Via the D.C.-area CommuterPageBlog, Richard Layman of the blog, Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space, cites a StreetsBlog article pointing to an interview U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters had a few weeks ago on PBS' "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" on the nation's transportation infrastructure in the wake of the Minneapolis bridge collapse, in which
Peters said that instead of raising taxes on gasoline to renew the nation's sagging infrastructure, Congress should examine its spending priorities -- including investments in bike paths and trails, which, Peters said, "are not transportation."Here is the official transcript from the NewsHour, where Peters was interviewed by Gwen Ifill:
GWEN IFILL: Aren't many of those [earmark] projects, even though they're special interest projects, aren't they roads and bridges, often?Peters is making a valid point when referring to non-transportation projects like museums; there were indeed many of those in the pork-laden SAFETEA-LU. (Just go to the full text of the legislation and search for "museum".) Yet by implication here she says that bike paths and trails are not our transportation "infrastructure".
MARY PETERS: Gwen, some of them are, but many of them are not. There are museums that are being built with that money, bike paths, trails, repairing lighthouses. Those are some of the kind of things that that money is being spent on, as opposed to our infrastructure.
The transcript continues:
[MARY PETERS:] I think people are reluctant to spend more money unless they know that money is going to actually make an improvement in the transportation infrastructure.So it appears that Peters is unclear on what actually constitutes transportation. Not the best attribute to have when you're U.S. Transportation Secretary.
GWEN IFILL: Who is spending the money inappropriately?
MARY PETERS: Well, there's about probably some 10 percent to 20 percent of the current spending that is going to projects that really are not transportation, directly transportation-related. Some of that money is being spent on things, as I said earlier, like bike paths or trails. Some is being spent on museums, on restoring lighthouses, as I indicated.
The League of American Bicyclists was all over Peters' ignorant statements. Here's part of a response letter (PDF) to Peters by the League's executive director, Andy Clarke:
Dear Secretary Peters:So it appears that Peters' confusion is only recent. Maybe joining Bush's cabinet just has a "dumbing down" effect.
I listened with dismay to your recent interview on the MacNeil Lehrer Newshour, August 15 airing, on the subject of transportation funding and the Minneapolis bridge collapse. I was particularly taken aback by your comments related to the funding of bicycle projects in the United States.
1. Your statement that bicycle trails and paths are not “transportation-related” or “infrastructure” is baffling. I have been riding to work every day in Washington DC for almost 20 years on one of the regions many well-used bicycle paths, many of which have benefited from Federal transportation funding. Tens of millions of bicyclists and pedestrians in communities across the country use trails to get to work, school, shops, and to visit friends and family — and every one of these trips prevents congestion, pollution, and energy consumption while improving the health of the rider or walker.
2. You left the impression that an enormous percentage of Federal transportation funds are spent on projects such as these. The reality is that only one percent of these funds are spent on bicycling and walking projects despite the fact that these two modes account for ten percent of all trips in the country and 12 percent of traffic fatalities each year.
3. You also left the impression that critical bridge projects are being left unfunded because of this. You did not point out the huge sums of money that states have been allocated for bridge projects over the years but they have failed to spend. Indeed, states have returned to Washington hundreds of millions of “unspent” bridge program dollars as part of recent rescissions ordered by the Congress.
Secretary Peters, as Federal Highway Administrator you delivered remarks at the 2002 National Bike Summit that presented a much different view of the role bicycling can play in our national transportation system.
As you stated then, and I quote, “Many people in our country use bikes for more than recreation. For them, bikes are their vehicle for the commute to work and for the errands of daily life. We need every mode of transportation to keep America mobile. What modes did you use to get to your hotel? Very few of us depend on a single mode. I strongly agree with Secretary Mineta, bicyclists are an integral part of our nation’s transportation system and we all need to work together to develop a better more balanced transportation system that provides facilities and programs for bicyclists on a routine basis.”
The larger issue behind Peters' words is that the bicycle continues to be disrespected, both on the local and national levels, as a mode of transportation. For her to single out this mode and imply that it is at fault for our nation's crumbling bridge and road infrastructure is truly dumbfounding. Don Young (R-AK) and Congress steered close to $500 million in federal tax revenues to the two Alaska "Bridges to Nowhere" -- which Peters does mention in the interview -- and yet she still brings bikes into the equation? Unbelievable.
If more people incorporated bicycling into their everyday transportation needs, we would have less need for such an extensive network of highways, and our scarce maintenance dollars, which already compete for new highway pork, wouldn't be stretched so thin. We would have better quality infrastructure if we could concentrate this funding on a smaller network. Then maybe more of our worst-conditioned bridges, like the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis, could get repaired in a more timely fashion.