Bikes, politics, and Blumenauer as Transportation Secretary?

OR Bike Summit - Saturday opening-3.jpg
An animated Earl Blumenauer
speaking at the Oregon Bike
Summit a few months ago.
(All photos © J. Maus)

As the nation’s political winds shift from right to left, the future of the transportation issue in America begins to look very different.

Remember last summer, when U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters referred to “bike paths” as not being transportation infrastructure? After a stern rebuke by bike advocates, she eventually tried to apologize, but her comments were a window into how some folks on Capitol Hill still regard non-motorized transportation.

And then there was House Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), who, in a debate over the Energy Bill last August referred to bicycles as “a 19th century solution to a 21st century problem.” (Watch a YouTube clip of his speech here).

Going back a bit further to December of 2007, how can we forget House Rep. John Boehner, the Ohio republican who ridiculed the bicycle commuter tax benefit on the floor of the House?

A sign of the times.

Those were all shocking-but-true moments for many people. But, as we saw last weekend when bicycles officially entered the national political scene not just from the words of our potential future president, but by their simple presence (in massive numbers) at a major political event — the times, as they say, are a changin’.

As gas prices continue to skyrocket and people in cities all over the country turn to human power to get around, those anti-bike comments don’t just seem out of touch, they sound downright ridiculous.

Meanwhile, no one on Capitol Hill has worn their bike lapel pin more proudly than Congressman Earl Blumenauer.

As presidential hopeful Barack Obama uttered his now famous mention of bikes and streetcars during the rally over weekend, it didn’t occur to me that maybe, just maybe, an Obama White House would include Mr. Blumenauer as Transportation Secretary.

Blumenauer, practicing what he
preaches on the streets of D.C.

That is, until I read this story published yesterday by Oregonian political reporter Jeff Mapes.

Mapes wrote that political upstart Steve Novick (who just narrowly lost a Senate seat to Jeff Merkley) has had his eye on Blumenauer’s job for several years and that, back in 2004, he actually “launched a tongue-in-cheek campaign…urging that Blumenauer be named secretary of transportation.”

Blumenauer has been an early and strong supporter of Obama and Mapes says, “it might not be that huge of a stretch for him [Obama] to consider the bike-and-streetcar-loving congressman from Portland.”

Blumenauer in the nation’s top transportation job would signal far more than shifting political winds — it would be more like a tornado that leaves America’s ill-fated car culture in its wake.

Switch to Desktop View with Comments