Thursday, March 25, 2010

Debate on LaHood's Decleration that Bikes and Peds be Treated as Eqauls in the Transportation Hierarchy

This debate, which includes transport experts from around the nation, highlights both the challenges to increasing bicycling and walking in the US as well as some of the most popular--if sometimes ineffective--arguments used by advocates and opponents of walking and bicycling.

I've noticed a few broad themes:

1) Those less than pleased with LaHood's announcement argue that bicycles should pay for their road use. You will see pro-bike people arguing that the low-impact of bicycles combined with their public health savings more than outweigh the need to tax bicycles.   According to the Alliance for Biking and Walking's latest benchmarking report, only 1.2% of federal funds are dedicated to bike/ped infrastructure.

On a related note, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and other congresspeople--including Steve Cohen (D-TN), my representative in Memphis!--have introduced a new bill that would allow a pool of federal transportation money to be dedicated to funding projects that improve the ability of people to walk or bike.  See the bill, which has been sent to committee, here

2) Pro-bicycle people point out that half of all trips in the U.S. are within a 20 minute bike ride. That is, these trips are less than 2 miles.  Those arguing against strong federal bicycle policy wield this same argument to contend that all bicycle policy should be local; that the federal government should fund highway projects while allowing states, counties and cities to focus on the development of urban bikeways.

3) In the U.S., as Andy Clarke points out, only 15% of transport trips are to and from work. Thus, for bike advocates, broadening the focus of encouragement to include efforts to increase bike use on those trips of less than two miles appears promising.

4) The health argument will become the most important argument in favor of increasing funding for bicycling and walking.  Almost every bike advocate in the debate mentions the health argument, and it's an argument that reaches across the aisle. It's fiscally conservative and as American as Apple Pie.

5) Finally, traffic congestion is growing worse, a fact acknowledged by both bike advocates and highway transport advocates alike. But as Andy Clarke points out, congestion will only increase as more people move into cities. Increased biking and walking has been proven to mitigate congestion.

What do you think about LaHood's new policy of making bikes and pedestrians equal to cars in the transport hierarchy?


  1. Check your first link man, got a little extra in the address.

    Anyways, yeah, I think it's great! I mean, as a cyclist, how could one NOT like it?

    It seems like the main opposition (at least on that debate you posted) seems to be mostly concerned with funding and making sure that highways aren't losing highway funding to bikes as you pointed out.

    I dunno how I feel about an excise tax on bikes/tires. On the one hand, it's not all that much of a hike, and it just means more money for bike infrastructure, PLUS it makes the truckers etc happier. On the other, why should we really need to? A dedicated cyclist, one that rarely uses a car, is causing way less damage to the roads. And it's not like these people can choose not to pay for car facilities. As it is, their taxes are going to something they have no vested interest in. Why shouldn't it go the other way around? Would it be so bad for someone who drives a car to pay a little bit for bike infrastructure as well? After all, it's a public amenity, whether they chose to use it or not.

    Also, taking their argument a step further, do they think pedestrians should have to pay an excise tax to use sidewalks? No way! It's just a public good! The problem is, they aren't seeing bike facilities as a public good, but more as one for a special interests group.

  2. This sounds great! We need leadership in Federal Govt along with local to really make headway. At a recent meeting with a city engineer, I got a small insight to the bureaucratic minefield when displacing car lanes (even those under-utilized) for bike lanes. DOT is a great step and we also need leadership in EPA and other agencies I'm sure.

  3. Brad and NQAL: Thanks for your comments!

    NQAL: I think you have a couple great points.

    Sidewalks, as you say, are taken for granted as a public good. When they were first created, they we're the public board room. Fun was had, grievances vented, games played and relationships developed. But in the U.S., as public space has become increasingly privatized, the sidewalk's importance has declined in the American mentality.

    But in reality, the number, use, and condition of sidewalks can be seen as a barometer for social integration and democracy. This article details many of these ideas.

    Finally, there will be a day when bicycle lanes are automatically created in our country. And on this day, when we take bike paths for granted, we will know we have made a real difference in America.

  4. And the first link is repaired. Sorry about that!