Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is getting an unfair ration of abuse for his recent comments on government bicycle and pedestrian policy under his leadership. LaHood said that cycling and walking are real forms of transportation and would be treated as such by the federal government.

“This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of nonmotorized transportation,” LaHood said on his blog.

The shock waves have been mighty, but way off base. A manufacturing industry website called it “dumb and irresponsible.” An Ohio congressman asked if there was still mandatory drug testing at the department.

But the critics are missing the point. No one expects bikes to take the place of long-haul trucks, but in certain situations they can be a cost-effective and healthy way for people to get around. If you need proof, just look at Portland. Infrastructure improvements for cyclists cost a fraction of what it would cost to increase capacity for cars and trucks. Sometimes all that’s needed is some paint and a few new signs.

And as improvements are made, more people use those routes. Sometimes just for recreation, but also to get to work or for the grocery store trip they might have used a car for in the past. More bicycles means fewer cars and less pressure on the expensive infrastructure cars require.

Saying that motorized vehicles’ needs won’t always trump nonmotorized ones is not the same as saying that the opposite is true.

But transportation planners can and should balance the needs of all kinds of transportation, and government spending decisions should reflect that.


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