LaHood to Streetsblog: No, I’m Not Changing the Name of My Blog

lahood_abny.jpgPhoto: Danny Bright

I’ll add a few more impressions to Bobby Cuza’s report on yesterday’s ABNY breakfast with federal transportation secretary Ray LaHood.

But before I get to that: How beautiful a morning was it for a bike commute? I met T.A. executive director Paul White for a 7:00 a.m. coffee at Gorilla on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope and we biked to Midtown together. The Bergen Street bike lane was absolutely jam-packed with bike commuters. At the corner of Third Avenue we counted nine cyclists (along with six motorists) waiting for the traffic light to change. Wearing a tie and riding with a briefcase strapped to the front of his Henry Cutler WorkCycle, Paul somehow safely managed to carry a coffee over the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan. At Chambers and Broadway I offered to pitch his nearly finished cup into a trash bin but Paul said, "No, man. That’s my fuel."

U.S. DOT Secretary Ray LaHood, meanwhile, made his morning commute to New York City on the LaGuardia shuttle. "Not a bad way to come," he told the ABNY crowd, before adding, "Train or shuttle. We’ve done it both ways."

Personal travel details aside, here are a few notes from LaHood’s talk and my brief conversation with him afterward:

  • NY1 gave prominent play to LaHood’s comment about New York City’s $354 million in congestion pricing money still being available but, to be clear, this wasn’t a major point of his talk. It was actually more of a side note in response to Council member Dan Garodnick’s question about whether the Obama Administration would continue the Urban Partnership program’s effort "to create the incentives to move people out of their cars and onto transit." Regarding the hundreds of millions of dollars that our geniuses up in Albany rejected last year, LaHood said, "That money is still sitting around. It’s on the table somewhere. I think it’s in our office still. We offered it up to Chicago but like New York they couldn’t get their act together."
  • U.S. DOT is teaming up with former Bloomberg Administration all-star Shaun Donovan at HUD to focus on transit-oriented affordable housing. LaHood framed this project as going "hand in hand" with the Obama Administration’s commitment to high-speed rail. Donovan, LaHood said, is "one of the most innovative people in America; a very creative fellow."
  • LaHood said almost nothing about the upcoming federal transportation bill except that DOT is taking "a hard look at how we fund transportation" and they want "to give cities like New York more flexibility in how they spend Uncle Sam’s dollars."
  • Though you don’t really get the sense that LaHood lives and
    breathes
    transportation policy like, say, New York City’s Janette Sadik-Khan, a lot of the right
    words are coming out of his mouth these days. Yesterday’s
    talk wasn’t limited to roads, bridges and zillion dollar mega-projects. The Obama Administration, he said, is committed to a transportation
    policy that will "enhance mobility, support a cleaner environment and
    help make our communities more livable." LaHood is
    clearly making the connection between transportation policy and urban
    development. He said (and I’m condensing this a little bit): "What we’re trying to do is take some of the resources we have on the
    transit side and connect them with what Secretary Donovan wants to do.
    We want to create livable
    communities. Portland is really the model for it. We want to create
    housing opportunities so that people can walk out their front doors and
    go wherever they want to go without getting into an automobile. That’s
    really the goal."

Amen, Secretary.

After the talk I introduced myself and Streetsblog to LaHood and told him that we’d like to sit down with him for a Q&A in Washington D.C. some time soon. LaHood said that he had his own blog too, The Fast Lane. Had I seen it?

"Of course," I said. "Streetsblog readers are big fans. But what do you think about changing the name of your blog to The Fast Track?"

Someone in the background, I think one of his staffers, laughed. LaHood stopped walking and gave me what I took to be a who-is-this-insane-person kind of look.

"We think Fast Lane works pretty well," he said, and headed off to a medal ceremony for the ferry crew members who rescued US Air Flight 1549 in the Hudson River last winter.  

All I’m saying is think about it, Ray. Think about it.

  • There are no Zozos in the Fast Lane.

  • I’ll give 1/5 odds that the Fast Lane blog’s name is changed (possibly to Toll Lane) by the end of reauthorization.

  • Regarding the “Fast Lane”…

    I just got back from filming some video in Chicago. To get some nice cityscape shots, I went up in the John Hancock building. Chicago is such a great city, and though there was traffic here and there it wasn’t until I got up high above that you really see what Livable City and sane transportation policy advocates are up against…

    530 PM miles and miles of gridlock as far as I could see from the tower. The video is daunting and this is just one city, and a few minutes window on one day of the year. On my way to the airport the next morning (as the Blue Line runs along the highway) just bumper to bumper traffic for miles. Never ending. Multiply this by every city, every day, and you realize that the American public needs to be presented with a better and more convenient option to get them out of their cars.

    So “Fast Lane” of course seems a more logical name to those with a windshield perspective. Even those spouting the right words and policy. I think one day I need to go up in a helicopter and get footage of what all the congested freeways look like coming into NYC. That would be sobering.

  • Glenn

    This is blogging at its best. Informative yet breezy and cool with some dropping of boldface names (for S-blog folks at least). Every so often, you need a little Streetsblog meets Gawker type posts. Keep up the great blogging folks.

  • As I am in the middle of a week in Portland, using this city as a model is A-OK with me. I am blown away by the livability and flexibility of Portland’s transit systems.

  • qualcosaltro

    I don’t know how anyone could call this, or most of what’s written on Streetsblog, “blogging at its best.”

    To start, let me say that I think the content on this blog is mostly excellent. Perhaps that’s why I suffer through the way you all write (well, maybe not you ALL — mostly just Mr. Naparstek). For the sake of those of us who are not friendly with the writers of this blog, online or otherwise, and just have an interest in your content, please spare us the extra special glimpses into mundane details that would be better suited to your personal Facebook status updates.

    If your vision for Streestblog is to celebrate Brooklyn bike culture (and your self-styled celebrity status in it), then proceed. But if you want to be relevant anywhere else and to anyone else, you need to expand your view. I often feel like Streetsblog epitomizes the lack of broad vision needed to build real coalitions for transportation policy change — if you want to really advocate for the kind of change you discuss, get outside of Park Slope for a few hours (and not just physically!).

    In the meantime, I guess I’ll just keep trying to skim past all the self-congratulatory “my multi-ethnic Brooklyn block and bicycle commute define me and make me a moral person!” glimpses into the writers’ lives (especially on your godforsaken Twitter feed, which I’ve finally given up hope on and stopped following) and try to get to the real stuff.

    I guess what I’m driving at is: what is the point of this blog? Lifestyles of the Two-Wheeled Smug and Hipster, or serious Transportation Policy Advocacy?

  • anon

    To start, let me say that I think the content on this blog is mostly excellent.”

    I have a hard time reconciling this sentence with the rest of the post.

  • Gargamel Tralfaz

    Wow, how funny to read what #6 wrote as a comment – just as I was about to write how much enjoyed this kind of reporting and reflection. The best blogs out there do exactly this kind of reporting. More.

  • i hear you qualcosaltro

    hopefully SB will take it as constructive criticism

  • I too find the blog a little bike-heavy but mostly I just skip that stuff.

  • faisal in pdx

    Great blog btw, but I’m not on board with the fast track comment, because I think rail is a big waste.

    As Jaime Lerner demonstrated in Curitaba with his bus system that behaves like a subway, one need not build entirely new infrastructure for efficient mass transit. After all, reuse of existing infrastructure is the best form of sustainability.

    Rail is more expensive; less flexible (we can’t change train routes to evolve with the city’s needs); and takes more time, energy, and materials to implement.

    We just need to repaint the lines for dedicated bus lanes and buy more buses. We can retake the fast lane by keeping cars off of it.

    More on Lerner and Curitaba:
    http://www.metropolismag.com/story/20080529/learning-from-lerner

  • Paul

    Yes, but rail is smoother, potholes are non-existent and their parts tend to last longer. The initial investment is high when laying tracks compared with existing roads, but rails and electricity is much cheaper than building highways for instance. They are also capable of much faster speeds (buses don’t go much over 60mph vs. 200mph + trains) and trains can be much higher capacity and are able to maneuver in tighter spaces due to the guidance of the rails. So, I would disagree that buses are more flexible 🙂

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    I am on board with anything not highways. So rail, bus, biking, walking, it is all good to me.

    (Clarence who once again is trying to support BRT and light rail and commuter rail all at the same time.)

  • And rail doesn’t depend on volatile oil supplies. I think BRT has its place but rail is superior in every way, especially for routes with high volume.

    PS. Cities tend to evolve around rail, not the other way around.

  • Marty Barfowitz

    Come on, folks. “The Fast Track” is the superior metaphor in two very obvious ways:

    1. Obama has indicated that he sees high speed rail as his administration’s signature transportation initiative.

    2. When you want legislation to move quickly through Congress, when it’s a big priority, you fast track it. You don’t put it on the fast lane.

    Ray LaHood: Getting America’s transportation policy back on track.

    Metaphorically, it’s a freakin’ no-brainer.

    And anyway, “The Fast Lane” was Mary Peters’ blog. Blech.

  • Good points, Marty.

  • ben

    I really don’t get it? Does Lahood use Google?

    http://www.google.com/search?q=fast+lane+blog&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=com.ubuntu:en-US:unofficial&client=firefox-a

    If you notice GM has a fast lane blog too.
    I think I would change my blog name. Hard to incorporate all road users if a certain billion dollar company which produces automobiles and trucks has the same title.

  • I have to agree with Paul here, BRT has lower start-up costs but the operating costs are so much higher. So the best thing to do is take advantage of the strengths of both to be truly multi-modal. Different solutions for different problems.

  • J:Lai

    qualcosaltro, I sort of agree with you. I too try to reconcile the fact I am interested in most of the content here, and I strongly support this cause, with the heavily bicycle-centric vibe of the site.
    I have been using a bike to get around NYC since about 1995, sometimes as my main mode and other times as a secondary mode. However, even when I am using the bike most heavily, there are still a lot of times when it is not practical (much of the winter, heavy rain, carrying something large, traveling with others who do not bike, etc.)
    For most people in NYC, the bicycle is never going to be more than a secondary mode at best. For anyone who is old, out of shape, or just not comfortable with the dangers of biking in city streets, this can not be their primary mode of transportation.

    What bothers me about the site sometimes, and certain elements of this community in general, is the attitude that biking is the superior mode. This attitude gets in the way of attempts to create a real bike infrastructure (You can’t demand infrastructure and respect as a road user, and still consider it ok to break traffic laws. You can have one or the other.)
    Also, this attitude can sometimes distract from a focus on mass transit, which is vastly more important than bicycles in terms of defining the city’s transportation structure.

    Still, I like this site. Keep up the good work.

  • You can’t demand infrastructure and respect as a road user, and still consider it ok to break traffic laws.

    A significant portion of the City Council would disagree with you.

  • As a Portlander, I am thrilled to see Portland listed as an example of what a city should be, transportation-wise.

    Don’t get me wrong – Portland still has plenty of traffic tie-ups. However, we have a vibrant and expansive transit system. Our light-rail is incredible and always busy, and the many transit hubs link to bus routes that can get you anywhere you need to be.

    Of course our extensive network of bike lanes really helps keep the cars moving. One only needs to stand near either of the bike-heavy bridges crossing the Willamette to see the utilization of our bike network during the daily commutes.

  • Interesting that everyone seems to think that the vehicle occupying the fast lane is a motor vehicle. Are people at StreetsBlog, like, lazy? Pedal harder.

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