Showing posts with label National Politics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label National Politics. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Cutting Through Party Lines, Why Cycling Shouldn't Be A Democrat Versus Republican Issue


Cycling as a political issue has little support by any political party save for the mostly invisible U.S. Green party, but the support we do get tends to come from Democrats, and some of the most vocal critics of cycling are hard-line Republicans (looking at you Patrick McHenry). Personally I'm more liberal, as are many of my cycling friends, except for my libertarian leaning cycling girlfriend, which makes for some fun intellectual debates and then we kiss and make up. But where ever you are coming from, there are a number of good reasons cycling should be embraced regardless of political party or ideology.

Cyclists have often been type cast in the role of granola eating tree huggers (I'm somewhat guilty of this), but the reality is people riding bikes come from all sorts of backgrounds, income levels, and have various personalities and political ideologies. Since most people view cycling as a liberal thing, I'm going to focus on why cycling should be embraced as a conservative thing too.

One of the hall marks of conservative ideology, is the concept of being fiscally conservative. Now the Republican party has drifted from that concept for quite a long time, and all of the biggest deficits of the past several decades have been under Republican presidents. But lets pretend for a moment that Republicans stand for fiscal conservatism.

Well nothing is as fiscally conservative and self reliant as riding a bike. There is little operating subsidy involved in riding a bike, unlike the billions and billions and even more billions we spend in tax payer dollars maintaining leviathan freeways with left overs going to public transit networks. Compared to motorists, we take up less space on roads, do less damage to them, and the dedicated paths we do have are comparatively cheap to maintain compared to auto sized roads. When it comes to parking, the space of a single car space is enough to fill an entire rack of bicycles. Cyclists are fueled by food and not barrels of imported oil, and our vehicle maintenance is generally a few little tweaks and some drops of lubricant. Since we spend less on transportation we have more money to spend on other sectors of the economy.

So encouraging more cycling through safer infrastructure (safety is often the most common cited reason keeping people off the bike) and better accommodations would in fact save money and reduce foreign oil dependence. Many republicans were quick to point to drilling for more oil as a solution, despite the limited supplies we have left to tap. However using less of the supply we already have is the most immediate and effective way to reach greater national self sufficiency. NYC Mayor Bloomberg, often described as an anomaly on the conventional political spectrum, but widely cited as a fiscal conservative despite liberal social policy, describes fiscal conservatism as doing more with less. The bicycle is a perfect example of doing more with less, as it burns even less energy (in calories) than even walking to get around. New York city is now embarking on long term strategies to promote cycling through infrastructure improvements, and other cities should be taking note of this.

Looking beyond just the energy use, there are other savings as well. Despite however much people are afraid of being killed by a car, statistically the life and health enhancing qualities of cycling are more likely to result in you living longer than shorter, and with less medical complications later in life. This is especially true if you remove the most hazardous road cycling behaviors like riding at night without lights, and riding against traffic, which result in most cycling fatalities. Cyclists typically also take less sick days from work. So compared to a typical automobile commuter we use less energy, less material resources, less land space, are more productive and have less medical costs.

Despite all these reasons that cycling should be equated with fiscal conservatism, sadly there are divisive Republican politicians and political personalities that seek to keep cycling a partisan issue. They sometimes even use political support for cycling among opposing candidates as an excuse to smear them, and will openly ridicule riding a bike as a product of the 19th century and claim it is no longer relevant. This in spite of the fact in America 40% of trips made are within 2 miles, a very easy cycling distance, and even 25% of trips are under a mile.

Rush Limbaugh, a talk show host with a massive conservative listener base and GOP leaders groveling to apologize when ever they cross him, what does he have to say on cycling? "Frankly, if the door opens into a bicycle rider I won't care. I think they ought to be off the streets and on the sidewalk." [Rush Limbaugh, Story #8] This comment is hardly surprising to me after reading Bicycling And The Law, which includes numerous references to radio hosts in some cases outright advocating for listeners to injure cyclists intentionally.

What ever the politicians and radio hosts say, there are a number of valid reasons cycling should not be a partisan issue. If the Republican party wants to remain relevant, or have any semblance of true fiscal conservatism, they should not be making cyclists into their enemy. And for cyclists seeking to advance our transportation mode, we need to be reaching out to everyone, liberals and conservatives alike. We have to convince everyone, even those who may strongly disagree with us, why cycling for transportation is a worthy investment.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It's Official, Obama Is President Of The United States.

Bikes 4 Obama

The transition of presidential power is complete, but the real work has just begun. If cyclists want to see more livable, walkable, bikeable city development, we need to keep making noise and not drift quietly into the night. Forces like the highway lobby are preparing to undermine change by demanding the status quo in transportation budgeting. State DOTs all across the country have prepared stimulus priorities, many of which ignore or downplay alternative transit, or even needed road and bridge repair, in favor of new highway expansion projects.

We cannot allow the Federal Government to write the States a blank check for infrastructure spending, since our state governments seem woefully ignorant of the realities in our urban areas or any concern for sustainable development. Once we repair what is broken like bridges ready to collapse, we need real future investments, like better public transit, high-speed rail, cycling and pedestrian safety improvements, not just more lanes on the freeway we scarcely have land for. We must demand that there be clear priorities and accountability to any infrastructure stimulus package. For fellow West Siders our house representative is Henry Waxman and the representatives for California in the senate are Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. Democracy is only as good as we make it to be.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Thank God It's Over, End Of The Bush Era

I could spout off for hours on the criminal actions and horrific policies of the Bush Administration, but that is not what this blog is about. I will say that I'm so very glad that today is the last day of what has been probably the worst presidency in modern history. Obama taking office is not a guarantee for substantial change, he can only push in the changes this country needs if the voices of the people that helped carry him into office don't go quite as soon as their new leader takes the helm. As FDR said to those who wanted him to act on their behalf, "I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it". We need to be the change we want to see in the world, and make Obama do it. For me, riding a bike for transit is one part of that, but it's going to take more then just hopping on a bike if we really want to change the world for the better.

In my early awakening of political mindedness in high school I made the piece of art accompanying this post. It was part of my Scholastic Award winning portfolio that displayed in DC. The piece was made well before Bush was sort of elected, but by the time of the award ceremony and the exhibition, it was ironically Laura Bush broadcast from the White House who congratulated all the students. I didn't have the right to vote yet in the 2000 election, but I was very afraid of what a Bush presidency would be like. My fears were proven right unfortunately. I hope we can undo the wrongs of the past 8 years and move forward, but it will take actions by all of us to keep the pressure for change going. It will mean writing letters to our leaders, protesting wrong actions, leading by example, and what ever means available to make change more then a slogan. And here's hoping the incoming cycling president is better then the last.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Know Your Enemy

This clip has been around a lot of cycling blogs, but just in case any of my readers missed this, it's good for some laughter tinged with anger at the absurdity. I think it's good to know who our enemies in government are, and that they are willing to use logic and reasoning a 3rd grader would be ashamed of. Who needs .00001% of federal transportation dollars for bicycles when you could build the front door to a nuclear power plant with that money instead?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Obama Is Creating A New Office of Urban Policy

Rooftop View
(Downtown L.A. & 10 Freeway)

It looks like the days of the White House exclusively pandering to the image of small town America and the burbs is at last being put to rest. In your face divisive "big cities are unAmerican" Sarah Palin. Obama, a native to the very bicycle friendly city of Chicago isn't in the white house yet, but he is already thinking about how we move forward to revitalize our urban centers. To this end he has proposed for the first time in American history, a new Office of Urban Policy. Transportation for America's David Goldberg writes, "the office is conceived as something of a supercabinet position that potentially could coordinate policy among the Department of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, environment, public health and other arenas."

If this plays out how I dare say, "hope" it does, this could become the beginning of an urban renaissance in America. In 1961 urban activist and author Jane Jacobs wrote the still highly relevant book The Life & Death Of Great American Cities, and perhaps now at last, we can finally see some of her ideas for urban revitalization set into motion.

Alternative transit and livable streets advocates are buzzing with excitement (aka nerding out all over their blogs like I am doing right now). A website has sprung up to vote on and propose ideas that will be narrowed down and sent to lobby the Obama administration. I wrote that we create a federal complete streets legislation (stole idea from Streets Blog) to create road guidelines that include all road users (BIKES TOO!!!) to qualify for federal funding benefits. If you want to have your say, or cast votes for the great ideas already floating around, go check it out.