Lawmaker Says Obama Administration Doesn't Want to 'Coerce People Into Their Cars'

By Nicholas Ballasy | April 22, 2010 | 8:55 PM EDT

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.)

( - Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), the founder of the Congressional Bike Caucus, told that through its transportation policy, the federal government wants to adopt measures that will “not coerce people into their cars,” but create a way for people to choose alternative transportation.

Blumenauer spoke to after his pre-Earth Day address to the Alliance for Community Trees. 
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has said that the Department of Transportation (DOT) wants to “coerce people out their cars” with its “livability initiative.”

As part of this initiative, LaHood announced in December 2009 that $280 million in federal funds would be allocated for streetcars. asked Blumenauer whether he agreed with Hood about coercing Americans out of their cars. The congressman said,  “I would say it somewhat differently. I mean, I think what we want to do is not coerce people into their cars. In too many parts of America, you have to burn a gallon of gas to get a gallon of milk.  In too many parts of America, it’s no longer safe for children to walk or bike to school on their own.”

“By having a range of safe, affordable transportation options, then people can choose what makes most sense for them,” said Blumenauer. “If we allowed children to safely get to school on their own, walking or biking everyday, I don’t think we would be concerned about as many morbidly obese 400-pound sixth graders. We wouldn’t have a double pattern of congestion around when people go to work and when they take their kids to school.”
“So, for me, it’s not so much coercion,” he said. “It’s that we have a system now that doesn’t meet all the transportation needs of pedestrians, freight movement, cyclists, commuters, family recreation activities. Giving people choices will make a more balanced system and make it work better.”Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood recently announced a “sea change” at the DOT. “We have reached the end of favoring motorized transportation over non-motorized,” he said. asked Blumenauer if he agreed with the Secretary.
Blumenauer said, “I think Secretary LaHood has taken an important step forward, acknowledging what communities themselves have discovered: that you have to have balanced transportation. I mean, virtually everybody is a pedestrian at some point in their trip.”
“Cycling has an opportunity to make huge advances for mobility, particularly for children to promote health,” said Blumenauer. “We have a disproportionate number of fatalities that are bicycle- or pedestrian-related, and for the secretary to say we’re going to deal with all areas of transportation on an equal footing – we’re not going to focus on one and ignoring another -- I think is an important step forward.
“but it is just acknowledging what people in communities around the county have discovered for themselves,” said the congressman. “If you don’t have a balanced transportation system, it doesn’t work, and it actually makes it harder to get public support for your initiatives.”
Blumenauer also explained what he means by “balanced” transportation.
“Well, balance means that we take into account all of the multiple needs of the various transportation modes and of individuals,” he said. “This means transit, freight movement, the individual commuter who happens to be going in a single-occupant vehicle. It means bike and pedestrian. If you ignore the needs of one at the expense of another, what it ends up doing is taking away choices from people.”
Blumenauer continued: “There are a number of people who, for instance, can’t afford to travel to work everyday by themselves in a single-occupant vehicle. There are a number of people who can’t drive, who shouldn’t drive, or can’t afford to drive. It is, it’s also being able to distinguish between a variety of different people even who are, who use automobiles -- because some are long-distance commuters, some are trying to negotiate shorter trips by having transportation policies that connect streets so that they work better and give people choices.”
Blumenauer used Europe as an example of balanced transportation.
“What would happen in Europe if they didn’t have high speed rail this last week when air lines were shut down over more than half the continent?” he said. “So, this is all about choice. This is about getting more value out of each dollar, and it’s being able to mobilize political and public support for what Americans need.”
The Alliance for Community Trees is a coalition of more than 100 organizations involved in “grassroots community greening, public education, policymaking, and other activities supporting better urban forest stewardship.”  
The organization’s mission is to “support grassroots, citizen-based nonprofit organizations dedicated to urban and community tree planting, care, conservation, and education.”