- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 15, 2010

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a weekend bicyclist, might consider keeping his head down and his helmet on. A backlash is brewing over his new bicycling policy.

Mr. LaHood says the government is going to give bicycling - and walking, too - the same importance as automobiles in transportation planning and the selection of projects for federal money. The former Republican congressman quietly announced the “sea change” in transportation policy last month.

“This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized,” he wrote in his government blog.

Not so fast, say some conservatives and industries dependent on trucking. A manufacturers’ blog called the policy “nonsensical.” One congressman suggested Mr. LaHood was on drugs.

The new policy is an extension of the Obama administration’s livability initiative, which regards the creation of alternatives to driving - buses, streetcars, trolleys and trains, as well as biking and walking - as central to solving the nation’s transportation woes.

Mr. LaHood’s blog was accompanied by a DOT policy statement urging states and transportation agencies to treat “walking and bicycling as equals with other transportation modes.” It recommends, among other things, including biking and walking lanes on bridges and clearing snow from bike paths.

Transportation secretary is normally a quiet post, a Cabinet backwater. But Mr. LaHood has been the administration’s point man on an array of high-profile issues, from high-speed trains and distracted drivers to runaway Toyotas.

The new policy has vaulted Mr. LaHood to superstar status in the bicycling world. Bike blogs are bubbling with praise. A post on Ridemonkey.com calls him “cycling’s man of the century.” The Adventure Cycling Association’s Web site calls Mr. LaHood “our hero.”

“LaHood went out on a limb for cyclists,” Joe Lindsey wrote on Bicycling.com. “He said stuff no Transportation secretary’s ever said, and is backing it up with action.”

The policy has also been embraced by environmentalists and many urban planners.

Word of the policy change is still filtering out beyond the bicycling and transportation communities, but the initial reaction from conservatives and industry has been hostile.

The National Association of Manufacturers’ blog, Shopfloor.org, called the policy “dumb and irresponsible.”

“LaHood’s pedal parity is nonsensical for a modern industrial nation,” said the blog. “We don’t call it sacrilege, but radical is a fair description. It is indeed a sea change in federal transportation policy that could have profound implications for the U.S. economy and the 80 percent of freight that moves by truck.”

Mr. LaHood said he has been surprised by the response.

“It didn’t seem that controversial to me,” he wrote in a second blog item. “After all, I didn’t say they should have the only voice. Just a voice.”

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