Alright, all my cyclists out there, holler.  I can’t hear you.  Ok, I can hear you now.  The bike question of the day, or perhaps of our current era of Presidential Administration, is: could Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood be, as no politician has been before, an actual hero of United States cycling culture and advocacy?  Is he the Real Deal Holyfield, movin’ and shakin’ his way through red tape and dissenting auto purists to champion bicycles as having an equal share in the way our streets and public spaces are planned? Is he, indeed, THE DOMESTIC REINCARNATION OF MADONNA DEL GHISALLO?!  These things cannot be determined by a single human; they require the analyzation of many.  Begin at LaHood’s own blog, where you can read his thoughts on the recent National Bike Summit and view some videos of him speaking there.

The skinny is that LaHood plans to shake up the way our country approaches transportation planning.  To quote from his blog: “Today, I want to announce 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.”  You can read the official language of his new policy here, but a few of his stated principle aims are to:

  • 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.

As a cyclist, this basically sounds too good to be true.  And, of course, it may be, for the political backlash from LaHood’s goals was immediate and, as we all know, conservative politicians have an uncanny knack for repainting progressive ideas, however rational and necessary, to look half-baked.  Speaking of which, the main vocal opponent of LaHood’s policy, Steven LaTourette (Double “La-s”?  LaBattle of LaBicycle?), went so far as to mockingly suggest that LaHood was on drugs.  I really have no idea, but even if he WERE on drugs, let’s say, hittin’ that chronic, would that make a comprehensive cycling plan that levels the playing field between autos and cyclists, as well as pedestrians for that matter, any less reasonable and fair? If we are, in fact, in the beginning or the middle or the short, bitter end of a green revolution, shouldn’t every form of human transportation factor equally into the success of an integrated community, a space that serves to exclude no one, include everyone?

Or is that an inaccurate, neo-hippy perspective, and does this increase in the planning status of the bicycle actually threaten our economic survival, as the National Association of Manufacturers claims?  Will the trucking and freight industries be jeopardized by more bike paths and fewer commercial-only roads through town centers? Will large, multi-ton semi-trucks, traveling at breakneck speeds, be forced to screech to suicidal halts when young tricyclists suddenly decide to merge onto freeway on-ramps to shave a few minutes off their preschool commutes?  Am I repeatedly asking questions as a means to avoid answering them?  Perhaps; I’m no Ray “Ghisallo” LaHood, after all.  “Madonna Ray,” I think he’s called.

-Jeremy Pearson