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Taking Cheap Shots at a Trillion Dollar Proposal

On Tuesday came the moment we’ve all been waiting for. The report of the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission…well, maybe not everyone was on tenterhooks but it’s actually a pretty significant document that outlines how $225 billion should be spent EVERY Year for the next 50 years on transportation and infrastructure in this country.

The size of the report itself is equally impressive at several hundred pages, 125 MBS complete with minority statements, addenda and the whole nine yards. The main recommendations appear in the 54-page Volume 1, and that’s where I’m going to direct my few cheap shots. The Commission took 20 months to listen to input (and yes, we did submit comments) and weigh options for creating a bold new transportation future – and in the 54 pages the word “highway” appears 128 times. Rail comes in second with 106 mentions, freight weighs in at 96, with transit a distant fourth on 57. The words bicycle, bicyclist, bike, pedal cycle, and pedal cyclist combined are mentioned just one time, on page 24, in the same sentence as the only mention of pedestrians, walking and other foot-based derivatives. Is it fair to judge a monumental report on such a trivial word search…maybe not, but it kinda tells you something nonetheless.

I looked up the various policy issues in play. “Climate change” warranted three mentions along with nine “greenhouse gas” references. “Environment” got 55 plays…although at least a dozen were in reference to the need to speed up project delivery by reducing environmental reviews. Congestion was a big issue (54) along with safety (47) energy (44) and the economy (13). Health issues, just 8 mentions. Obesity, not a peep. Mobility (transport as an end in itself) was addressed almost twice as often as Access (transport as a means to an end; the ability to actually get somewhere).

You can see where I’m going with this. The transportation future envisaged by this panel does not appear to include bicycling, nor is it yet ready to hold the transportation sector accountable to other national policy imperatives. States, and our beloved state DOT’s, were addressed ten times as often as “city” or “cities”.

The final superficial count I made: the pictures. What do the photos tell us about the direction of the report? Funny you should ask. There are 137 pictures in the 54-page report. Just 22 have any people visible in them, and of those eight are people sitting in cars and five show emergency services personnel at a crash scene, or researchers in lab coats. There is just one bona fide picture of people walking in the street; there’s one deer; one duck; and not a single person on a bicycle. Maybe you can’t read a lot into the photo count, but when bicyclists don’t even rise to the level of attention given to ducks and deer, it sure tells you something.

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