Obama’s Transportation Secretary Says He Wants to ‘Coerce People Out of Their Cars’

By Terence P. Jeffrey | May 25, 2009 | 11:49pm EDT
(CNSNews.com) - Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told a group of reporters at the National Press Club on Thursday that he wants to “coerce people out of their cars.”

In Newsweek magazine last week, nationally syndicated columnist George Will published a piece critical of Lahood, entitled, “Ray LaHood, Transformed--Secretary of Behavior Modification.”

“He says he has joined a ‘transformational’ administration: ‘I think we can change people's behavior,’” Will reports that LaHood said over lunch.

LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Peoria, Ill., has become a champion of using the Department of Transportation and federal transportation spending to get people to take trains, busses, and ride bikes instead of driving cars.

At the National Press Club on Thursday he attempted to respond to George Will’s column and to explain his vision for using the power of government to change people’s transportation behavior and to change the nature of American residential communities.

“We want to really--and notwithstanding the fact that George Will doesn't like this idea--the idea of creating opportunities for people to get out of their cars--and we're working with the secretary of HUD, Shaun Donovan, on opportunities for housing, walking paths, biking paths,” said LaHood. “If somebody wants to ride their bike, if--to work or to the place of employment or to other places--mass transit, light rail--creating opportunities for what we call livable communities.”

The moderator of the press club event asked LaHood: “Some in the highway-supporters motorist groups have been concerned by your livability initiative. Is this an effort to make driving more torturous and to coerce people out of their cars?”

LaHood answered: “It is a way to coerce people out of their cars.

“Yeah,” he continued, “I mean, look, people don't like spending an hour and a half getting to work. And people don't like spending an hour going to the grocery store. And all of you who live around here know exactly what I'm talking about. You know, the dreaded thing is to have to run an errand on a weekend around here or to try and get home at 3:00 in the afternoon or even 5:00 in the afternoon.

“Now, look, every community is not going to be a livable community. But we have to create opportunities for people that do want to use a bicycle or want to walk or want to get on a streetcar or want to ride a light rail,” said LaHood.

Lahood suggested to the reporters that George Will is the only person opposed to using the government to promote mass transit and bicycling over driving a car.

“And the only person that I've heard of that objects to this is George Will. Check out Newsweek magazine,” said LaHood.

Lahood then made a joke about the fact that some conservatives believe that the way he wants to use the Department of Transportation represents an increased government intrusion in people’s lives.

“Some conservative groups are wary of the livable communities program, saying it's an example of government intrusion into people's lives,” said the moderator. “How do you respond?”

“About everything we do around here is government intrusion in people's lives,” said LaHood. “So have at it.”

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