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In Obama’s second term, distinctive transportation policy must change focus to walking and bicycling

Barack Obama and his family on stage at McCormick Place last night. Photo by John Tolva.

President Obama was elected to a second term yesterday, defeating former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. We are glad for this as we believe it will maintain the excellent ideas, initiatives, and enthusiasm for sustainable transportation for at least four more years. President Obama hired Ray LaHood to be the secretary of transportation. Partnering with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Transportation crafted six livability principles that changed how grants would be distributed.

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This Amtrak Lincoln Service train will be moving a bit faster this year. Photo by Eric Pancer.

The Obama administration created the first-ever plan for high-speed rail corridors and after Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA, “stimulus”) in 2009, Illinois rebuilt hundreds of miles of track from Chicago to St. Louis, Missouri, to speed up its busiest passenger train line. The plan is the best chance for European and Asian-style high-speed rail to connect Midwest cities, giving people more options and alternatives over driving with expensive gas and unfairly-subsidized roads.

Secretary LaHood consistently espouses the benefits of bicycling as a transportation mode and spoke at the National Bike Summit, a conference where bicycle interest groups lobby legislators annually, where he gave a speech standing on a table (more photos). And while the President and Secretary must cede funding appropriations and authorizations to Congress, they have continually awarded grants to rail, transit, and bicycle projects without a second thought. Many of these came from the new TIGER program, part of ARRA, grants awarded at the discretion of the Department of Transportation and its subagencies, according to well-defined performance measures.

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Ray LaHood talking about bicycling in Washington, D.C. Photo by Jonathan Maus.

President Obama can again show his leadership in transportation policy by starting to work now on the next surface transportation bill (STB). The current STB, known as MAP-21, expires September 30, 2014. The previous bill, called SAFETEA-LU, was extended nine times in the three years after its expiration. The extensions were not good because they perpetuated policies and funding sources and levels needed to change. The federal gas tax is woefully inadequate, requiring yearly infusions of general revenue funds, equalling about $50 billion; it hasn’t changed since 1993.
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