Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood was hailed by activists who support more federal funding for bicycling infrastructure for his remarks last week at the National Bike Summit 2010. Unfortunately, in winning points with the bicycle lobby, the Secretary departed from economic reality.

Secretary LaHood reported his Bike Summit comments at his FastLane blog today, “My view from atop the table at the National Bike Summit“:

Today, I want to announce a sea change. People across America who value bicycling should have a voice when it comes to transportation planning. This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.

Reading this jaw-dropping policy announcement, we thought the Secretary had let his enthusiasm get the best of him. Alas, no, his comments were actually reinforced in what he described as a “major policy revision” posted at the Federal Highway Administration website, Policy Statement on Bicycle and Pedestrian Accommodation.”

Treating bicycles and other non-motorized transportation as equal to motorized transportation would cause an economic catastrophe. If put into effect, the policy would more than undermine any effort the Obama Administration has made toward jobs. You can’t have jobs without the efficient movement of freight.

On Oct. 29, 2008, National Association of Manufacturers President John Engler testified on the economic stimulus bill at a hearing of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Engler stated:

Eighty-percent of our nation’s freight, by value, moves across our nation’s roads, highways, and bridges by truck. The deteriorating condition of our surface transportation infrastructure and the challenges associated with traffic congestion have a negative effect on the manufacturing economy beyond wasted time and fuel. Nearly 20 percent of our small and medium-sized manufacturers recently reported to us in a survey that they risked losing a customer due to bottlenecks and other traffic delays over the past five years.

Pedicabs will not overcome those bottlenecks.

Now normally here we’d put in a statement about how bicycles are great, we need to fund infrastructure for bikes, federal support, blah, blah, blah. And, sure, more power to them. But c’mon! A great nation and modern industrial economy cannot operate if executive branch agencies are incapable of making a distinction between bicycles and trucks.

The House Appropriations Committee, Transportation and HUD Subcommittee, holds a hearing this Wednesday, “Strengthening Intermodal Connections & Improving Freight Mobility.” Scheduled to testify are Roy Kienitz, DOT’s under secretary for policy, and Victor Mendez, administrator of the Federal Highway Administration. Committee members would do everyone a service by posing this question: “Secretary LaHood last week declared it was now federal policy that motorized transportation should not be favored over non-motorized transportation. What in the world?”

For approving coverage of Secretary LaHood’s comments from bike-oriented outlets, see the extended entry.

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