Friday, November 21, 2008

President-Elect Obama *hearts* bicycles--and urban policy

Readers may remember that last month I encouraged visitors here to vote for Barack Obama on the strength of his approach to urban and transportation issues. It is a sign of the high priority he has given these matters that he has recently announced the establishing of a White House Office of Urban Policy that will coordinate the activities of such offices as HUD, Health and Human Services, and Transportation. Various commenters on this news note that it has been many, many years since a presidential candidate has emerged from--and spoken to his experiences derived from--a large-city background, and all this bodes well for cities addressing pressing urban planning and transportation issues in a near-future of at-best uncertain state and local revenues.

More good news along these lines: Via Austin Bike Blog comes this Transportation for America post which reprints a response from Mr. Obama to an e-mail petition asking him, should he be elected President, to address urban planning, alternate transportation, and infrastructure issues.
As you know, [investments in infrastructure, green technologies, and high-speed freight and passenger rail] will have significant environmental and metropolitan planning advantages and help diversify our nation’s transportation infrastructure. Everyone benefits if we can leave our cars, walk, bicycle and access other transportation alternatives. I agree that we can stop wasteful spending and save Americans money, and as president, I will re- evaluate the transportation funding process to ensure that smart growth considerations are taken into account.

I will build upon my efforts in the Senate to ensure that more Metropolitan Planning Organizations create policies to incentivize greater bicycle and pedestrian usage of roads and sidewalks. And as president, I will work to provide states and local governments with the resources they need to address sprawl and create more livable communities.
No matter one's politics, what's not to like? It's neither a liberal or conservative position to say that over 80% of our people live in urban areas and that the needs of those areas and their inhabitants have to be addressed through effective planning, no matter who is in the White House or in Congress. As Matthew Yglesias recently put it,
[T]o my way of thinking an enormous amount of good could be done if conservatives were more interested in applying really basic free market principles to transportation policy. For example, why not allow developers to build as much or as little parking as they want to build when they launch a new development? Why not charge market rates for curbside parking on public streets? How about fewer restrictions on the permitted density of development? Why not reduce congestion on the most-trafficked roads through market pricing of access? It happens to be the case that most of the people who are interested in these issues have liberal views on unrelated political issues, but the specific set of views at hand don’t draw on any deep ideological principles, it’s just application of basic economic thinking to the issues and, as such, is something that should be completely accessible to conservative politicians looking to show that conservative ideas can be relevant to the concerns (environmental concerns, quality of life concerns, economic growth concerns) of a set of people who are disinclined to think of themselves as conservatives.
As I've said elsewhere, such proposals, along with others that enhance public and alternate transportation, are not in the end anti-car but end up enhancing everyone's quality of life through quieter and less-congested roadways, reduced reliance on fossil fuels, cleaner air, healthier people, and increased revenues for local governments. It's my hope that Wichita and its new city manager are listening.