US DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx on the end of favoring cars

US DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx on the end of favoring cars

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Six years ago former US Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood surprised everyone at the closing reception of the 2010 National Bike Summit when he climbed up on a table and made a short but sweet speech.

“I’ve been all over America,” LaHood proclaimed, arms outstretched over 700 bike advocates. “People do want alternatives. They want out of their cars; they want out of congestion; they want to live in livable neighborhoods.”

The next morning he followed that up with a policy document that he said marked “the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.”

Fast forward to Wednesday when current DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx came to Portland. He struck resonant chords about America’s failure to diversify our transportation system, but as evidenced by the FAST Act that passed under his watch, federal transportation funding and policy shows no signs of ending its long romance with the automobile.

So when I got the unexpected opportunity to ask Secretary Foxx a question, the first thing that popped into my head was that indelible image of Ray LaHood standing on a tabletop in that Senate ballroom on Capitol Hill. I wondered if Secretary Foxx had any insights into how we might usher in this era LaHood once spoke of.

Here’s the question I asked:

“Secretary Foxx, your predecessor stood on a table at the National Bike Summit in 2010 and announced “The end of favoring motorized transportation at the DOT.” And yet, here we are, six years later and, as you said yourself a few minutes ago, we still have a car-dominant transportation system. What can we do to change that paradigm so that biking, walking, and transit can be the dominant modes and we start thinking of driving and cars as sort of the “appendage” [a term he used in a speech a few minutes earlier] over on the side?”

And here’s his answer:

“I think we’re going to need cars. We’re going to need a mix of transportation options. I think we have a supply-side mentality right now at the federal level where we presume that 80-cents on the dollar should go to the automobile within the Highway Trust Fund. And I actually think over the longer term we’re going to need to look at a more performance-based system where we look at things like: How it congestion best reduced? How do we increase safety? How do we move significant numbers of people most efficiently and effectively and cleanly. And I think that’s going to push us into a different mix of transportation choices.

But I think it’s a slow, gradual process. Look around the world and no country has created a multimodal system overnight; but I think that’s ultimately where we’re headed. We have to have a mix of transportation choices. It includes the automobile, but it’s not exclusive to the automobile.”

If you’re itching for major changes to the status-quo, this isn’t exactly an earth-shattering answer. But since most people resist real change, maybe Foxx’s measured tone is the best way to bend the arc of transportation toward justice toward people who walk and bike and take transit. As an activist I find that trying to strike the tone that brings about the changes I want without excluding the people I need to bring along to make it happen, is a constant struggle.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 –

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