Trails in Indiana

LaHood Controversy: U.S. National Transportation Policy Ill-Advised?

 Editorial by Mario Vian, Policy Analyst, Hoosier Rails to Trails Council.

 Hoosier Rails to Trails Council recently joined a small cadre at the welcoming of Transportation Secretary Raymond LaHood to the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School as part of the national “Safe Routes to School” campaign.

Secretary LaHood caused quite a controversy as he announced a “sea change” in U.S. transportation policy, declaring that national transportation funds should give the same consideration to biking and walking as to motorized transport. This announcement came during the well attended National Bicycle Summit earlier this year.

This stance immediately came under fire from the Teamsters Union and similarly minded business groups duly concerned about the need for the maintenance and continuance of a strong roadway system.

Secretary LaHood, as quoted in an interview with Green, an internet blog, acknowledged the need to maintain a strong interstate and local roadway structure, but made it clear that the American people had demanded that walking and biking ‘share the road’ with the motorized, when it came to funding.

From the same blog interview, Leora Broydo Vestel quoted the Secretary as saying: “…this is what Americans want. American’s want alternatives…We’ll always continue to make sure that those investments in the highways are maintained…But, what Americans want is to get out of their cars, and get out of congestion, and have opportunities for more transit, more light rail, more buses and some communities are going to street cars. But many communities have the chance to bike to work, to bike to the store, to spend time with their family on a bike.”

HRTC couldn’t agree more. As an advocacy group, HRTC has promoted the converting of old railroad beds, but maintained serving the common good with alternative transportation for the same purpose: how to best use our land resources.

When it comes to getting places, for fun or profit, the most beneficial forms of moving about involve exercise, like biking and walking. HRTC follows the thinking that trails of all types for the non motorized, materially assist in enabling healthier lifestyles and thus lowering the negative impact of personal health on a person and on health care costs.

Hoosier Rails to Trails staff attended a February lecture by IUPUI Professor of Economics, Robert “Bob” Sandy, PhD, whose study found strong correlations that trail proximity of a quarter mile or less in non high crime areas, significantly impacts the effects of childhood obesity. Very few interstate highways allow biking, much less walking. Trails help.

At a recent Indianapolis meeting of the health coalition Health by Design, a former clinical juvenile trauma nurse and PhD described the direct and indirect costs associated with bike/ped traffic injuries, citing a five year study of the Indianapolis metro area.

The findings concluded that although direct costs totaled $15 million, indirect costs, including specialized educational needs and special access equipment, totaled an estimated $60 million for these victims. Bicycle and pedestrian safety costs relate directly to transportation, yet seldom find their way into a transportation budget. The speaker cited accident related injuries as the leading cause of death through the mid 40’s.

For once, at least, the Hoosier Rails to Trails Council concludes, the federal government has finally achieved a more balanced transportation policy.

Oil costs and foreign dependency, oil extraction requiring drilling 5000 feet below the ocean, the cost of pollution and the general lack of well being generated by sedentary lifestyles including time spent sitting and driving or riding causes measurable damage to the country and its people.

The Washington Post in an article November 17th of last year, quoted Rick Potts, a department head of the National Park Service: “Science is validating what moms have known for generations: Being outside is good for your health.” “I’ve never known a ranch kid on Ritalin,” quoting Potts, a Montana native, from the same article.

Two legs trumps four wheels almost every time.

For more information about Ray LaHood's visit, please contact Mario Vian at the Comment section below.