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Oberstar Says Goodbye, Mica Promises Rail and a Long-Term Bill

Rep. Jim Oberstar said goodbye today after 36 years in the House, during which he helped pioneer federal support for biking and walking. “I go in peace of mind and heart, but with sadness,” he said in his concession speech.

Oberstar says goodbye. Photo: ##

Oberstar gives his farewell speech. Photo: MPR

He said he wouldn’t change or take back any of his votes for transportation, especially improvements in his own district. He refused to apologize for the stimulus, saying the infrastructure it paid for will be there for a hundred years.

Meanwhile, John Mica, the top Republican on the Transportation Committee – and its presumptive next chair – said in a statement:

If selected by my peers to chair the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the next Congress, my primary focus will be improving employment and expanding economic opportunities, doing more with less, cutting red tape and removing impediments to creating jobs, speeding up the process by which infrastructure projects are approved, and freeing up any infrastructure funding that’s been sitting idle.

Among my top legislative priorities will be passing a long-term federal highways and transit reauthorization… I will also focus on major initiatives to find ways within the Committee’s jurisdiction to save taxpayer dollars. That includes better management and utilization of federal assets, including real property, and more efficient, cost effective passenger rail transportation, including a better directed high-speed rail program.

Some reformers saw visions of high speed rail go down the toilet with the flip in Congressional power. Mica seems to indicate otherwise. Certainly, he’ll be under pressure from his party – which reads yesterday’s victory as a mandate for smaller government – to cut spending. But Mica supported Oberstar’s $500 billion transportation bill, and he recognizes the benefits of transit. He’ll need solid backup from advocates — speaking with a fiscal-conservative message — to convince his colleagues that infrastructure investment makes economic sense.

It looks like he’s prepared to try.

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Fred Barnes: Americans Mainly Want to Stay in Their Cars


Adding a few more lanes should do the trick. Photo of the 405: Atwater Village Newbie

After yesterday’s electoral drubbing, the Obama administration will have to deal with a starkly different Congress when they make their expected push for a multi-year transportation bill early next year. We know that some influential House Republicans, like John Mica, don’t necessarily believe that bigger highways will solve America’s transportation problems. And we know that some pro-transit voices in Washington originate from the right. But no one expects the GOP ascendancy to make transportation reform any easier.

For a taste of the right-wing line against transportation reform, check out the election week issue of the Murdoch-owned Weekly Standard. Inside, editor Fred Barnes (under fire recently for accepting speaking fees from the GOP) mounts an attack on just about every federal transportation policy other than highway spending. There’s nothing really conservative about Barnes’s screed — it could have come straight from the pen of an asphalt industry lobbyist. Wondering what a transportation bill would look like if it were reshaped according to what highway boosters believe should be the “core program”? Read Barnes and find out.

He starts by ridiculing Ray LaHood’s speech at the 2010 National Bike Summit, where the transportation secretary said that Americans “want out of their cars, they want out of congestion, they want to live in livable neighborhoods and livable communities.” Barnes disagrees:

LaHood was half right. People hate traffic congestion. But they want to get out of their cars about as much as they want to get stuck behind a bicyclist who rides at a donkey’s pace before running through red lights and stop signs. What people mainly want is to stay in their cars and have LaHood do something to reduce congestion.

Like finance the construction and maintenance of highways and bridges to facilitate the flow of autos and trucks. That, rather than promoting “livability” or “the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of nonmotorized,” is the job of the Department of Transportation. Always has been.

This is, basically, his entire argument: People just want to “stay in their cars.” We have zero interest in getting around any other way. According to Fred Barnes, we are perfectly content to drive and drive and drive, as long as we don’t have to put up with all the other people driving. If you believe that, then his cheerleading for highway construction makes a lot of sense.

If being inside our cars is what we’re really all about, by all means lets throw more money down the sinkhole of highway expansion. That will guarantee more quality time inside our cars. Then, a few years later, when we’re in our cars but not enjoying it so much because the new lanes are jammed with traffic again, we’ll repeat the whole expensive process.

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Election Results: GOP Govs Win Big, Dems Take California, Oberstar Ousted

The current governor map, before yesterday's winners are seated.

The current governors map, before yesterday's winners are seated. Several blue states, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, will turn red. California will flip from red to blue.

The biggest news from last night, of course, is that the GOP won control of the House of Representatives. That means Republicans now control all the House committees, and Ohio’s John Boehner — a believer in wider highways — will wield the Speaker’s gavel. The Democrats hung on to the Senate, though, and pundits are forecasting two years of gridlock.

Streetsblog has mainly been profiling races for governor where transportation issues had a high profile. Here are some results with big implications for smart growth and sustainable transportation.

Governor Results

California: Jerry Brown (D) 54 percent – Meg Whitman (R) 41 percent
Whitman would have said no to high speed rail, Brown has a record of curbing sprawl and fighting highway expansion.

Colorado: John Hickenlooper (D) 50 percent – Tom Tancredo (AMC) 37 percent – Dan Maes (R) 11 percent
The GOP hangs on to major party status by a hair after bike-paranoid Maes costs them the election. Hickenlooper is a bike and transit advocate who really gets it.

Florida: Rick Scott (R) 49 percent – Alex Sink (D) 48 percent
Scott has said he’ll kill high speed rail, giving back federal dollars. Sink is a transit supporter who said bike infrastructure could improve street safety.

Georgia: Nathan Deal (R) 53 percent – Roy Barnes (D) 43 percent
Barnes has environmental concerns about a highway expansion project Deal supports. Barnes wanted to “unclog Atlanta” through transit.

Maryland: Martin O’Malley (D) 56 percent – Bob Ehrlich (R) 42 percent
Incumbent O’Malley will move forward with building a light-rail Purple Line expansion of the D.C. Metro. Ehrlich said he favored bus rapid transit but some thought he was just trying to cause delays.

Read more…

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Election Day Finds Two Livability Champions on the Ropes

Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN) will likely lose his chairmanship of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, as control of the House is widely expected to shift to the Republicans after today’s election. But Oberstar could also lose his seat in Congress.

Oberstar, right, and DeFazio share a ride in a pedi-cab. ## River Bridge Project##

Oberstar, right, and DeFazio share a ride in a pedi-cab. Willamette River Bridge Project

As committee chair, Oberstar has been a strong advocate for transit investment and livability reforms. He’s also the architect and chief proponent of the six-year $500 billion transportation bill that’s been stalled in the House since last summer.

Oberstar has easily won 17 consecutive elections, but the 18th is proving to be a little sticky. The LA Times reports:

[R]ecently, American Crossroads, an independent group affiliated with GOP strategist Karl Rove, started running spots on the Duluth stations that blanket the area. A group formed by Democrat-turned-Republican Dick Morris also launched a spot against Oberstar.

Then a third group called 60 Plus, which bills itself as a conservative alternative to AARP, began broadcasting $100,000 worth of ads saying it was time for the 76-year-old incumbent to retire.

Now, Oberstar’s seat is in play.

According to polling by SurveyUSA, he’s currently just one point ahead of challenger Chip Cravaack, within the margin of error. And he’s not the only champion having to fight harder than usual to retain his seat.

It’s being portrayed as a testament to the power of anti-incumbent sentiment this year that Peter DeFazio (D-OR) finds himself in a surprisingly close race against Republican Art Robinson. DeFazio, as chair of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee, has strongly advocated for including livability measures in the transportation bill.

He won his last race with 82 percent, and no independent polls were even commissioned this time around — his chances were considered that good. Conservative money has helped Robinson close the funding gap, though. And the only poll that’s been conducted — admittedly, by a Republican polling firm — shows DeFazio just six points ahead. That’s a lot closer than he expected this race to be.


Vote Early: The Streetsblog Election of 2010

Here’s your chance to vote early on the issues facing California voters next Tuesday.  If you need help, check out the Streetsblog Voter Guide first.

Governor's Race: Jerry Brown v Meg Whitman

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Senate Race: Barbara Boxer v Carly Fiorina

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Proposition 19: Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010

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Proposition 22: The Local Taxpayer, Public Safety and Transportation Protection Act

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Proposition 23: The California Jobs Initiative

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California Streetsblog Voter Guide

Polls show that Brown is walking towards a second stint as governor.  Photo:##

Polls show that Brown is walking towards a second stint as governor. Photo:CNN

At long last, Tuesday is election day. Voters throughout California, and the rest of the country, will head to the polls to vote on Congressional, Senate, Governor and Statehouse races. California voters have a lot of big decisions to make, including several statewide races and ballot propositions.

Streetsblog has covered the races throughout the last several months. Here is a summary of our coverage of the Governor’s Race, U.S. Senate Race, and Ballot Propositions 19, 21 and 23.  When you’re done reading, vote in our StreetPoll and see how Streetsbloggers are planning to vote this year.

Governor’s Race:  Democrat Jerry Brown v Republican Meg Whitman

Back in June we looked at the transportation positions that candidates had taken during the primaries and their record on transportation issues.   Earlier this week, Tanya Snyder took a fresh look at Capitol Hill Streetsblog.

Because of his career in politics, Brown had a lengthy record to analyze.  When he was governor in the 1970’s, Brown was ahead of the national curve.  He de-emphasized highway projects and put the money towards transit.  It seems that record would continue as he is a proponent of High Speed Rail.

Whitman hasn’t addresses a lot of transportation issues head on, but we do know that she’s opposed to the “wasteful spending” of High Speed Rail and favors a suspension of the state’s landmark Greenhouse Gas Law, AB32.

U.S. Senate Race: Senator Barbara Boxer v Carly Fiorina

Streetsblog hasn’t taken a hard look at both candidates’ transportation positions, but there are still a few things we can say with certainty.

Whitman, Fiorina, confetti.  Photo: OC Register

Whitman, Fiorina, confetti. Photo: OC Register

Fiorina is an outspoken supporter of indefinitely delaying the implementation of the state’s Greenhouse Gas reduction legislation, supports the state’s High Speed Rail plans and favors more off-shore drilling for oil.  Other than that, there isn’t a lot known about Fiorina’s position on transportation projects.

But Fiorina has made a lot of her campaign about the fact that she is not Barbara Boxer.  And Boxer we know plenty about.

On one hand, Boxer has been a dynamo in promoting Los Angeles’ 30/10 Initiative that would allow the county to leverage its 2008 sales tax to build 30 years of transit projects in the next decade.  Just last week, she helped to bring a $545 million loan for the first 30/10 project.

The larger issue for Boxer has been her lack of energy in passing a new transportation funding bill in the Senate Energy and Transportation Committee which she chairs.   While she has promised a robust effort to pass legislation in 2011, there’s two problems with that pledge.  First, even if she wins her election there’s a chance that “her” committee will be chaired by someone else if the Republicans take control of the Senate.  Second, there’s also a large chance that the House of Representatives, which would need to agree with anything passed by the Senate, is quite a bit more conservative. Read more…

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A Second Look at Brown v Whitman

Continuing with our series on key governor’s races, here’s some news on the contest in California. We’ve taken a look at some races in Maryland and Colorado where pro-transit, pro-bike candidates are likely to win. We examined the nuances of a candidate in Tennessee who’s a mixed bag on transportation issues. And yesterday we brought you the bad news that Rick Perry of Trans-Texas Corridor fame was driving a Hummer to victory in that state. That was sort of a bummer, so let’s get back to good news.

A few weeks ago, we linked to a New York Times article about Republican candidates who want to kill high speed rail plans in their states. Exhibit A: Meg Whitman, running for California governor.

Jerry Brown holds a 10-point lead over Meg Whitman heading into the final week of the election. Image: ## Los Angeles##

Jerry Brown holds a 10-point lead over Meg Whitman heading into the final week of the election. Image: CBS Los Angeles

Her Republican predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, spearheaded the plan to build a high speed line from San Francisco to Los Angeles. He wants it so badly he even shrugged off accountability and killed a provision that would have tied funding for the rail program to improvements in its business plan.

And he cheered earlier this week when the Federal Railroad Administration granted the rail project $902 million, on top of $2.3 billion in stimulus money California was awarded in January. California voters already approved $10 billion in bonds for the project, but the state is still a long way away from raising the entire $45 billion budget for the rail line.

But the Governator is on his way out, and this is the part where you get to Choose Your Own Adventure. Will it be eBay CEO Meg Whitman? Or the man with the longest résumé in California politics, Attorney General Jerry Brown?

Whitman has let it be known that she’d axe the high speed rail program. In July, a campaign spokesperson put that issue to rest: “Meg believes the state cannot afford the costs associated with high-speed rail due to our current fiscal crisis.”

Meanwhile, Brown is on record supporting high speed rail from as far back as 1982, when, as governor, he signed the law creating a high speed rail project (which never came to fruition.) His campaign website makes clear that he “support[s] high speed rail as a clean, fast, accessible alternative to air transportation and long in-state automobile trips.” Governor Brown also appointed a woman as Caltrans director who was two decades ahead of her time in supporting HOV lanes – to the horror of California drivers.

Brown also supported transit-oriented development as mayor of Oakland (I told you he’s held every job in California!), successfully increasing density in that city. He still wants to offer incentives to developers for building near transit hubs. And he says the state – and the feds – are going to have to pony up to fill in the cash gaps of municipalities, like Los Angeles, that are building transit systems.

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Will Bike-Phobic Dan Maes Cost the Colorado GOP Major Party Status?

This is the third installment of Streetsblog Capitol Hill’s series on key governor’s races. Earlier we brought you stories about a candidate who likes bikes but isn’t sure about transit in Tennessee, and the choice between light rail and bus rapid transit in Maryland. Here we turn our attention to Colorado.

Colorado is a classic swing state. Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats by a margin of just 3.5 percent. The state voted for Obama in 2008, the first time it went blue in a presidential contest since Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign. And before that, you had to go all the way back to LBJ.

But now this purple state may be losing its red. Gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes’ trainwreck of a campaign could leave the GOP a minor party in the state of Colorado. Could it have something to do with his bizarre allegations that bike-sharing in Denver is a UN plot? Or his zeal to de-regulate the oil and gas industries?

From left: Tom Tancredo, Dan Maes, and John Hickenlooper in a three-way debate in Colorado's gubernatorial election. Image: ##

From left: Tom Tancredo, Dan Maes, and John Hickenlooper in a three-way debate in Colorado's gubernatorial election. Image: AP

As Talking Points Memo reported yesterday, if Maes fails to attract just 10 percent of the votes next Tuesday, the GOP will be saddled with minor party status in Colorado until 2014. A recent Denver Post poll shows him at 9 percent. The Democratic-affiliated PPP poll gives him just 5 percent. Minor party status would leave the GOP at a serious disadvantage by limiting their fundraising and ceding their spot at the top of the ballot.

That doesn’t mean Democrat John Hickenlooper will just cruise into the governor’s mansion though. American Constitution Party candidate Tom Tancredo (formerly a Republican member of Congress) is making this race a contest, with Hickenlooper ahead by about 6 percent, according to the polling average cited on Real Clear Politics. They’re competing for the seat being vacated by Democrat Bill Ritter, who was rated the country’s greenest governor last year.

Tancredo is too singularly obsessed with immigration to talk much about transportation or environmental issues. But not Maes.

“This is all very well-disguised, but it will be exposed,” he said in August of Denver’s bike-sharing program, which Hickenlooper had helped to launch as the city’s mayor. “This is bigger than it looks like on the surface, and it could threaten our personal freedoms.”

Read more…


Gabbard: Vote Yes on 22

(Note: As we did in 2008, Streetsblog encourages the submission of op/eds about the ballot propositions on the November ballot.  Have something transportation related to say?  Feel free to email me at damien at streetsblog dot org.  None of these op/eds should be considered an endorsement by Streetsblog.)

11 26 10 yes

Proposition 22 is the latest salvo in an ongoing war between key stakeholders who have a stake (and straw) in the state’s budget over who gets how much of it locked up for them. Its purpose is to declare an end to the funding raids the legislature and Governor have engaged in repeatedly during this decade to balance the budget at the expense of transit.

Some find the aspect of 22 that benefits redevelopment agencies as a reason to recoil. This was a realpolitik decision the folks working to get 22 on the ballot made as the transit industry needed at least one other major stakeholder supporting the measure to be sure it would have the necessary financial clout behind it to get on the ballot and provide at least a modest campaign on its behalf.

Regardless of the smell factor and any worries about 22 being yet another budget by ballot measure “locking in” funding that help foster a dysfunctional fiscal structure for the state, if you support transit you should vote for 22 for one salient reason: to end transit’s image among insiders and elected officials as being a weakling and therefore able to be robbed with impunity. Read more…


Proposition 19: Will Legalized Marijuana Lead to Unsafe Streets?

One of the more celebrated ballot propositions appearing on next month’s ballot is Proposition 19 a measure that would legalize possession and smoking of Marijuana for people over the age of 21 under state law. Meanwhile, the Federal Government has vowed to continue enforcing a federal prohibition on marijuana regardless of the vote of California voters.

For many law enforcement agencies, the passage of Prop. 19 is a scary idea.  Not only would they be receiving different instructions from the Federal and State governments.  Agencies are also concerned that passage will lead to an army of stoned drivers taking to the street and imperiling themselves, other drivers, and other road users.

Recently, Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich has launched a strange public relations campaign to try and “discover” the impact of smoking marijuana on driving.  What makes it strange?  Instead of using a scientific method and having a control group; Trutanich and the California Highway Patrol are basically giving marijuana to media personalities, letting them smoke it and putting them behind the wheel.  If I didn’t know any better, I might think this was a publicity stunt.

Amongst the media personalities that have taken Trutanich’s bait is L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez who wrote a recent column on his adventures with controlled marijuana use.  Under the supervision of a couple of amused CHP officers, Lopez smoked a joint of something called “Train Wreck” before being taken to a testing course and put behind the wheel of a Crown Vic.  Lopez reports that neither himself or ABC Radio personality Peter Tilden passed the test with flying colors.

With all do respects to the testing of Professor Trutanich, actual studies on the impacts of marijuana use on drivers is somewhat harder to determine.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a branch of the Federal Government, has done its own testing with a somewhat more rigorous scientific testing model.  They discovered that: Read more…