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Biden, Blumenauer, and bikes

Posted by on November 9th, 2020 at 11:49 am

President-elect Joe Biden.
(Photo: Biden Harris Transition)

Even without official acknowledgement by the Trump Administration, President-elect Joe Biden is already moving towards the White House. Fresh off declarations of his win finally coming on Friday, he and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have begun their transition process in earnest.

In our little corner of the internet, the buzz is about who Biden will pick to lead the U.S. Department of Transportation and what transportation policy might look like in the next four years.

The buzz is especially intense in Portland because one of the names being floated as possible DOT pick is Congressman Earl Blumenauer, the former Portland city commissioner who’s represented the best cycling city in America for the past 24 years. On Saturday, Politico included Blumenauer as the most likely pick after Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who most people see as the frontrunner.

Congressman Earl Blumenauer at Velo Cult Bike Shop in 2013.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Blumenauer would be a very safe pick politically as there’s zero chance his House district would flip to a Republican. Blumenauer also has less negatives and baggage than some of the other names at the top of the list (like former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel) — not to mention he’s only person in the running with a bridge named after them. Working against Blumenauer is the fact that Biden needs a cabinet that isn’t full of white men.

This isn’t the first time Blumenauer’s name has come up in this context. It was also floated in 2008 as former President Barack Obama assembled his team. When that idea first surfaced I wrote that, “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.”

A big unanswered question for Biden and the party he now leads is how much of a tornado do they want to unleash. There’s a big debate in Democrat circles about just how far to the left they should go. Blumenauer — famous for having a bike pin on his lapel and who recently did a campaign event with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — might be seen as too progressive.

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Screengrab from Biden-Harris Transition website.

Car culture and the dominance of driving is so strong in American politics that centrist Democrats cannot be counted on to push the necessary reforms needed to get us past it. As the excellent War on Cars podcast highlighted last year, “even the most liberal people in the most progressive cities are so often unable to see the problems wrought by automobiles, much less support alternative forms of transportation.”

Team Biden is already an example of this. While some transportation reformers gleefully shared a section from their transition website that promises, “High-quality, zero-emissions public transportation options… ranging from light rail networks to improving existing transit and bus lines to installing infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists,” they didn’t share the section above it which called for the creation of 1 million new jobs in the auto industry. And let us not forget that former VP Biden was in the room when Obama worked with Bush to bail out the auto industry during the 2008 economic crisis. Now 12 years later the auto industry hasn’t made substantial reforms and continues to profit off death and destruction by making and selling large trucks and SUVs.

This isn’t to say a Biden administration won’t have a positive impact on transportation policy. His love of commuter trains is a very good sign he’ll put money into rail (and another place he and light-rail-and-streetcar-loving Blumenauer share a common thread). Obama used transportation funding grant programs like TIGER to help America recover from the economic crash and it’s a sure bet Biden will do something similar.

It’s also worth noting that Biden rides a bike.

Speaking of bikes, the League of American Bicyclists will host a webinar on Zoom this Thursday (11/12) at 12 noon that will answer questions about what the election means for the League’s policy goals and the next transportation bill.

As for Blumenauer, I think it’s only polite to ask him if he’s interested in the job before we get too excited about the prospect. I hope to chat with him sometime this week. Stay tuned.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. 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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David Hampsten
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David Hampsten

Judging from Biden wanting to have the “most diverse cabinet ever”, Representative Blumenauer is unfortunate in his choice of parents and gender. I think Biden is more likely to eventually choose some state DOT director. From Delaware maybe?

JBone
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JBone

Why are politicians appointed to these roles? Why not respected academics and industry leaders?

J_R
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J_R

McConnell is likely to oppose Biden’s selection of every cabinet nominee, ambassador, and judge. Biden may have to have a series of 210-day temporary appointees until the Democrats gain control of the Senate in 2022. Why would someone resign a safe seat where one can support a progressive agenda in exchange for a seven-month appointment?

Bikeninja
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Bikeninja

The ” Senator from Mastercard”, will appoint whoever big oil and big transportation want him to.

https://www.democracynow.org/2008/8/25/headlines/nader_describes_biden_as_the_mastercard_senator

Rain Waters
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Rain Waters

So the election’s been certified ?

Todd/Boulanger
Guest

Regarding the statement: “more like a tornado that leaves America’s ill-fated car culture in its wake” that would have been more true if Earl had become the Transpo Tzar in 2009, but less seismic in 2021 has many rural areas have pivoted to bike / outdoor tourism as their economic engine…just look at Arkansas with its mountain biking and Rapha investments.

The key is to develop a very nuanced transportation uplift agenda that works great for urban areas’s strengths while also helping rural areas…One size fits all will not fly. Perhaps add a 2 or 3 tier Federal fuel tax.
[Lower in isolated rural areas and much higher in urban areas…this could also have a programmatic / budgetary trigger for each congressional district…based on local choice…if you want to keep your federal fuel tax at ‘current level’ then your share the of the funds is locked at the lowest tier and if you select the top tier then you have more funds., etc. This low tier would still have a safety net so interstate travel and safety is provided but not enhanced capacity etc.]

Thomas
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Thomas

Jonathan, I have tried to simply give some “vote ups” for some other folks comments, but my ballot casting is being denied. hmmmm (tongue in cheek!). I see the total number of vote ups in the comment area but when I try to vote up a comment, it says I have already voted. Curious. Any thoughts? Thanks.

cmh89
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cmh89

the former Portland city commissioner who’s represented the best cycling city in America for the past 24 years.

I didn’t know Blumenaur represented Washington DC…

dwk
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dwk

Earl probably won’t get the job, but the comments here questioning or thinking this election is not over are ridiculous.
This will be over soon, not a close race, not ONE issue brought to court by Trumps clown attorneys like Guliani have been considered.
They have nothing at all except tweets.
Biden won.
I think he will pick a DOT director that will be fine.
Stop the madness.
This is 52-48, like Obama and Romney.
Was that close?

doug B
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doug B

Janette Sadik-Khan should be the next transportation secretary.

FDUP
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FDUP
roberta
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roberta

I think we need to release our attachment on having a person of color as a Transportation lead. Blumeanaur is the most qualified person for the job, nationally. Hands down. I’m not under any illusion that we need a person of color in this place to actuate the changes needed. He is not too progressive, he’s been studying the issues for decades, he has the most cost efficient solutions.

I think we all need to take a history lesson: owning a car for a Black person means FREEDOM. Freedom that the rest of our society couldn’t give them due to systemic racism. Asking Black people or someone else of color to fix car culture, who doesn’t have the experience that Blumeaneuar has, is setting up this person for failure.

A lot of Black culture and black family wealth was built on auto manufacturing markets. I mean look at Damian Llilard. His status was expanded in Portland this year for partnering with a Toyota car dealership for sponsorship, how is that a climate change sponsorship? Its s not.

This is a poor example, but just look at the speed racing issues that has spun out of the summer of protests for BLM. Just what are they protesting and is it worth the damage to our neighbors and streets? Vision Zero was supposed to mean slowing cars down in the city. Now we have speeding issues. Nationally we could implement a speed kill switch in city centers. I guarantee that type of policy won’t be coming from black politicians like Lew Frederick (Black Democratic Senator who wants to build freeways next to Harriet Tubman Middle School).

We need a seasoned politician as the Chair of DOT, I don’t care what color their skin is. Blumeanaur should get the job.

roberta
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roberta

Elaine Cho is the existing Secretary of Transport. She is a women of color. She didn’t do anything to move the needle on reducing GHG emissions in the transport sector.