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Bikes, Obama, and the State of the Union

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

I believe it’s time for a
new transportation vision.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Tonight, President Obama will give the annual State of the Union address. While there’s zero chance he’ll mention bicycling, there is a chance he’ll mention transportation investments (likely in the context of creating jobs).

If you were writing the speech, what would you have him to say about biking and transportation?

Go ahead, suspend your grip on reality and imagine that transportation is a non-partisan issue and that bicycling isn’t a polarizing political football and favorite public scapegoat.

It’s not like transportation isn’t a hot issue. Just today Politico reported that House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chair Rep. John Mica is set to release text of a new bill this Friday with work on the bill to start February 2nd.

President Obama doesn’t even have to mention saving the planet, improving public health, or the myriad other benefits of driving less and biking more. He can tie everything back to the hottest topic of the day: The economy.

Many states, including Oregon, have simply run out of the money needed to maintain the old, highway and auto-centric mindset. The math just doesn’t add up. The amount of car use we currently have simply puts too much financial stress on our transportation system (maintenance, congestion, injury and loss of life), our health system (diabetes, obesity), and our eco-system (greenhouse gas emissions).

Obama could even take the Main Street angle, and mention less auto-centric transportation investments as a way to appeal to protect the pocketbooks of middle class America. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the average American household spends 15.6 cents out of every dollar on transportation costs — that’s second only to housing and over twice as much as people spend on healthcare:

Chart taken from Alliance for Biking & Walking 2012 Benchmarking Report.
(Source: BLS 2009)

Take another look at the myriad charts and statistics (which come straight from the federal government) in that 2012 Benchmark Report I shared yesterday and one thing becomes crystal clear: What we’re currently doing isn’t working.

The Oregonian reported today that Obama’s speech will “make a case for fairness.” Ever since cars did a hostile takeover of American roads in the early 20th century, everything else hasn’t had a fair shake. A more balanced — and fair — transportation system, if framed correctly to the American people, could be a key part of Obama’s 2012 campaign.

My congressman, Earl Blumenauer (arguably the smartest guy on the Hill when it comes to bicycling), said via email today that he hopes Obama shares “a new national vision… to meet the infrastructure challenges of this century.”

If his speech were up to me, I’d make sure to start laying out that vision tonight; a vision of balance and fairness in our transportation policies so they offer true mobility for the middle class.

I know Obama has it in him. Back in May of 2008 the then Senator Obama yelled to 75,000 Portlanders:

“It’s time that the entire country learned from what’s happening right here in Portland with mass transit and bicycle lanes and funding alternative means of transportation.”

It is time! If not now, when?

If it were up to you, what would have Obama say tonight?