In Obama’s second term, distinctive transportation policy must change focus to walking and bicycling

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Barack Obama and his family on stage at McCormick Place last night. Photo by John Tolva. 

President Obama was elected to a second term yesterday, defeating former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. We are glad for this as we believe it will maintain the excellent ideas, initiatives, and enthusiasm for sustainable transportation for at least four more years. President Obama hired Ray LaHood to be the secretary of transportation. Partnering with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Transportation crafted six livability principles that changed how grants would be distributed.

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This Amtrak Lincoln Service train will be moving a bit faster this year. Photo by Eric Pancer. 

The Obama administration created the first-ever plan for high-speed rail corridors and after Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA, “stimulus”) in 2009, Illinois rebuilt hundreds of miles of track from Chicago to St. Louis, Missouri, to speed up its busiest passenger train line. The plan is the best chance for European and Asian-style high-speed rail to connect Midwest cities, giving people more options and alternatives over driving with expensive gas and unfairly-subsidized roads.

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These three Illinois representatives will thankfully oppose the disastrous transportation bill

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Transit and highway, side-by-side, along the Kennedy Expressway in Chicago. The current and proposed funding situations are insufficient for both, as the gas tax is a flat rate that hasn’t changed since 1993. Photo by Eric Rogers.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been reporting on a transportation bill in the House of Representatives that kills funding for transit (which millions of people across the country depend on to get to work) and bicycle and walking infrastructure. There’s evidence that the bill may die on the House floor next week, thanks in part to three Illinois representatives who are voicing their opposition:

Congressmen who represent Chicago’s suburbs finally are weighing in on that transportation bill that’s due to hit the House floor next week, and they don’t like what they see.

In a flurry of statements after several days of quiet review, U.S. Reps. Robert Dold [10th district], Judy Biggert [13th district] and Adam Kinzinger [11th district] — all Republicans — flatly say or strongly suggest that they cannot support the bill drafted by House GOP leadership. From ChicagoBusiness.com.

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House of Representatives transportation bill fraught with bad ideas

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Funding for trails? Forget it, say House Republicans. Photo by Eric Rogers.

Updated 15:36: See additions to this article under “updates”

No matter how you get around, whether on foot, by bike, in a car, on a bus or by train or water taxi, the federal surface transportation bill impacts your travel.

The surface transportation bill does essentially two things:

1. It sets national transportation policy. This includes plans on how much to subsidize monthly car parking for workers, monthly transit passes (see note 1); regional planning; safety goals; and environmental protection from vehicle pollution and infrastructure impacts.

2. Defines which transportation modes and programs get how much money.

A majority of trains, buses, bike lanes, roads, and highways in Chicagoland were built with funding from the surface transportation bill. And they continue to be majority-funded by federal tax dollars, year after year.

The last surface transportation bill is called SAFETEA-LU and it expired on September 30, 2009, at the end of fiscal year 2009 – Transportation 4 America has a clock counting the time since expiration. Since then, it has been extended many times while Congressional committees and representatives work on a new one.

A new one may be enacted this year!

Continue reading House of Representatives transportation bill fraught with bad ideas

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