Stop the Car Mandate

Piscataquis Village, pictured, is a private development venture that will let residents own and use cars — but live and even work without them if they choose. The streets are narrow, like ancient cities in the Old World. Of course, that’s communism; God forbid you should be able to live and work in America without having to own a car!

Nevertheless, such communities are all the rage in America. So naturally John Mica (R-sprawl) introduced a bill yesterday that puts those dirty socialist pedestrians in their place, which is on a narrow strip of grass unprotected from traffic.

The American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act (AEIJA) would do away with the very successful TIGER transit funding program; it also

eliminates dedicated funding for bicycling and walking as we feared, and it goes much further and systematically removes bicycling from the Federal transportation program. It basically eliminates our status and standing in the planning and design of our transportation system—a massive step backwards for individuals, communities and our nation. It’s a step back to a 1950s highway- and auto-only program that makes no sense in the 21st century. (Emphasis mine)

This won’t save any money. It will actually cost America a great deal, both in terms of less healthy living and less money in our pockets. Transportation is second only to housing as a cost of living, and in recessionary times people will look for ways to cut back. They have to: they’re taking pay cuts and accepting new jobs at lower wages, after all, so they’ve moved closer to work, or found new ways to get there.

Transit is cheaper than owning, fueling, titling, and insuring a car. Finding a cheaper commute — on a bus, or a bike, or your feet — is exactly the sort of choice Dave Ramsey encourages. Americans of every stripe are cutting back on car trips. It’s why my Republican representative, Mo Brooks, takes a train to work in DC.

In a free market, consumers choose the winners. So it’s important to know that the bicycle industry is booming, and ridership is growing; that Americans are choosing to live in walking or biking distance from their workplaces, or from transit to their workplaces. Americans are not anti-car, they just don’t want to be owned by their cars. Why should every household be burdened with one car per adult?

America only spends about a penny and a half of its transportation dollar on bike and ped funding. Yet one in eight American trips is made on a bike or on foot. Mica wants to zeroize this already-unfair portion. This is a civil rights issue: bicyclists and pedestrians should be able to safely use streets and roads for which they, too, have paid with their tax dollar. AEIJA would even eliminate funding that makes it safe for children to ride or walk to school.

This is the car mandate. To discourage biking and walking, you don’t have to make them against the law; just don’t build sidewalks and bike lanes, and Americans won’t use them. This is as anti-free market as it gets. Auto-centric development models are not what homebuyers want, or what cities want, or today’s college graduates, or business and industry, or even retailers.

A car mandate is what automakers, big real estate developers, and the oil industry — and no one else — want. It is picking the winners and losers, with American cities and commuters as the losers. It is anti-free market. In fact, it isn’t even conservative.

Mica’s bill will be popular with the tea party, for whom “sustainability” and “walkability” are code words for communism, but it would guarantee bigger government to deal with the resulting sprawl. Cities will have to grow by extending already-expensive infrastructure even further, adding to the cost of local government. A car mandate is actually the worst kind of “centrally planned” Big Government.

Introducing his bill yesterday, Mica warned Democrats “this is the only piece of legislation” that can pass the House. (His way is the highway, and it’s his way or…um, the highway.) But don’t think that Mica’s bill will do anything about America’s critical infrastructure backlog, including highways:

The bill fails to require states to put a priority on fixing the country’s 69,000 bridges before spending money on new highways. In just the next 48 hours before the committee votes, there will be more than 565 million trips taken across deficient bridges in the U.S. That’s enough cars to line them up end to end from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C and back….267 times. (Emphasis original)

There is literally nothing to like about AEIJA. Mica would spend $260 billion over five years on road and transit projects (emphasis roads), which neatly encompasses the possible Obama presidency in austerity-level highway funding. The Senate would like to see twice as much spending, with funds freed up for transit and no cuts to bike/pedestrian funding.

In the House, representatives Tom Petri (R-WI) and Timothy Johnson (R-IL) will offer an amendment to restore dedicated funding for Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes to School. Please contact your representative today regardless of party and tell them to support the amendment, because we all have a stake in the outcome. The League of American Bicyclists has a neat app to email them, or call (202)225-3121 for the House switchboard to be connected to your representative.

About Matt Osborne

Veteran blogging the culture wars from Alabama. Video journalist, mash-up artist, aspiring novelist, and metalhead. Expect bunnies, geekery, dark humor, and snarky empirical analysis to annoy idealists of all stripes. You can follow me on Twitter, but be ready 'cause it might get loud.
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