WASHINGTON, D.C. (BRAIN)—New Department of Transportation guidelines that encourage investments that provide facilities for bicyclists and pedestrians have drawn heated response from Republican congressmen.
“They’re accusing the Secretary of Transportation of being on drugs because he wants to waste money on bicycling,” said Bikes Belong executive director Tim Blumenthal. “In some ways that is a good balance to the optimism and upbeat feeling from the Summit. Secretary LaHood’s announcement was unbelievable, but there are still people out there that don’t share our enthusiasm.”
Last week Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood announced a “sea change” in transportation policy on the Department of Transportation blog that puts bicycling on par with other modes of transportation. LaHood’s announcement came on the heels of his rousing speech to cap off the National Bike Summit earlier this month.
“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,” Secretary LaHood wrote on the DOT blog on March 15 (click on link).
Using language suggestive of advocates’ sought-after Complete Streets policy, he revealed a policy revision for state DOTs and communities that includes a recommendation to treat walking and bicycling as equals with other transportation modes.
At a meeting of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development two days later, conservative lawmakers ridiculed the suggestions, scoffing at the idea that walking and biking could replace driving.
Ohio congressman Steve LaTourette suggested LaHood was on drugs, dismissed the very idea of bike lanes and derided any change from a car-dependent society. He suggested that environmental sustainability projects have “stolen” $300 million from other programs and attacked LaHood's encouragement of bicycling, according to Courthouse News Service.
Iowa congressman Tom Latham said that one biker is one less person paying into the transportation trust fund and said real transportation needs are being "swept aside.”
Blumenthal said that pushback only underscores the magnitude of the policy change. “They recognized it as a change in core philosophy for the DOT,” Blumenthal said. “It was more than a statement; it represents a policy shift.”