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Transportation Secretary Foxx: The first 15 days

On July 2nd, Anthony Foxx was sworn in as the new Secretary of Transportation under President Obama.  Prior to taking the reins at USDOT, Foxx was the Mayor of Charlotte, NC.  He led some significant projects in Charlotte including expanding the airport and getting another loop road built.  For the cyclist or pedestrian, the most notable was the extension of the light rail line.

Let’s see how’s he’s done in his first 15 days.  A mini report card if you will.

Foxx has said many times that he will focus on safety and efficiency.

If this were like school, the chances of having a big test in the first 15 days would be slim.  Foxx had to get his feet wet with the plane crash in San Francisco.  Not only did it affect transportation, there was the inappropriateness of the intern and the names of the airline crew members.  An unfortunate event but the crash provides some credibility on the need to focus on safety.

Safety:  Check

He has received continued support from the American Trucking Associations.  Hey, get support early and often.

Highways/large trucks:  Check

He has announced a $421 Million loan to expand SR 91 in California under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance Innovation Act (TIFIA).  The claim is that the expansion will reduce congestion and improve the local economy.   The people of southern California get tolls for the next 50 years.  Indirectly, if more cars can travel on a freeway, there may be less vehicles on the local roads.  This could reduce bicycle and pedestrian conflicts and improve the quality of life.  It’s a stretch so we’ll give partial credit.

Highways:  Check

Bicycle/Pedestrian Safety:  Quarter of a check

Quality of life for surrounding neighborhoods:  Quarter of a check

He announced $1M in grants for US veterans and military families to receive training for transportation related jobs.  These grants went to 6 colleges throughout the nation.  It seems that most of the training is for motor carrier type positions.  Human scale, walkable neighborhood type projects will not likely see any benefits.

Highways/large trucks:  Check

Supporting our veterans:  Check

You have to click here for bicycle and pedestrian specific projects.  You know, those projects that aren’t always flashy, often aren’t the subject matter of great press releases but undoubtedly improve our communities?  Zilch.

Bicycle/Pedestrian:  N/A

If I had to assign a letter grade to all of this, it would be a ” B”.  Foxx is doing well but highways are only one piece of the transportation puzzle (albeit a large piece).  I am little concerned that walking and biking can easily get lost in the ‘infrastructure efficiency’ discussions.  My experience with many transportation engineers is that efficiency equals pushing more cars through at a faster speed.  Level of Service often rules the roost when it comes to efficiency.

Let’s be fair.  It’s only been 15 days and the number of issues that Secretary Foxx must face is impossible to quantify.  Maybe we revisit the report card in say 60 days and hopefully there is news on other travel modes that focus on making our communities safer for cyclists and pedestrians.

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