Ride Free: LaHood Offers Support for Cyclists

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, good dudeSince Spring has sprung, I've been having an intense love affair with my bicycle. Ours is a rekindled romance.

Five years ago, I biked across the country, becoming a confident, assured cyclist. (I guess that's what riding through Gary, Indiana, will do to you). Less than a month after my return, I was hit by a car. A 94-year-old man made a left turn directly into me on a two-lane highway at the Jersey Shore. (Apparently, I wasn't as lucky as some turtles.) I broke one knee cap and received 12 stitches on my other knee. It sucked—but it could have been much worse.

Shortly thereafter, I moved to Nashville, Tennessee, (knee brace and all) to take a job at the alt-weekly paper. I would occasionally bike for exercise, but it's not the most cyclist-friendly city—and it didn't help that I was still suffering some anxiety from my accident. Over the years I spent there, I completely lost touch with idea of riding for transportation.

Since returning to Philadelphia, all that has changed. A couple months ago I bought a $60 road bike on Craigslist—one I wouldn't need to worry (too much) about when locked up in the city—and I'm getting my riding legs back. I've been biking to meals, to drinks with friends (not too many drinks; no BUI's here), to movies and to interviews for Grid. (I think I probably owe Michael Dolich from Four Worlds an apology for dripping sweat on the floor of his upcoming retail location in West Philly; read all about the bakery in the June issue!) With the help of some aggressive signaling and my new bike lights, I'm feeling safe, confident and liberated. (As long as there are no trolley tracks. I loath trolley tracks.)

OK, so all of this is the longest, most oversharing-est intro ever to this interview, published on the New York Times blog Green Inc., with United States Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. The former Republican congressman from Illinois made a stir recently when he asserted that  bicycling and walking should be given the same consideration as motorized transport in state and local transit projects.

The interview is excellent—LaHood makes the point without ideology, simply arguing that this is the way people want to live:

But, what Americans want is to get out of their cars, and get out of congestion, and have opportunities for more transit, more light rail, more buses, and some communities are going to street cars. But many communities want the opportunity on the weekends and during the week to have the chance to bike to work, to bike to the store, to spend time with their family on a bike.

So, this is not just Ray LaHood’s agenda, this is the American agenda that the American people want for alternatives to the automobile.

What’s happened around America is people are buying bikes and they’re using them for recreational purposes on the weekend and there’s no better family way for people to spend a weekend than riding their bikes on these biking trails.

This is what Americans want and we’re accommodating their needs to really find places to recreate. And what could be healthier than taking a 30-minute walk, which is recommended by every doctor in America, or hopping on your bike and riding four, five or six miles and enjoying the great outdoors?

Look, this is a win-win. This is a way for people to get out of their cars, a way for people to recreate, a way for people to get good exercise, and it’s what Americans want to do.

If you're now feeling inspired to work towards a more bike-friendly culture in Philadelphia, join the Courteous Mass ride this Saturday. Then bike over to the Grid party at Yards.