Columnist George Will criticizes the new Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood in Newsweek today, calling the former Republican representative from Peoria the Secretary of Behavior Modification. Will, a well-known conservative, complains that Obama’s one Republican appointee seems to be getting all dewey-eyed about bicycles and public transportation.
It’s good to see the big time journalists devoting some attention to transportation policy, something they used to ignore. But what I fear Will has spotted here is a train wreck for the roadbuilding industry this fall when the federal highway bill comes due for its six-year reauthorization. If LaHood continues to dream in green the $30 billion that transportation infrastructure got via the stimulus bill this spring could very well be the last little bit of gravy this segment of this industry ever gets. This is just my prediction but odds are pretty good that the next transportation plan will be no bigger than the last (SAFETA-LU) and dedicate as much as 10 percent of our gas taxes to bicycle lanes, high speed rail and other pie-in-the-sky schemes.
Will’s column cites LaHood’s favorable impression of Portland, Oregon’s bicycle friendly environment. I wonder if LaHood has tried commuting on a bicycle in January in Peoria ? How about Chicago, Cleveland, Minneapolis, Buffalo, Detroit, Sioux Falls….? How about Atlanta in August?
There are plenty of things we could change to improve our national transportation system and lower its environmental impact, but bicycles and high-speed/intercity rail should be at the bottom of the priority list, not the top.