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LaHood: Bikers, walkers should have a voice in transportation policy

April 20, 2010

Owensboro recently took a big step forward in becoming a more bike-friendly community after years of preparation.

Mike Maloney, front left, talks to Becky Martin, second from right, and Patricia McKeegan, right, after local officials unveiled Owensboro's north-south and east-west bike routes along with new signs and directional sharrows near City Hall in March. Maloney said, "I think this is a step that has to happen ... (Owensboro is) a great community for biking." (Messenger-Inquirer photo)

The designation of two bike routes through the city – one north-south and another east-west – came after extended debate and various stops and starts about how to treat those who ride on two wheels instead of four.

Those in the local biking community look at these routes as a first phase toward a more extensive network and wider acceptance of bicycling on the roadways, and their sentiments appear to be echoed by the U.S. Secretary of Transporation, Ray LaHood.

As the Evansville Courier-Press notes in an editorial Monday, LaHood has stirred some controversy by a post on his blog that calls for people-powered modes of transportation to have a seat at the policy table.

From the Courier-Press editorial

The secretary said his department would treat biking and walking equally with other forms of transportation in setting policy and he urged state agencies to do likewise.

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

Nonetheless, his recommendations seemed rather mild — such as protecting bike paths and sidewalks from vehicular traffic, and clearing snow from bike paths in winter.

But business groups, who are lobbying for billions in the new highway bill, went ballistic. According to the Associated Press, a National Association of Manufacturers blog called the policy “nonsensical,” “dumb and irresponsible” and “radical.”

The editorial notes that LaHood might be on to something, and it appears he is.

And certainly his comments didn’t warrant the type of outrage that they prompted. As LaHood noted, those who walk or pedal should have a voice in transportation policy, but not the only voice.

Because of its size, Owensboro has great potential to cultivate a strong bike route network that will help encourage more ridership.

The newly established bike routes should be just a first in many phases, and should find support among those who will use them and those who might not, but will benefit nonetheless. Even those that are firmly committed to their vehicles can back an effort that could help make the roads less congested for them.

It’s encouraging to hear that there is support from the top levels of transportation policymakers for those who have been neglected in those decisions for so long.

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One Comment
  1. Clint permalink
    April 20, 2010 8:40 am

    Whenever I read anything about Owensboro, I hear lots of talk about whether this initiative or that initiative will make those who have left the city want to come back. As one of those who has left, I have to say that all these new riverfront developments with their fancy new parks that won’t be half as nice as what was bulldozed, all these talks of fancy hotels and elaborate convention halls built on contaminated ground do absolutely nothing for me. I left Owensboro and wound up in Chicago, which has that sort of thing in spades. Chicago also has an extensive network of bicycle routes and at least a hint of understanding that some portion of the population perfers bicycling to other modes of transport.

    Owensboro didn’t have that when I left. Trying to bike the city back then was far more dangerous than biking Chicago, which is just absurd. Getting around a small city like Owensboro should be easy. And I found when I happened to return with my bike a few days ago that in some places, it is easy now. These initiatives, along with the excellent Green Belt, are slowly turning the town into a bicyclist’s paradise. And that is something I can get behind. That’s something that will bring people like me back.

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