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Obama at press conference: LaHood has “created opportunities for bikers”

Posted by on December 19th, 2008 at 1:42 pm

“He has not only helped rebuild our landscape, he’s helped beautify it by creating opportunities for bikers and runners to enjoy our great outdoors.”
— Obama on LaHood

Congressional Quarterly has the full transcript from today’s press conference where President-elect Obama introduced his choice for Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood. Below are some key excerpts interspersed with my thoughts…

This is Obama giving some background (emphasis mine):

“…Our economy boomed in the 20th century when President Eisenhower remade the American landscape by building the interstate highway system.

Now we need to remake our transportation system for the 21st century. Doing so will not only help meet our energy challenges by building more efficient cars, buses and subways, or making Americans safer by rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, it will create millions of new jobs in the process.”

And about LaHood’s transportation background:

“Throughout his career, Ray has fought to improve mass transit and invest in our highways.

But he has not only helped rebuild our landscape, he’s helped beautify it by creating opportunities for bikers and runners to enjoy our great outdoors.”

This bit is perhaps an attempt to mollify critics who are scratching their heads over LaHood:

“Ray’s appointment reflects that bipartisan spirit, a spirit we need to reclaim in this country to make progress for the American people, and a spirit that Ray has embodied in all of his years in public service.”

I think Obama realizes he disappointed some people with this choice. But I also think Obama understands (and has experienced) the tremendous amount of power he’ll have to make big changes if (and only if) he can unite the entire political and social spectrum of our country

And now, Mr. LaHood:

“President-elect Obama and I share the same philosophy on infrastructure.”

Does that mean he agrees with Obama’s statements in Portland back in May? I hope so.

Back to LaHood:

“As a nation, we need to continue to be the world leader in infrastructure development, Amtrak, mass transit, light rail, air travel, and our roads and bridges all play a vital role in our economy and our well-being as a nation.”

That sounds good. Nice to hear he thinks of Amtrak, mass transit, and light rail first…and doesn’t mention “highways” (a dirty word to sustainable transportation advocates) or, God forbid, “freedom machines“.

“We cannot stand by our infrastructure ages and crumbles. We must pursue solid policies that allow our states and communities to address their transportation needs…

I’ve served on the House Transportation and infrastructure committee as we reauthorize the Federal Highway Bill [some are dismayed he calls it the “Highway” bill.] I understand first hand what good infrastructure and transportation means to communities, and understand it is the local folks who know best their transportation needs. We’ll bring that same approach to the Department of Transportation.”

That “local folks” remark is sure to win applause from many in the transportation field who want federal dollars put into the hands of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (like Metro in our region for instance), and not doled out by state Departments of Transportation (who tend to be more old-school and highway-centric) like it is now.

“I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and move forward.”

Sounds good Mr. LaHood. So are we. See you in March.

— Read the full transcript here.

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

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    John Russell December 19, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    Certainly a step up from what we’ve got now. Unfortunately, I think the mention of cyclists isn’t the one we should be striving for. I do enjoy the outdoors on my bicycle, but that’s not the only thing I use it for. A mention of non-motorized transportation would be nice, not just non-motorized recreation.

    Then again, at least we can recreate on our bicycles as we use them for transportation. Not so much in “freedom machines.”

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    Jonathan Maus (Editor) December 19, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    “A mention of non-motorized transportation would be nice, not just non-motorized recreation.”

    I agree John. That’s perhaps the single most important task of advocates right now — to make sure Obama and his team realize that bikes are a TRANSPORTATION solution, not just a way to blow off steam and get some exercise on the weekends.

    Unfortunately, the big solutions everyone is talking about now are trains, hybrid cars, and loans to failing automakers who got us into this mess to begin with.

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    Mike December 19, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    Playing D.A. here, but when you say “failing automakers who got us into this mess to begin with.” Which mess are you speaking of?

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    Jonathan Maus (Editor) December 19, 2008 at 3:12 pm

    “Which mess are you speaking of?”

    — the destruction that our overuse of cars has wrought on our country.

    — the extinction of mass transit in our cities.

    — our oil addiction

    — our national 1% bike mode share because people are too afraid of cars killing them while they ride

    — 35,000 deaths each year

    and lots of other messy things… including having to organize activists and advocates all over the country so that Obama doesn’t give highway builders billions more to keep doing the same things we’ve always done.

    it’s time to get back to our 19th century roots and have bikes be the preferred mode of transport in our cities.

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    Mike December 19, 2008 at 3:39 pm

    Ok. By automakers, I thought you were implying the Big 3, not Americans. Just making sure that we are putting the blame where it is due…

    You could also add our current economic status and a significant decrease in national security.

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    Mike F. December 19, 2008 at 4:37 pm

    I was disappointed by the choice and the first thing I noticed was exactly John Russel’s point: pigeon-holing bikes as recreation machines rather than transportation options. If they’re not even paying lip service to bicycles as part of the overall transportation infrastructure improvements to occur during this presidency, how much can we really expect Obama and his team to do? I don’t expect much. I might just start wearing elbow and knee pads when I ride 😉

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    Another Doug December 19, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    Rebuilding/repairing crumbling infrastructure (read roads) as LaHood, and Earl for that matter, have urged is probably needed. Unfortunately, the road planners inevitably use the bulk of any available money to build more and wider roads. If the politicians are serious about global warming, they will restrict all of this infrastructure investment that they want to make to repairs and maintenance only.

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    bahueh December 19, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    the “extinction of mass transit”…I know a few 10 million people on the east coast that just might disagree with you there….
    I was just in Boston and NYC and noticed no shortage of SUBWAY riders in either of those cities…they were quite crowded actually..

    stop being dramatic, Maus.

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    Mike F. December 19, 2008 at 5:47 pm

    bahueh: there are many reasons to make claims like the “extinction of mass transit.” I’ll give you one example then I would challenge you to educate yourself rather than placing the burden on this forum. San Francisco used to have an even more popular, widespread streetcar system than it’s current incarnation that has been rebuilt with many taxpayer dollars. Where did it go? General Motors, with questionable legality as pertaining to anti-trust laws, bought up all the transit lines and ripped it out so more people would have to buy cars.

    And if what’s bothering you is Jon’s use of “extinction,” it would seem you are waging an ongoing battle against hyperbole in curious places.

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    dan Kearl December 19, 2008 at 8:27 pm

    It doesn’t really matter what Obama does now. He has already failed according to most of the bikeportland forum crowd. We are just waiting for Nader in 2012.

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    Lisa G. December 19, 2008 at 11:38 pm

    Politicians will say what they think people want to hear. It’s what they actually do that counts. It’s time to start writing letters to Congress to make sure they know what we need.

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    Duane December 20, 2008 at 12:26 am

    this site may have already been posted here but it certainly can’t hurt to repeat it.

    go there and pose a question or concern to the next president.

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    JR December 20, 2008 at 6:39 am

    One other thing I thought was clearly missed was the connection between transportation and land use. By failing to recognize this important connection, the new secretary will undoubtably misunderstand the problem. If developers in this country continue to bulldoze farmland for 1/2 acre lots filled with dead-end roads, no sidewalks or trails, and connected to the rest of community by only highways, how can we expect people to have opportunities for biking, walking or using public transport to get around??? If the only shopping available is a Walmart 10 miles down the street, how do you think they’re gonna get there? Since this type of design causes people to drive everywhere, the highways are choked with single-occupant vehicles and pavement deteriorates (cause the gas tax hasn’t been raised in almost 20 years) while people struggle to meet their home mortgage, auto insurance, car payments, gas costs, etc, and all the while greatly polluting the earth and causing future generations to be able to enjoy less and less of it. I’m afraid the new secretary, nor Obama, gets it if they don’t understand how this works..

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    Coyote December 20, 2008 at 9:19 am

    “Beautify” our roads with bikes and runners. I always knew I was just eye candy.

    From his words, I am afraid that much of the conversation we have been having in the self-propelled transit and livable streets community has gone over Mr. Obama’s head. Catalysts like Jonathon, Clarence Edwards, and a host of others, have primed a change that happen very quickly. What we need now is a leader to say it to rest of the country. “Look Americans, it is stupid to drive two miles to the store. It is wasteful and it destroys our communities, et. al. It is time to wake up and move away from private automobiles….”

    Perhaps I am too pessimistic. I am anxious to see action. Perhaps it just the season, and I want to open my present.

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    velo December 20, 2008 at 10:40 am

    #14 – Coyote
    Being a bike commuter allows me to be eye candy without having to go to the gym five times a week. I am practical eye candy!

    As a politico I am pretty cynical about politicians abilities to make real improvements in people’s lives. Initially I was angry about this appointment, I’m trying to suspend judgement until we start to see what happens. Obama isn’t even in office yet, so we have a ways to go before we find out what will happen.

    Lets organize, lobby hard and make sure that bike transit is a priority. We can make this happen. At least LaHood is a professional who has a long term commitment to public service in some form.

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    Andrew H December 20, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    Thanks, Duane, for mention the Obama web site.

    I just left the following comment at

    In his introduction of Transportation Secretary nominee LaHood, President-elect Obama spoke of “creating opportunities for bikers and runners to enjoy our great outdoors.”

    This comment portrays bicycling and walking and merely recreational diversions, rather than essential components to economic, transportation and health solutions.

    In urban areas, walking and bicycling are far more efficient and beneficial than motor vehicles.

    Although there will always be a place for cars and trucks, we will be hobbled by unnecessarily high transportation infrastructure expenses, air quality and lifestyle health deficiencies, and barriers to community cohesiveness.

    People who walk and bicycle are healthier. We wave and talk to each other. We enjoy the trip. And all of these benefits come along with a lighter burden on our neighborhoods and our global environment.

    It’s time for the national leadership to recognize that bicycles are not mere toys and that walking and biking are essential transportation options, not merely leisure activities.

    Run the economic analysis numbers… including health impacts, infrastructure maintenance and other costs… and you will see the strong cost-benefit returns of investments in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

    Then act on the facts.

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    Gil Johnson December 20, 2008 at 5:25 pm

    Earl said he didn’t want the job. I wonder if he is rethinking that stance now.

    I concur that Obama’s statement marginalizes bicycling to the recreational fringe, when building bike infrastructure provides the best return on public investment of any kind of transpsortation option. I suppose bicycling isn’t so much of a viable commute option in Illinois, where this week’s Portland weather happens for several months.

    Vast stretches of the U.S., however, have better weather for biking than we do and just as much urban density, if not more. We better demand some clarification from Lahood and Obama about their perceptions of biking.

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    Paul Tay December 21, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    Santa to ‘Bama: 86 GM!

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