[Updated 8/16, 12:55pm]
Mary Peters on the NewsHour
with Jim Lehrer
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.
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.