The Realities of the U.S. Economy

By April 14, 2010Infrastructure

Trucking serves as a barometer of the U.S. economy, representing nearly 69 percent of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods. Trucks hauled 10.2 billion tons of freight in 2008. Motor carriers collected $660.3 billion, or 83.1 percent of total revenue earned by all transport modes.

That’s from the American Trucking Associations, a paragraph in its latest news release on monthly freight statistics.

We post the numbers in an effort to restore economic reality to the debate over Transportation Secretary LaHood’s recent declaration that it’s now federal policy that there shall be no distinction between motorized and non-motorized traffic. The Associated Press covers the controversy today, “Transportation’s bicycle policy hits potholes,” citing Shopfloor’s objections to the policy.

The Secretary’s defenders, those who want more federal tax dollars to be spent on local bike and walking paths, have reacted to our posts by recasting his arguments, saying he just wants to take bike paths into consideration in planning, that he wants people to have alternatives to driving their own cars, etc.

But we were taking the Secretary at his word — and disagreeing with him. Here’s what Secretary LaHood wrote on his DOT blog, FastLane, in a March 15 post, “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.

His emphasis. The “atop the table” is a reference to his mounting a table in a Congressional meeting room to give remarks to bicycle activists at the “Bike Summit.” reported “he was mobbed like a rockstar.”

“Sea change…. The end of favoring motorized transportation …”

In a subsequent, April 5, interview on Green, Inc., the Secretary expressed surprise that people had taken issue with his comments, saying, “My response is that this is what Americans want.” Yet there was not one word about freight in the interview. In speaking for the American public, the Secretary did not mention freight.

Thankfully, the objections seem to have registered. In an April 6 FastLane post, “Survey shows Americans want more mobility options–biking, walking, and transit should be in the mix,” Secretary LaHood added to the record.

People are always going to drive cars. And we are always going to rely on the hardworking trucking community to haul our nation’s freight. We’ve made a huge investment in our interstate highway system, and that’s not going away. We are going to continue maintaining that investment.

But we do have many modes of transportation in this country, many different ways of getting around. Why not make room at the table for bicycling and walking?

That’s not what the original policy pronouncement said, and bicycle advocates have been bellying up to the table for a long time. (One example, an April 14, 2009, Boston Globe article, “$80m in US funds for bike projects unspent in Mass.“)  And citing a public opinion survey by an advocacy group that wants to shift more taxpayer dollars to public transportation, Transportation for America, doesn’t persuade us that, in a policy vacuum, Americans would choose to spend more federal tax dollars on local bike lanes and community walking paths.

Still, if in his comments the Secretary has now framed the argument as, “The Administration believes it’s a good use of federal dollars to make infrastructure for non-motorized transportation a higher priority in planning and appropriations,” that’s a good debate to have.

In that debate, here’s something to remember.

Trucking serves as a barometer of the U.S. economy, representing nearly 69 percent of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods. Trucks hauled 10.2 billion tons of freight in 2008. Motor carriers collected $660.3 billion, or 83.1 percent of total revenue earned by all transport modes.

Join the discussion 5 Comments

  • Silent Majority says:

    You are overreacting. You omitted the clause `at the expense of non-motorized.’ No-one is arguing to destroy or decimate the motorized infrastructure, go the extra 1 or 2 percent to plan for bike and walking uses too.

    A whole lot of great bikes are manufactured in the US. A lot more are designed in the US, with welding and forming done outside, and then finished in the US. Actually, the US is a center of innovation for bicycles. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot and make fun of an important manufacturing center.

    I sure hope Specialized, Trek, Surly, Marin, Gary Fisher, etc contact you and remind you they are manufacturers too.

  • Michael McGettigan says:

    Sadly, the lifestyle of the coast-to-coast, over the road trucker is more or less doomed.

    Rail freight is more efficient-period.

    A more sensible mix would move to 95% piggyback trailers, with truckers doing the short runs from rail to warehouse or final destination.

    This would allow truckers to spend more time with their families and friends, and get them out of the cab–a place that’s proven to shorten their lives and hurt their health.

    Various regressive elements in the US are trying hard to paint a picture that any aid to bikes spells doom for motorists–nothing could be less true.

    Bike infrastructure costs next to NOTHING compared to the massive outlay for freeways that fuels suburban sprawl and keeps us in hock to China and the Saudis.

    Bike, trolleys, trucks and trains — they’re all part of the mix.

    Fund fair and complete streets.


    Michael McGettigan/Philadelphia

  • Fact Checker says:

    I, like most Americans, are very dependent on the goods that truckers deliver to us all. I understand that lobbying groups have to pull in an extreme direction, in order for us all to end up in the middle. But, I don’t think the majority of bicyclists are tree hugging, unshowered liberal nut jobs, looking to rid the world of trucks, cars, airplanes and a productive work ethic! I have a bike. I have an SUV. I want nothing more than to get out of the truckers’ way, when I’m on my bike! The more people who can lean towards a biking lifestyle, safely, the fewer cars there will be creating traffic, and getting in the way of the truckers. Everyone can win. The fewer of us that are in fuel burning vehicles, the lower gas prices can go. Fight the good fight. But, keep in mind that letting cyclists have a voice at the table, doesn’t mean that anyone else’s voice just got quieter. It might just mean that a couple of dollars might get allocated to painting a bike symbol in the bike lanes that already exist, so people with cars don’t think it is a buffer lane for swerving while texting!
    Thanks for your time.

  • TrueAmerican says:

    The guidelines suggest giving consideration to the fact that millions of Americans walk and bicycle to the store, to work, and for pleasure, and you have a violently negative reaction? This makes it clear that you are an enemy of the American people – particularly of our children, who will have to breathe the air you foul.

    Is there anybody out there stupid enough to believe your cr@p anyway?

  • Dr. Bored says:

    Why don’t you half-assed lobbyists do something about the offshoring of manufacturing instead of acting like cowardly fools jumping at shadows. I’d like to point out that no one has ever dreamed of being an employee of, either.

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