Policy Takes a Right Turn

By Beacon Staff

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 by 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 or two. 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 transportation departments 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 non-motorized 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.

Swan Crest 100 Update: July 29 just passed by and maybe 100 people even noticed that the Swan Crest 100-mile Run was held. As I noted in an earlier column, the threat of legal action by a local green group, the Swan View Coalition, seemed like overkill and a distraction away from much higher environmental priorities.

Basically, the Coalition wanted the U.S. Forest Service to do a lengthy and expensive environmental review before granting a special use permit for the “commercial event.” In response, the race organizers withdrew their permit application and returned entry fees, so runners could participate in the event free or, if they felt so inclined, make a donation to cover some of the cost of putting on the event.

Since no money was officially being collected, it was officially not a “commercial event,” so no permit required, which was a nice “back at you” from the race organizers. And a big relief for the Forest Service, I’m sure, because they didn’t have time or money to do the review.

Anyway, here’s the big news. A massive crowd of 44 runners started the event, with only 20 actually finishing. More people probably hike on Alpine Trail No 7 every summer day. Can you say “no big deal?”