Tag: Ray LaHood

The Realities of the U.S. Economy

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.” BikePortland.org 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.

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It’s a Sea Change for All the Cabinet Agencies

From CNSNews.com, “Sebelius Says President Obama Has Instructed All Cabinet-Level Departments to Promote Public Health,” based on remarks by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.

Sebelius explained that the Department of Transportation (DOT) can operate as a “health agency” by funding bike trails for communities, among other things.

“Transportation, you wouldn’t necessarily think that the Department of Transportation is a public health agency, but actually they have a lot to do with community health and public health because they have the funds for bike trails and walking paths and sidewalks and green space,” explained Sebelius.

So that’s context for Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s evangelizing for pedal parity, that is, his recent declaration that the DOT would make no distinctions between motorized and non-motorized means of transportation.

Here’s a suggestion: The Department of Transportation should concentrate on the efficient and safe movement of people and goods. We already have enough public health agencies.

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Americans Also Want the Jobs that Come with Freight

Green, Inc., the New York Times blog, interviews Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, delving into the Secretary’s recent pronouncement that federal policy would make no distinctions between motorized and non-motorized transportation. From “Q&A: Transportation Secretary on Biking, Walking and ‘What Americans Want’”:

Q. Bicycling and walking advocates had a very positive reaction to the policy change. But here at Green Inc., we heard mostly from critics who said it showed you were “delusional” or reflective of some sort of “Maoist” bent. What’s your response to the response?

A. My response is that this is what Americans want. Americans want alternatives. People are always going to drive cars. We’re always going to have highways. We’ve made a huge investment in our interstate highway system. We’ll always continue to make sure that those investments in the highways are maintained.

But, what Americans want is to get out of their cars, and get out of congestion, and have opportunities for more transit, more light rail, more buses, and some communities are going to street cars. But many communities want the opportunity on the weekends and during the week to have the chance to bike to work, to bike to the store, to spend time with their family on a bike.

So, this is not just Ray LaHood’s agenda, this is the American agenda that the American people want for alternatives to the automobile.

In the entire interview, there is not a single mention of “freight.” The words “truck” and “trucking” do not appear.

What Americans want right now is jobs, the creation of which requires the efficient movement of freight on trucks.  Secretary LaHood’s expressed vision of transportation priorities just doesn’t seem to recognize that economic reality.

P.S. Kudos to Green, Inc. for covering this issue. The Drudge Report linked to its previous story on March 26 with a headline, “War on Cars? Obama Transportation Sec.: ‘This is the end of favoring motorized transportation’…,” certainly driving a lot of traffic to Shopfloor’s coverage of the issue, as well.

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Controversy of Pedal Parity Gaining a Little More Coverage

Glad to see the Green, Inc., blog of The New York Times report on the uproar, but more importantly, on the policy implications of Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood’s recent pronouncement there would be no distinction between motorized and non-motorized traffic. It’s a fair report, “Transportation Department Embraces Bikes and Business Groups Cry Foul,” that highlights an exchange from a House Appropriations hearing last week prompted by comments from Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-OH):

“If we’re going to spend $1 million on a road, we’re not going to have half of it go to a bike lane, and half of it go to cars?” [LaTourette] asked, according to a transcript of the hearing.

“My interpretation of that would be equal in the eyes of policymakers as what is the expenditure you make, what is the benefit you get,” responded Roy Kienitz, D.O.T.’s under secretary for policy. “And if the freight project offers the best bang, great, but if the bike project offers a good bang, great for them.”

“I don’t even understand how you get a bang for the buck out of a bicycle project,” Mr. LaTourette subsequently commented. “I mean what job is going to be created by having a bike lane?”

CNS News also reported on Secretary LaHood’s remarks and the reaction, “Obama Transportation Secretary: ‘This Is the End of Favoring Motorized Transportation at the Expense of Non-Motorized’.

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Transportation Policy: The Realities of Freight, U.S. Economy

Thank you Bill Graves, president of the American Trucking Associations, for contributing to the National Journal’s “Experts: Transportation” blog discussion of motorized versus non-motorized traffic. As noted below, the National Journal sought responses to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s recent pronouncement of “the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.”

Graves’ post:

I’m in full agreement with the National Association of Manufacturers, who said on their Shopfloor blog last week that “treating bicycles and other non-motorized transportation as equal to motorized transportation would cause an economic catastrophe.” Such a policy will negate any effort the Administration has made to create jobs and will hinder the movement of our nation’s goods. As we work to emerge from these difficult economic times, we need policies that promote the safe, efficient movement of goods. The Administration’s major policy revision will be particularly detrimental if it diverts Highway Trust Fund dollars from critical expansion and repair projects that will help use meet national goals.

The National Highway System connects all parts of our transportation system, facilitating the movement of virtually all goods throughout the country. America relies on trucks to move 70 percent of our nation’s freight tonnage and the trucking industry is forecast to move an even greater share of freight in the future. Highways will continue to play a vital role in our nation’s supply chain. However, America’s aging infrastructure is in desperate need of repair and expansion. Congestion costs, caused by inefficiencies in the system, are rapidly approaching $100 billion annually. The federal government must focus on funding projects that alleviate freight bottlenecks. Failing to address growing congestion problems will cause costs to rise, translating into higher consumer prices and slower job growth, weakening the United States’ ability to compete in the global economy.

I understand that Secretary LaHood and the Administration are adamant about creating livable communities that promote the use of non-motorized transportation. However, these communities will not be livable without an efficient highway system and trucks to deliver the food, medicine, clothing and other necessities that make walking and bicycling possible.

Thanks for the mention, Governor. Agreed completely.

We add one other point: The Executive Branch, including Secretary LaHood, does not make policy. In the American system, the policymaking branch of the federal government is Congress.

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On Transportation, Can We Please Just Get Real?

The National Journal’s Experts: Transportation blog has continued posting brief commentaries about Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s recent pronouncement of “the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.” If one is take the Secretary at his word — and one should, shouldn’t one? — then federal spending and policy decisions about transportation sectors should be made without consideration of their relative importance to the U.S. economy.

Most of the posts come from representatives of groups that support more federal funding for their causes, and they build on Secretary LaHood’s comments to make a pitch for their priorities. Nothing unusual in that, but the commentaries roam far from what the Secretary actually said.

Keith Laughlin, president of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, finds in the Secretary’s expressions support for remaking America into a more urban nation: “We know that gasoline is only going to get more and more expensive in the future. When that happens, we can actually avert economic catastrophe for America’s families if we take steps now to create more walkable/bikeable/transit-rich neighborhoods that help families keep transportation costs manageable. So not only will increased investment in active transportation not cause economic catastrophe, it will actually prevent it!”

Whether it’s a rural hamlet or the smartest “smart growth” community, people still depend on trucks to move freight. Rickshaws and bicycles-built-for-two are not up to the job.

Nancy LeaMond, executive vice president of the AARP, asserts, “America is a diverse country.  We should invest in a transportation network that reflects that diversity.  The transportation portfolio should continue to be varied to ensure that travel choices are there for people as their needs and abilities change.” OK. Agreed. But please reconcile that statement with what follows: “AARP supports the very clear meaning of Secretary LaHood’s blog posting.”

Andy Clark, president of the League of American Bicyclists, argues: “The Dutch invest in bicycle travel because their economy depends on truck and train traffic to and from the North Sea ports. They can’t afford to have their highways bunged up with single-occupant vehicle trips – they don’t have the space and nor does their environment have the carrying capacity to manage it. For the cost of just a few hundred feet of the proposed rebuild of the I-5 Columbia River bridge from Portland to Vancouver, the Portland region could achieve a 20%-25% mode share for bikes – doing more for regional congestion, the trucking industry, air quality, and obesity levels than the entire bridge ‘improvement’ project.”

Holland’s population density is 1,035 people per square mile. The United States’ is 85. Comparing the U.S. economy and transportation needs to the Netherlands is a distraction.

Let’s return to what Secretary LaHood actually wrote: “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.” Let’s say we have an interchange proposed to ease congestion in a large urban area that crosses the border of two states. If we are to take the Secretary seriously, we’d see planners devote as much time on planning and designing for bikes paths as for trucks. And that would be dumb and irresponsible.

Bikes are fine. We like bikes. More people should ride them. But their advocacy, especially coming from a Cabinet secretary, should bear some connection to the real world and the United States as a modern industrial nation.

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Maybe the Local Folks Should Pay for Their Own Bike Paths

The National Journal has joined the few media outlets giving attention to Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood’s recent policy pronouncement of a “sea change,” that the federal government would now treat motorized and non-motorized equally. In the online “Expert Blogs” feature, the publication today asks:

LaHood called the new policy a “sea change,” but is it a good one? Should non-motorized modes of transportation be treated as equal to other modes, particularly when modes like driving and mass transit are at least partially, if not primarily, self-funded? Or is it the essence of DOT’s evolving 21st-century mission to give people more mobility options that, according to LaHood, are relatively fast and inexpensive to build, are environmentally sustainable, reduce travel costs, improve safety and public health, and “reconnect citizens with their communities?”

We’ve already pointed out (here, here and here) that 80 percent of U.S. freight moves by truck and argued that LaHood’s pedal parity is nonsensical for a modern industrial nation.

In his expert response, Greg Cohen, President and CEO of the American Highway Users Alliance, also raises the important point that the public overwhelmingly believes funding for bike paths and the like is primarily a city and county responsibility, followed by the state. Cohen cites a 2008 survey by Fabrizio McLaughlin and Associates:

[Only] 4% of Americans felt that the federal government should take the leadership role in funding bicycle paths. 78% said that county and city governments should lead on bicycle paths and 17% said state government should do so.

These statistics point to a continuing question of the appropriate, limited role of the federal government in transportation. The survey results indicate that most Americans believe that the federal government should take a leading role in keep our major highways and bridges safe and efficient. Our founding fathers explicitly recognized an essential federal role in the regulation of interstate commerce in the Constitution, 127 years before the first federal-aid highway act of 1916. As our major highways and bridges age, meeting this primary federal responsibility becomes a serious and growing challenge. Currently, the Highway Trust Fund is insufficiently funded to even meet these basic federal responsibilities and that is why so many highway user groups are on record in support of increasing our own user fees.

Since Secretary LaHood made his enthusiastic announcement, the federal government has moved to add another huge spending obligation, $940 billion for health care, and at some point the taxpayers will be tapped out (have been tapped out). Interstate commerce and post roads are a constitutional responsibility of the federal government. Bike paths?

Cohen concludes:

The reality is that under any realistic transportation system in every community in the United States, the overwhelming amount of travel will continue to be in motorized vehicles over roads. And 88% of Americans believe it is in our national interest to combat congestion on our roads. New capacity for bicycle and walking paths should not come at the expense of highway capacity. Bicycling groups create an unnecessary dispute with motorists when they oppose new highway capacity or advocate reducing motorized travel. Bicycles may be a realistic option for some trips under the right conditions, but cars and trucks will remain absolutely essential to our economy and provide a significant net positive effect on our quality-of-life.

Awfully realistic of you, Greg. Glad someone is.

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Transportation Parity: The Sun Notes Secretary LaHood’s Remarks

When a Cabinet secretary declares a “sea change” in national transportation and infrastructure policy, raising non-motorized transportation to the same priority level as motorized transportation, you’d expect intense coverage from the media. Right?

But as previously noted, reporting on Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s embrace of transportation equivalency last week has been limited to bicycle advocacy sites. One exception has been Trucker.com, a trade publication/website.

Today, a breakthrough! The Baltimore Sun took note. That is, the Sun’s transportation reporter, Michael Dresser, took note in a post on his “Getting There” blog. The post, “LaHood elevates biking, walking to parity with cars“:

Call it sacrilege. Call it radical. But U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has actually elevated the  bicycle and  the human foot to parity with the automobile in federal transportation policy.

On Monday, LaHood announced what could be — if it is backed with actual dollars-and-cents policy — a sea change from the auto-centric bias that has prevailed in federal transportation policy since World War II.

“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,” he said. “We are integrating the needs of bicyclists in federally-funded road projects. We are discouraging transportation investments that negatively affect cyclists and pedestrians. And we are encouraging investments that go beyond the minimum requirements and provide facilities for bicyclists and pedestrians of all ages and abilities.”

Dresser reports that the The WashCycle blog has called LaHood’s statement “simply the strongest statement of support for prioritizing bicycling and walking ever to come from a sitting secretary of transportation.”

We don’t call it sacrilege, but radical is a fair description. It is indeed a sea change in federal transportation policy that could have profound implications for the U.S. economy and the 80 percent of freight that moves by truck. The Sun is the first mainstream media outfit to recognize, however briefly, the potential impact. Hope it’s not the last.

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Taking a Secretary’s Statements Seriously

The Trucker.com trade publication is the only non-advocate website we’ve found that has reported on Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood’s declaration before bicycle advocates last week of a “sea change” in federal policy: “This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.” (See Shopfloor post, “Embracing Bicycles at Expense of Freight, Jobs, Reality.”)

The Trucker report included many details about LaHood’s comments, “LaHood says DOT ending favoring motorized transportation over non-motorized,” starting by setting the scene:

LaHood’s surprise appearance at the bikers summit and his subsequent remarks drew praise from those in attendance, who reportedly swarmed the secretary “like a rock star” when he tried to leave.

To make sure he could be seen, LaHood hopped up on a desk in the Senate hearing room where the group was meeting.

The Trucker also noted the Secretary’s comments on his DOT blog, The Fast Lane.

Included in the report were comments from an unnamed DOT spokesman, who dodged the Trucker’s question (which we’ve bolded):

“Secretary LaHood believes the way we design our communities has a huge impact on our citizens’ economic, physical and social wellbeing,” a DOT spokesman said when asked if LaHood’s new directive meant that much-needed highway infrastructure needs might be sidetracked in favor of bike paths. “Many Americans live in neighborhoods without access to public transportation or sidewalks. By focusing on livability, we can help transform the way transportation serves the American people, and create safer, healthier communities that provide access to economic opportunities.”

The spokesman noted that LaHood presently is presiding over the “most ambitious infrastructure investment program in more than half a century, the Economic Recovery Act.”

So far, the spokesman said, the DOT has obligated $37.8 billion for 14,011 highway, road, transit, bridge and airport construction projects in 53 U.S. states and territories.

“Secretary LaHood has always said that rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure and the job creation that comes with that are among his primary goals,” the spokesman said.

When a Cabinet secretary announces a “sea change” in federal policy that expressly rejects the economic priority of freight transportation — 80 percent of which moves by truck — it warrants wide attention, not just from Congress as we suggested in our earlier post, but also from major, national media outlets.

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Embracing Bicycles at Expense of Freight, Jobs, Reality

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.

(continue reading…)

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