Ray LaHood: If You Want Federal Transportation Money to Go to Biking and Walking, Start Agitating Locally

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By Ray LaHood, Secretary, U.S. Department of Transportation

Last week Transportation Nation readers sent me a number of great questions to answer in my latest "On the Go" video. Today, I'd like to return the favor by answering one or two more questions right here on Transportation Nation.

Greg asked: "How can DOT give Americans more transit, walking, and biking options when the vast majority of the money will just be passed to state DOTs to buy more highways?"

Well, Greg, as I acknowledged in "On the Go," some readers of Transportation Nation may not be happy with every part of the new transportation bill, MAP-21. But at DOT, we aren't about to stop moving American transportation forward.

The new bill actually increases the portion of funding going to transit. It broadens the New Starts program to include projects that expand capacity on existing transit lines, and that's a great opportunity for cities with legacy systems. It also provides a big bump to our transit State Of Good Repair program.

And, although highway formula funding is passed to the states, states can still use some of those funds for bicycle and pedestrian projects and other activities that improve air quality and relieve congestion. It's true that MAP-21 permits the states to redirect transportation enhancement funding for purposes other than active transportation, but that doesn't necessarily mean they will.

If accessibility advocates and biking and walking advocates make their voices heard in their state capitols and in their county and city councils, there's no reason to believe that the tremendous progress we've made in the last three years can't continue.

(video of Secretary LaHood from "On The Go")

Tanya asked, "What's your favorite transit line? What city works the best?"

I don't know if Tanya is testing me here or not, but I've already been asked to pick my favorite Olympic sport, and I am not about to pick a favorite transit line or city and arouse the disappointment of every other community in America.

I will say that our nation's transit agencies are doing a great job of moving people where they need to go as safely and reliably as they can. Whether it's by bus, light rail, commuter rail, subway, paratransit, or streetcar, Americans are taking more than 10 billion transit rides each year. And the American Public Transportation Association recently reported that the first quarter of 2012 was the fifth consecutive quarter of ridership growth. As our economy continues to recover, those numbers are only going to increase even more. So my favorite transit line is any one that helps people get where they need to go.

I'm also pleased that MAP-21 gives the Federal Transit Administration a safety oversight role for the first time. We worked with Congress for more than two years to secure that authority, and I know the folks at FTA will hit the ground running in their new mission.

Okay, that's it from here. Thanks again to Transportation Nation and its readers. I appreciate your interest, and I encourage you to stay engaged.