March 28, 2010

Ray "Fastlane" LaHood Wants to Build Up the Slow Lane

Monique Chartier

On his ironically titled blog, US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has announced

... 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.

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.

To set this approach in motion, we have formulated key recommendations for state DOTs and communities:

•Treat walking and bicycling as equals with other transportation modes.

•Ensure convenient access for people of all ages and abilities.

•Go beyond minimum design standards.

•Collect data on walking and biking trips.

•Set a mode share target for walking and bicycling.

•Protect sidewalks and shared-use paths the same way roadways are protected (for example, snow removal)

•Improve nonmotorized facilities during maintenance projects.

The logistical difficulties posed by this edict have only nightmare solutions: either narrow existing roads and exacerbate some already serious congestion or widen roads by taking hundreds of thousands (millions?) of acres of land by eminent domain.

The economy and the unemployment rate continue to not dazzle. Federal, state and local governments are looking at budgetary red ink as far as the eye can see. Pending several lawsuits (cross your fingers and toes), the federal government has effectively seized control of the nation's healthcare system, to the extreme concern of a sizeable chunk of voters. And the Transportation Secretary pipes up with a plan to put our bike paths on steroids?? Please tell me this is a wag the pedal attempt to change the conversation from the first three items and not a serious policy proposal.

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Couldn't disagree with you more. RI needs to encourage non-motorized transportation more. Or at least more of getting people out of their single-occupant motorized vehicles. Many other cities have great infrastructure for bicycles and:

"either narrow existing roads and exacerbate some already serious congestion"

Unless you turn many of those cars causing the congestion into bicyclists.

Yes, this is spoken by someone who loves making the 12 mile (each way) ride to and from work, Cumberland to Providence.

Posted by: Patrick at March 28, 2010 9:16 PM

Patrick, have you read each of the components of his idea? "Collect data"? "Clear snow"? "Go beyond minimum standards"? They amount to even more unfunded mandates to be handed down to cities and states.

I don't disagree with the concept. I love jogging and biking on bike paths. It's the cost of implementing his quite extensive vision that's a bone breaker.

Posted by: Monique at March 28, 2010 9:43 PM

Monique: Currently 12 percent of all trips are made by walking and biking, according to the National Household Transportation Survey, yet these modes receive 1 percent of federal transportation funding. I'd hardly call 1 percent a "bone breaker." We all know the benefits of walking and biking - better health, as well as fewer cars on the road leading to less energy consumption, less congestion and less pollution, etc. I'd say some leveling of the playing field is in order - it's time we give pedestrians and cyclists a fair share of our existing transportation pie.

Better bike lanes and sidewalks mean fewer reasons to drive, and less congestion. A car takes up way more space on the road and puts more wear and tear on our (expensive) infrastructure than a cyclist or pedestrian ever could.

Posted by: Jack at March 29, 2010 12:54 AM

If I am not mistaken the "building", perhaps I should say designation, of bike lanes qualifies the municipality to receive addition street revenue under the Intermodal Transportation Act. That is a rather big carrot and it has been around for years. I have wondered if that is why they added one to Blackstone Boulevard.

Oh yes "a sea change" in the initial quotation from Ray LaHood. I remember when Mass. Gov. Bill Weld used that expression and the Globe ridiculed him for his "elitist, yachting expressions". I wondered if the "journalists" had ever read Shakespeare?

Posted by: Warrington Faust at March 29, 2010 1:45 AM

This is the best thing to happen to transportation in a while. How could anyone with a communitarian bone in their body not love policy that gives foot and bicycle traffic a fair shake? As for grumping about unfunded mandates ... c'mon, Monique. The infrastructure, economic development, and human cost of these forms of transportation are vastly lower than cars. Unless you're an automaker or have chosen to live absurdly far from your workplace (thereby deriving wealth from the city where you work and giving nothing but air pollution back) this is win-win.

Posted by: Daniel in Pawtucket at March 29, 2010 6:49 AM

Public roads are unfunded mandates, police, fire, town services are all unfunded mandates, but ones that we feel we need to live with and benefit from. A gradual phasing in of a better cycling community would be one that we can all live with as well.

Heck, simply educating people that bicycles do belong on the roads instead of the sidewalks would be a very welcomed change. Whatever happened to all those public service announcements that we used to see on TV back in the '70s? Bring those back with various helpful messages.

Posted by: Patrick at March 29, 2010 7:59 AM

Local roads are not a legitimate area of function of the federal government. LaHood should focus on privatizing airports and catching up on deferred maintenance of the interstate highway infrastructure, using the gasoline tax money that was originally reserved for this purpose.

Posted by: BobN at March 29, 2010 8:15 AM

Sounds to me like the citizens are becoming so poor (and the currency will soon be so worthless) that most of the interstates will simply become bike paths. We won't need much planning; just let the the millions of unemployed stand out on those former highways to direct bicycle traffic and dream about what used to be. Nice work, Obama!

Posted by: Bill at March 29, 2010 9:08 AM

When the "new" Jamestown bridge was first proposed it included room for a bike path but the enviroweenies called the bridge a "monstrosity" and whined and moaned 'till it was made smaller. Besides, they said, "no one will ride up THAT slope". NOW the same crew wants a lane partially blocked with Jersey Barrier so that bike path "we alwways needed" can be created. Since it was made smaller to suit them there isn't a lot of room up there so lets make it LESS SAFE for drivers to use because hords of little old ladies will be riding their trikes up and down every day.

BTW, and not to put too fine a point on it, those of you so proud to be riding your Columbias to work every day
... you STINK, and apparently your solution is to make everyone else become as maloderous as you are.

Posted by: Bicycle Bill at March 29, 2010 10:27 AM

"I have wondered if that is why they added one to Blackstone Boulevard."

Yeah, the ugly bike path on Blackstone Boulevard that nobody uses and removed a full lane of traffic to install. The ultimate feel-good do-nothing progressive project. Now every morning thousands of motorists are inconvenienced and cause additional air pollution sitting in one lane of traffic with artificially low 25MPH speed limit just so a few isolated people who would have biked anyway can have their ridiculous special lane. Bike paths- COMING SOON TO A PREVIOUSLY NAVIGABLE ROAD NEAR YOU.

Posted by: Dan at March 29, 2010 10:51 AM

And soon, you will have to register your bicycle, put a license plate on your bicycle, take a written and road test to get an operator's license to ride your bicycle, have your bicycle safety inspected every one or two years, pay property tax on your bicycle...the GA could create a new state agency (the DUV, Department of Unmotorized Vehicles) and stock it full of lazy hacks, like the DMV is now.

Posted by: Chris at March 29, 2010 12:55 PM


"I have wondered if that is why they added one to Blackstone Boulevard."

As I mentioned, under the Intermodal Transportation Act, there is federal funding for those bike paths and money to assist with road maintenance. I think I have that right.

There were a lot of factors concerning what to do with BB. As I recall frequent East Side Monthly articles complained about the traffic, that brought us the 25mph limit. I suspect it also ignited the bike path. The residents just don't want any traffic.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at March 29, 2010 1:00 PM

The 25 mph speed limit was there on BB long before the bike lane was added to it.

Posted by: Patrick at March 29, 2010 1:16 PM

I understand that the road was 25mph before the bike path was installed, that is precisely my point. The bike path changed Blackstone Boulevard from two lanes to only one lane. This compounds the problem and increases car traffic. If people truly thought that enough people would stop using cars and use the bike path instead to offset this traffic increase, they were delusional. It has been a counterproductive debacle and source of frustration to those of us who use the Boulevard regularly.

Posted by: Dan at March 29, 2010 3:18 PM
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