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DOT Secretary says bike paths are not transportation infrastructure

Posted by on August 16th, 2007 at 12:43 pm

[Updated 8/16, 12:55pm]

U.S. Transportation Sec.
Mary Peters on the NewsHour
with Jim Lehrer
(Photo: PBS)

In an interview on last night’s NewsHour with Jim Lehrer (on PBS), U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters said she doesn’t think “bike paths” are an appropriate use of our nation’s transportation infrastructure budget.

In the wake of the bridge collapse in Minneapolis earlier this month, Peters spoke with Gwen Ifill about concerns over our national infrastructure.

The conversation centered on how we currently spend our transportation budget and how we’re going to address what Ifill referred to as our “$188 billion infrastructure problem”.

When Ifill brought up Congressman Jim Oberstar’s suggestion of a nickel a gallon gas tax, here’s how Peters responded:

“Well, Gwen, the problem is, I think we have to examine where we’re spending money today. And if we think that we’re spending money today in the highest and best use, then perhaps we would need to make that discussion, but I don’t believe we are.”

Ifill then asked Peters where the money is going. Peters said, “it’s going to earmarks…it’s going to special programs.” Here’s the exchange that followed:

    GWEN IFILL: Aren’t many of those projects, even though they’re special interest projects, aren’t they roads and bridges, often?

    MARY PETERS: Gwen, some of them are, but many of them are not. There are museums that are being built with that money, bike paths, trails, repairing lighthouses. Those are some of the kind of things that that money is being spent on, as opposed to our infrastructure.

That statement seems to show that Peters does not think bike paths and trails are transportation infrastructure.

Later in the interview, bike paths came up again when the conversation turned toward confidence in government spending.

Peters said, “I think the reason the gas tax hasn’t been increased since 1993 is because there is a lack of investor confidence.”

That led to this exchange:

    GWEN IFILL: Who is spending the money inappropriately?

    MARY PETERS: Well, there’s about probably some 10 percent to 20 percent of the current spending that is going to projects that really are not transportation, directly transportation-related. Some of that money is being spent on things, as I said earlier, like bike paths or trails. Some is being spent on museums, on restoring lighthouses, as I indicated.

Read the full interview here.

Peters’ quotes have already made their way to at least one national email list bicycle and pedestrian planning professionals. I was forwarded an email from one such list where someone wrote:

“One wonders if this is not a direct attack on Minn. Congressman Jim Oberstar, whose district includes the fallen bridge. Oberstar is the biggest supporter of bicycling in congress.

…I am shocked (sort of) that Peters is attacking bicycle transportation as just a waste of money. It’s also disappointing that the administration is attacking Jim Oberstar for his efforts to get the Minneapolis bridge repaired along with raising all the funding for transportation maintenance, by using Oberstar’s support for bicycles as a weapon.”

Last month, I shared an article from the Portland Tribune that attributed similar statements to transportation policy activist Mel Zucker.

Fortunately Zucker’s comments are merely harmless opinion from someone with no real clout to influence major transportation decisions. But, when someone in Peters’ position echoes similar sentiments, I get concerned that bicycles are not being considered a viable part of our country’s transportation future.

Read, watch and listen to the full interview on the NewsHour website.

UPDATE: The League of American Bicyclists has just launched an Action Alert in response.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • toddistic August 16, 2007 at 12:56 pm

    old hag, old ideas, can you really trust anything this tired generation brings? no

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  • jeremy August 16, 2007 at 1:01 pm

    It\’s unfortunate she has that mindset, but I would think her mindset is more along the lines of the federal government which regulates mostly interstate infrastructure…and well, bike paths are not really part of the current interstate system…

    I wouldn\’t really expect much in the way of progressive thinking from any person in today\’s federal administration…its all status quo…her comments really shouldn\’t be surprising…

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  • Brad August 16, 2007 at 1:07 pm

    She will be unemployed on January 21, 2009.

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  • brettoo August 16, 2007 at 1:36 pm

    Yeah, remember that this drivel comes from a REPUBLICAN appointee, from a party and administration with a long history of conjugal relations with the oil biz and its associated subsidiaries — more cars on the road = more gas burned = more profits for the oil companies. Now, imagine a Democratic administration with Oberstar or Blumenauer or DeFazio in her job. Elections have consequences, although admittedly sometimes the consequences include getting the Supreme Court to change the results if the powers that be don\’t like \’em.
    As we all know, more options for bike travel means fewer cars on the road and therefore less money needed to build and repair highways. Not to mention all the other benefits of biking. But don\’t expect someone who owes her position to huge campaign contributions from Big Oil and the rest of the road lobby to admit that.
    I hope everyone outraged about such comments and the corruption they represent will remember their anger in Nov. 2008.
    While we\’re at it, Jonathan, how about listing the positions of all the candidates (Presidential as well as other federal, state and local officials that Portlanders can vote on) on bike issues?

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  • rixtir August 16, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    Jim Oberstar is 14 years older. It\’s not \”generational,\” it\’s paradigmatic. Oberstar sees cycling as an essential part of our transportaion infrstructure, Peters doesn\’t. And Brad is right, she\’s on her way out. Nothing she has to say about cycling is relevant in terms of federal policy at this point…

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  • Jack August 16, 2007 at 1:42 pm

    I actually prefer a newly paved bike lane to a path. It\’s probably just because the places I\’m heading all have roads to them.

    But the paths are great for introducing people to the bike. She simply doesn\’t \”get\” that part of planning.

    Just part of the old \”bikes are toys\” old hag group think.

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  • Elly August 16, 2007 at 1:48 pm

    It doesn\’t sound like she\’s against bikes, though she might be if she actually thought about it. It sounds like one of those semi-abstract examples that she probably think is safe to use, because nobody bikes.

    If we all wrote to her — and to our favored presidential candidates — to point out that bicycling is a major, growing form of transportation in this country, that the more bicycles we have on the roads the fewer cars and the less weight and congestion on our interstate system — that might make more people than just one outgoing transportation secretary think.

    Who\’s got the contact info?

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  • rixtir August 16, 2007 at 1:52 pm

    Who\’s got the contact info?


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  • rixtir August 16, 2007 at 1:55 pm

    The Response from the LAB:


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  • tonyt August 16, 2007 at 1:59 pm

    Does this surprise anyone?

    This is the administration that allows \”intelligent design\” oriented \”alternative natural history books\” to be sold at our National Park bookstores.


    When rationality and ideology clash, who do you think gets shown to the door?

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  • Peter W August 16, 2007 at 2:11 pm

    Good reason for Cascadia to split off from the rest of the states, so we get to decide how to spend our tax money instead of Bush\’s cronies telling us bikes aren\’t a form of transportation.

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  • P Finn August 16, 2007 at 2:19 pm

    I was watching this last night and was luckily able to identify it rather quickly as TOTAL BRAINWASH GARBAGE from someone who is TOTALLY BRAINWASHED when it comes to domestic transportation policy and how it relates to infrastructure. This was nothing more than the person paid to fight taxes and point the finger. That\’s just what she did. Worthless…

    I\’m not discouraging the backlash… I\’m just so tired of this crap…seriously…

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  • VR August 16, 2007 at 2:21 pm

    I wonder what the total federal $$$ spent on bike paths has been?

    I bet it would fit inside 1 CRC bridge estimate with room to spare.

    There needs to be a cost / benefit comparison. Bike paths are pretty cheap, and I bet that out of all the federal dollars spent – bike path money wouldn\’t even pay for complete bridge inspections…

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  • Andrew August 16, 2007 at 2:22 pm

    You have to admit, it\’s a good political strategy. Blame the poor state of our national infrastructure on bicycle and trail development and historic preservation. Imagine how the discussion would be different if a bridge collapsed in Texas…

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  • Jeff P August 16, 2007 at 2:38 pm

    I am a bit naive about many aspects of our government spending BUT:

    Red Electric Trail in SW Portland – studies and funding partially comes from MTIP/STIP and PP&R through the Federal Highway Administration – one of their special programs. It was explained to SW Portland residents as money granted but if not spent it was money lost.

    It\’s a nice thought and a fancy plan but is an urban trail truly infrastructure? Yes, people would use it to travel by foot and bike to get here to there – but REALLY?

    I think jeremy #2 is about right – the feds are more interested in INTERSTATE travel and that system. States and localities should deal with the rest.

    A better suggestion for the fed special program would be to make certain infrastructure improvements and expansion include bike lanes – for example, Beaverton Hillsdale Highway. Or better yet that ALL states allow bike travel on their highways [yes, Oregon is somewhat unique in this matter].

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  • Ken August 16, 2007 at 2:42 pm

    If she doesn\’t think bike paths and bike ways are not a part of the transportation infrastructure, I would love to see her stand on the left side of the Hawthorne bridge walkway any weekday morning. She shouldn\’t worry about getting knocked into traffic since bikes aren\’t part of the transportation picture apparently…yes sir…nothing but an empty lane there on weekday mornings.

    The simple fact is, bike infrastructure is like the Field of Dreams. If you build it they will come.

    I\’m new to the commuting scene but for the last 8 weeks I biked 30 miles round trip into Portland and back four days a week. That is almost 1000 miles in two months that I didn\’t spend travelling in a car, clogging up the road, and taking up parking spaces downtown. I never would have considered giving it a shot if we didn\’t have the bike lanes and bike paths that we have because I am not a hardcore cyclist (or at least wasn\’t when I started, now I am hooked). Once I realized I could safely make the trip I jumped in and it is now one of my favorite parts of my day.

    Her short sighted thinking and complete lack of having a vision of the future is sadly typical of many of those in power.

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  • rixtir August 16, 2007 at 2:55 pm

    You have to admit, it\’s a good political strategy. Blame the poor state of our national infrastructure on bicycle and trail development and historic preservation.

    Yep. Classic Republican election year blame game. If only they could find some gay illegal immigrant bicyclists to blame for the Minnesota bridge collapse, they\’d have all their bases covered.

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  • andy August 16, 2007 at 2:58 pm

    You\’ll notice she didn\’t say a word about the estimated $150 million the federal government shells out in the form of tax breaks for drivers. More cars + heavier cars = greater toll on infrastructure.

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  • Phil Hanson (a.k.a. Pedalphile) August 16, 2007 at 3:00 pm

    Either Mary Peters\’ thinking is incredibly shortsighted or she\’s thinking way ahead of the curve. In reality, future bicycle infrastructure is already built; all we have to do is maintain it until the oil runs out. In the meantime, a few strategically placed bike trails couldn’t hurt.

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  • Seth Alford August 16, 2007 at 3:25 pm

    If you\’ve read my previous posts, you\’ll know I\’m not in favor of bike trails. I\’d rather see bike lanes, as Jack #6 said. But, I would bet that in Mary Peters\’ mind there\’s no distinction between bike paths vs. bike lanes. She probably thinks both are a waste of money.

    Another thought: did any federal money go into the Greenway Trail, of which River Place is a part? If so, it makes yet another argument for getting the restaurants\’ chairs and tables off the path. After all, if federal highway dollars did pay for the path, we don\’t want the feds asking for their money back if the trail is not being used for transportation. And we don\’t want the feds denying funding for other projects on the basis that we let some of the tax dollars for paths become restaurant seating.

    I suspect that the urban condo owners and the restauranteurs in River Place are not big Bush supporters. So, a way to get them to stop usurping the trail is to point out to them that doing so supports a Bush administration position.

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  • Murray August 16, 2007 at 3:35 pm

    While I agree with all of the statements above regarding Sec. Peters, I would like to point out that Congress does misappropriate lots federal $$$ for pet projects. Reps and Senators have to bring home the pork in order to keep their jobs and please voters. The most recent mistake was the approval of the infamous Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska for residents of Gravina Island.

    However, the current administration is choosing to spend $180 million a day for a failed occupation that resulted from a misguided war. Meanwhile New Orleans reamins a mess and our nation\’s infrastructure falls into rivers. Go figure.

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  • D Rock August 16, 2007 at 4:06 pm

    Murray: Usually I try and stay out of these political discussions but maybe you should put down your USA Today and look at the facts. The \”Bridge to nowhere\” was not in fact for the residents of Gravina island but to service the city\’s airport. An airport which services over 350,000 passengers a year. All of which must take a ferry to get to and from the city of Ketchikan. Imagine currently taking a family of four to the airport. It would cost $37 for that family just to get dropped off at the airport by car. Can you think of any other city in the nation that would pay that much money just to get to the airport? This is no slight to you but you can\’t always believe everything you hear in the media.

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  • Murray August 16, 2007 at 4:39 pm

    D Rock,

    I don\’t read USA Today as you put in it in your tepid personal attack. I got my info here:

    http://www.taxpayer.net/TCS/wastebasket/budget/2007-08-09porkoverpriorities.htmlfrom here:

    I still feel the bridge was not a necessity as it was approved after Hurricane Katrina destroyed massive amounts of infrastructure in the New Orleans area, including a key bridge over Lake Pontchatrain. The price is steep to go the Ketchikan airport, however, if the Alaskan state gov\’t was incredibly anti-tax maybe the state could actually subsidize the cost of the ferry for residents.

    Feel free to pick this my post a part again. This is why I hate engaging in political discussions on the Internets.

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  • andy August 16, 2007 at 5:22 pm

    D Rock, how about all the residents spread out across the Great Plains and the Inter-mountain West who have to spend at least $37 in gas money just to get to an airport, not to mention the long-term parking costs once they\’re there? Most of those small towns have also had their bus and train service cut over the last few decades, so anybody who does want to leave is forced to drive. You don\’t see the residents of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation getting a $200-million subsidy to get to the airport in Rapid City.

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  • Murray August 16, 2007 at 6:40 pm

    Geez, I need to proof my posts before I hit submit. Sorry for all of the typos. Andy, very well said!

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  • toddistic August 16, 2007 at 6:57 pm

    TonyT @ 11

    this is about bikes, leave evolution / intelligent design out of it.

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  • VR August 16, 2007 at 8:01 pm

    When I was working in Lake Oswego, if I had a trail along the Willamette to LO I would have ridden my bike 5 days a week most of the year (from SE Portland)

    But as it is I have to climb huge hills on streets where there is no room for bikes and lots of blind curves, or I need to climb huge hills and go many miles out of my way.

    So I rode less than one day a week on average.

    My other trips took I5.

    So a bike trail for that corridor would have taken at least 1 car off of I5 during rush hour for most of the year.

    I am sure I am not the only one.

    But I agree with the \”field of dreams\” comment.

    Many people don\’t start biking until there are good facilities and routes. So you can\’t use the lack of biking to prevent building the routes. It is the same problem Transit faces…

    But we need to be finding ways to INCREASE alternative modes of transportation – not complaining that not enough people use them CURRENTLY. And on this blog, that form is Bicycling.

    And on the above side-track – what is wrong with taking a ferry to the airport?

    In Eastern New Mexico there are two cities, Clovis and Portales with a combined population of about 50,000. And the surrounding areas probably add another 10k making about 60,000 people. For those 60,000 people the closest regional airport is Lubbock, TX and the closest major airport is Albuquerque, NM. Gas to get to either of those places for those 60,000 people is often more than $37. Where is their federal bail-out? You can probably add in the population of Roswell with a population of 45,000 and is even farther from any airports.

    The bridge in Alaska is BS. Perhaps they could have used 25% of the money they got and cut the ferry costs a bit. Would have been money better spent.

    But today I rode my \”non-transportation\” bike to take my child to day camp. 7 miles of car use taken off of the roads. More paths and trails means more people make that change as well…

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  • marc August 16, 2007 at 10:00 pm

    d rock-

    looks like the fare for car to the airport is $6 – individual riders are $6 for adults and $2 for children 6-12 and 6 and under are free. my family of 4 would cost $12 – not exactly the hardship you make it out to be. oh and the ferry runs ever 30 minutes and there are steep discounts for monthly passes.


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  • Matthew August 16, 2007 at 10:35 pm

    Repairing lighthouses isn\’t transportation related? What exactly does she think that lighthouses do?

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  • D Rock August 16, 2007 at 11:09 pm

    I don\’t really see your point about regional airports. There is a difference between building infrastructure and building a new airport at every population base of more than 10,000 in the US. The closest major airport for people in E. New Mexico is in Albuquerque. The closest major airport for people in Ketchikan, AK is in Seattle, WA and it costs around $400 to get there. Should the Feds subsidize Alaskan\’s airfare to fly to Seattle?

    Just to clarify my math as well I was going on the assumption of someone driving a family of four to the airport (there is no parking on the airport side). $6 for the car each way, $5 for the driver (round trip) $5 for each parent and each kid although if they were young it would be less. A total of $37. And trust me if you have ever been to Ketchikan you don\’t want to stand outside with you luggage and kids and walk/ferry across when you have the opportunity to ride. (they had 200+ inches of rain last year)

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  • David Feldman August 17, 2007 at 7:26 am

    Remember, being a Republican appointee, this woman is an oil and auto industry prostitute. Like all opponents of alternative transportation she is actually an America-hating traitor who wants nothing more than to send unlimited numbers of US dollars to the oil producers of the Mideast. Remember, those who oppose alternative transportation are pro-terrorist.

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  • Dk August 17, 2007 at 7:39 am

    Who cares what she says or thinks…just like who cares what all of Bush\’s cronies have to say on anything. It\’s all just a bunch of bull s*#t.

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  • T August 17, 2007 at 9:28 am

    I just sent the good Secretary\’s office an email expressing my disappointment with Secretary Peters\’ comments and asking them to inform me when she or her office offers a public apology.
    I\’m not a believer in letter-writing politics, but in this instance, a few thousands emails would be a nice effort and show of support.

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  • Joe August 17, 2007 at 10:04 am

    Another Bush puppet.. I wonder how they remove the brain before work begins..

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  • andy August 17, 2007 at 10:04 am

    (Sorry everyone, I\’m running on this tangent. I\’ll end my comment at this.)

    D Rock, who said anything about building airports? You are advocating building an expensive and unnecessary piece of infrastructure so that one small community of people can get to the airport more easily. My point is that there are thousands of small communities all over the country who also, occasionally, need to get to their regional airports. Gravina island has got a ferry; many of the small towns across the west don\’t have anything: no bus service, train, stagecoach, whatever. (And some of those towns have much farther to go to get to a hospital.) Why should we spend $250 million on a bridge (PLUS whatever maintenance is required – maybe you\’ve noticed, bridges can fall down)? Just so the good people of Gravina island don\’t get wet while they\’re waiting for the ferry?

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  • Dan August 17, 2007 at 10:32 am

    \”think jeremy #2 is about right – the feds are more interested in INTERSTATE travel and that system. States and localities should deal with the rest.\”

    How about when I ride from Vancouver, WA to Portland OR on the horrifying I-5 bridge bike lane? Isn\’t that interstate travel? Isn\’t the horrifying bike path federal transportation infrastructure? What impact would a really good bike passage from Vancouver to Portland have on traffic, considering that traffic over the I-5 bridge is one of the most consistently congested traffic areas in the region?

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  • Anne August 17, 2007 at 11:09 am

    Dan (36) and Jeff P (15) I think you nailed it. I heard Sec. Peters speak last fall. The key point of her talk was that the Feds are going to be looking for more \”national significance\” when they allocate federal funds to transportation projects, regardless of mode. There\’s a sense on the part of legislators and administrators (and the public) that too much federal transportation money has gone to projects that are basically local in nature and benefit. That\’s not to say they aren\’t wonderful and beneficial projects, but that they really didn\’t deserve federal funds.

    So bike improvements on the Columbia River Bridge (I-5), which have a bi-state benefit and could take vehicles off the interstate might qualify for funding, while, say, federal support for installing more traffic calming features on SE 41st St Bike Boulevard might not.

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  • Anonymous August 18, 2007 at 11:11 am

    I suggest less preaching to each other and a tiny bit of time writing an action alert.


    Here is mine:

    Dear Secretary Peters,

    You are clearly ignorant of facts on how cities can reduce car traffic by using 1% of their budgets for bike lanes and other bike transit projects. You are full of blind car love when you talk about budget earmarks for transportation.

    Please admit your mistake and open your closed mind.

    Here in Portland Oregon we have the highest percentage of commuters using bikes when you rule out other top cycling towns with colleges. ( Davis CA, for example)

    An open mind to data and information is a wonderful thing in our leaders and in our students. I welcome you to dialog with me an others regarding your comments below, in case you forgot what you said:

    \”there’s about probably some 10 percent to 20 percent of the current spending that is going to projects that really are not transportation, directly transportation-related. Some of that money is being spent on things, as I said earlier, like bike paths or trails\”
    US Secretary Mary E Peters, Secretary of Transportation

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  • […] other responses, check BikePortland and Commute by Bike […]

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  • Biker August 19, 2007 at 9:03 am

    I felt that the focus of the interview was Secretary Peters looking for a scapegoat for the bridge that fell.

    \”If only I had some more money, that bridge wouldn\’t have fallen because I wouldn\’t have ignored the many warning signs.\”

    I\’m surprised she didn\’t also blame roller-bladers and horse riders! Anything to save her from criticism.

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  • Dale Adamson August 19, 2007 at 6:56 pm

    I think PETERS a nutcake and she needs to get out of the dept.of Transportion. She needs to get her head out of butt and listen bicyling public.We want the bicyle trails and bicyle lanes Imeaditly. I think you need to stop spending our tax money on stuff isn`t for transportion projects.

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  • […] with a whopping 26% in the Netherlands.  This really isnt that suprising considering we have a Secretary of Transportation who has said that projects like bike paths and trails, “are not really […]

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  • Eric December 31, 2008 at 11:16 am

    Just a correction to the article above. Representative Oberstar’s district does not include Minneapolis (where the bridge fell). Rep. Oberstar’s district is northeastern Minnesota, including Duluth, the Iron Range, but stopping just short of the Twin Cities suburbs (my old pedal-stomping grounds). I think Keith Ellison is the Rep. for Minneapolis…but he’s no friend of the Bush administration either.

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  • Two trips to the Daily Show December 28, 2009 at 7:39 am

    […] talk about former idiot Secretary Mary Peters’ statement that bicycles and foot paths are not forms of transportation, nor did they really say anything interesting. Far better was a sequence with Jon Hodgman (yes we […]

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  • […] not surprising LaHood’s statements — especially on the heels of a DOT Secretary that didn’t even think bikeways should be considered transportation infrastructure — would ruffle some feathers. Here’s a snip from the AP […]

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