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Next up, transportation reform?

Posted by on March 22nd, 2010 at 9:50 am

Obama during a visit to Portland in 2008.
(Photo: Ethan Jewett/Stickeen)

Congress passed an historic piece of health care legislation last night. Will the vote lead to a strengthened Obama Administration that’s able to take on other big issues? Will the passage of health care melt some of the glacial gridlock in Washington?

Having just been in the capitol a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help but wonder how this political milestone might impact another important issue — the overhaul of our nation’s transportation system. Like our health care system, our current transportation infrastructure leaves millions without coverage and many Americans are denied access to safe mobility options because of existing conditions.

We need to reform how the federal government allocates money for transportation projects and we need the Obama Administration to match their rhetoric with real, concrete legislation that makes it easier to build bike-friendly communities.

Grant programs are a start, but major changes to the core of federal transportation policy are what’s needed.

America has been unable to break the status quo of auto-centric spending and priorities since the dawn of the automobile age. Will Obama use his Democratic majority and this big win on health care to reform transportation and herald a new age where all Americans — no matter what type of vehicle they operate — have safe and equal access to our roads?

His Transportation Secretary sure seems up for the challenge.

[Remember those halcyon days back in May 2008 Obama proclaimed during a campaign stop in Portland that our "bicycle lanes" are the "kind of solution that we need for America!"?]

Many people understand that the current transportation system — both in how we fund it and how we build it — doesn’t work. But as we saw with the extreme partisanship shown thus far on bike-related legislation, and as we witnessed in the divisive debate on health care, it takes more more than knowing a problem exists for change to happen in Washington.

What do you think? Are the chances for transportation reform better today that they were before the health care vote?

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Comments
  • Aaron March 22, 2010 at 9:56 am

    Let’s all continue to write letters to Obama and Ray LaHood to bring the point home that safer streets and better bicycle access mean healthier (i.e. less dependant on health care) communities

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  • cyclist March 22, 2010 at 10:14 am

    I don’t see how the passage of health care reform has anything to do with the way the federal government funds transportation. So I guess the answer to your question is no, this doesn’t change anything.

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  • Nick V March 22, 2010 at 10:57 am

    Things got pretty ugly in DC last week and in Congress last night and I’m positive that many people, whether they’re right or wrong, are hopping mad over the health care bill among other things. Congress will always be a posturing, lying, finger-pointing game of “us” against “them” unless there is a drastic restructuring of our government, which I would whole-heartedly support.

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  • Jackattak March 22, 2010 at 11:20 am

    They can be as mad as they want about the passing of the health care bill, but that emotion to the passing would only show how deep the health care industry lobbyists were in their pockets.

    I think that last night’s victory is a good indication that this administration is very progressively minded and with that mindset, coupled with Secretary LaHood’s posturing of alternative transportation progression, we should be in good shape to get a lot of alternative transportation method legislation passed.

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  • Michael M. March 22, 2010 at 11:25 am

    No I don’t think it will, not one that can be sustained, anyway. The problem with reshaping transportation policy is that transportation policy itself is set in D.C., and D.C. administrations come and go and can have only a marginal impact on the overall trend. For all LaHood’s (and Obama’s) rhetoric, the bulk of Federal transportation spending is still in supporting and enhancing the nation’s highway and freeway system. D.C. priorities tie the hands of localities that want to explore alternatives — we would be so much farther ahead in this region if we weren’t so dependent on Federal money for transportation projects.

    I don’t see this changing until either, as Nick V says above, there’s a drastic restructing of our government, or until there’s a drastic restructuring of our transportation needs (i.e., marked increases in telecommuting, denser living environments, technological breakthroughs, sustained fossil fuel price shocks, etc.).

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  • spare_wheel March 22, 2010 at 11:35 am

    “that this administration is very progressively minded”

    Could we dispense with the DLC talking points, please. Progressives are, at best, reluctant supporters of this disgusting “gift” to insurers/big pharma.

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  • lothar March 22, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    I have a feeling that transportation is going to take the stokers seat behind Immigration Reform or Banking Reform allowing something big doesn’t happen in the near future.

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  • Brad March 22, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    Immigration and banking reforms are far bigger and more important battles to fight right now. I see transportation being a second term agenda item. I also see it focused more heavily on mass transit and high speed rail than on bike issues.

    Think the healthcare fight was nasty? Try to pry Americans away from their shiny motor vehicles – that will raise hackles in a truly bipartisan manner.

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  • Erik Sandblom March 22, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    Well there’s an obvious connection between health and transportation. Adults who ride a bike to work have a 39% lower death rate, according to a Danish study of 30 000 adults.
    Mortality associated with physical activity in leisure time, at work, in sports, and cycling to work

    Is there a similar study for North American conditions?

    Brad, cycling has a lot of potential in the USA. Half the population lives within 5 miles of work.
    http://1world2wheels.org/get-involved

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  • Anonymous March 22, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    Oregon will not have any funds available for transportation because the health care bill is going to download the cost to the states. No federal tax increases but a one h3ll of a lot on the state front.

    So all the federal money will just make up for the robbing peter took to pay paul.

    This is why the states are filing suits against the new bill. They have to balance their budgets and another federal bill is going to interfere with that.

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  • Brad March 22, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    I don’t disagree, Erik. I just feel that “BIG $$$” ideas around alternative transportation will get the lion’s share of attention and funding. Bikes will get some real play but not necessarily the utopian vision that many activists are hoping for.

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  • stevenbevenbobeven March 22, 2010 at 11:30 pm

    Cyclists should be shouting about the savings that bicycles provide for transportation, not shouting for more money for bike projects that the government does not have. If you ride like grandma and stop at all the signs/lights, wear hiviz orange/yellow, use lots of reflectors/lights and are very careful you will be fairly safe most of the time.

    Most people use cars and will until the price of gas forces them to do something else. The US government (and all 50 states) are essentially bankrupt. Eventually the financial system is going to fail catastrophically and THAT will force people to walk/bike/etc.

    That’s not a pretty picture but I didn’t paint it. Don’t believe me, make up your own minds. Peter Schiff predicted it all in his book “Crash Proof”, and so far the start of the collapse has happened according to his predictions. Here is a brief overview of his predictions for the nation found on his company webite:
    http://www.europac.net/outlook.asp

    Obama’s health care bill will not stand. It will be repealed soon after he leaves office and parts will likely be declared unconstitutional prior to that. Doesn’t matter anyway – there is no money to pay for ANY of it – it was a waste of time and a scharade to get the people to not pay attention to what is REALLY going on.

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  • Sam Goater March 24, 2010 at 7:23 am

    Because the government has not been paying for healthcare, there was no incentive for them to create clean, safe environments where active transportation is an option. The government will save a bundle now medicaid/care are expanded if we can get seniors and kids back on bikes. (As well as stop funding terrorists, heating up the planet, fighting obesity, helping people save on transportation costs to boost local economies etc)

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  • jim March 28, 2010 at 12:47 am

    Obama is not going to do anything to try and stop the price of gas from scyrocketing. He will probably do a lot of transportation funding with money we don’t have. We are already borrowing 1 out of 3 dollars we are spending (Bad Obamanomics).
    He will probably try and give money to all of the groups that suported him regardless of where we have to borrow it from, even if it’s China. There will be a sorry price to pay for all of this crazyness.

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