A couple of weeks ago, local U.S. Representative Duncan Hunter (R-California’s 52nd Congressional District, San Diego East and North County), and member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, made a ripple in the bike blogosphere when he said: “I don’t see riding a bike the same as driving a car or flying an airplane…I think it’s more of a recreational thing.”
Mr. Hunter also expressed his circa-1950s characterization of San Diego’s residence and work patterns, and a similarly dated assumption that automobiles are necessarily synonymous with Southern California: “San Diego’s one of those places where a lot of people live who work in the more expensive places in Southern California and they can’t afford to live there. They have to drive in – and in my district, everybody works everywhere. So no, it’s not one of my priorities at all to get people out of their cars. I like my car.”
This is a vision demonstrated to be out of step with many twenty- and thirty-somethings, who have eschewed their parents’ and grandparents’ fondness for the automobile, and who instead value a more diverse transportation infrastructure. This is the generation that will take fullest advantage of the infrastructure we build now. What sense does it make to build them a system they aren’t interested in using?
If the young folks aren’t enough to convince Mr. Hunter that the people of his district need options besides automobiles, perhaps he would be swayed by studies demonstrating that many senior citizens and older boomers will soon be essentially stranded in the suburbs and in outlying communities as they become less confident with their ability to drive themselves around.
As shortsighted as are Mr. Hunter’s outdated views about bikes, cars, and infrastructure, the ideology underlying those views is based on his rather long view of anti-federalism and the reduction of big government. Mr. Hunter has stated that he wants to act as a bulldozer, plowing through federal bureaucracy; and like a bulldozer, the damage and destruction he wreaks in the process will be substantial.
Mr. Hunter’s vision of transportation in America (for which he uses San Diego as a proxy) is cars, cars, cars. He doesn’t want the federal government “mandating bike paths,” yet believes that mandating highways is in the Constitution (it’s not). By supporting federal involvement only in automobile infrastructure, Mr. Hunter sends the message that he thinks the federal government should endorse only the automobile as a feasible way to travel. That shouldn’t sit well with anyone, regardless of how they choose to get around. This isn’t a limited government stance, it’s an aggressive and activist idea of what the federal government should and should not support.
But let’s step back and take Mr. Hunter’s idealistic anti-federalism at face value for a moment. Let’s assume that he really does want the federal government to retreat from pursuing wasteful transportation projects of dubious merit. Let’s then point him towards well-known traffic studies that clearly demonstrate the recursive problem with unlimited highway construction: more lanes –> more cars on the road –> need for more lanes. By the time enough lanes are built to alleviate the levels of congestion recorded when the lanes were proposed, congestion has increased to the point that yet more lanes are required to alleviate the new demand. Talk about wasteful projects of dubious merit.
If Mr. Hunter wants an example of the failures of the federal government, all he has to do is step outside the next time he’s in East County and take a gander at the bloated, yet crumbling, automobile-centric infrastructure all around us. If he does truly want to craft a leaner and more efficient federal transportation policy, he couldn’t do better than to help cut the federal highway budget by several billion and invest a few paltry millions (only a couple hundred thousand per mile for bike boulevards versus about $20 million per lane mile of a freeway, for instance) in building a viable bikeway system that links effectively with public transit.
But, of course, whether or not Mr. Hunter wants to pay any attention to any of this depends on whether he is sincere in his desire to cut federal spending and do right by his constituents. He can demonstrate his willingness to do both by engaging in a dialogue with those who are working to provide people with alternatives to automobile travel, rather than simply retreating to the “I-like-my-car-and-I-need-more-lanes” mentality. Of course, that might require updating his talking points for the twenty-first century, not to mention climbing down from the bulldozer for a few moments.
If you would like to encourage Mr. Hunter to support federal funding for bicycle and other non-automobile infrastructure, you can contact his office by e-mail. Or you can call his El Cajon office: 619-448-5201; or his Washington D.C. office at 202-225-0235. Keep in mind that regardless of his policy positions, Mr. Hunter is a human being and is entitled to the respect you would give to any other. Respectful dialogue, even in disagreement, is a cornerstone of our democracy.