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Transportation Projects: Good GOP Bad GOP

by Ted Johnson

Frequent readers of Commute by Bike will know that we try very hard to be bike-partisan here. I like to think of this blog as a safe haven for cyclists of all political persuasions. I love the kum-bike-ya moments when I can find them.

Lately, though, the Republicans in Congress are making it harder and harder to find those kum-bike-ya moments.

Last month we celebrated the extension of the Transportation Bill with it’s existing Bike/Ped funding. But that only kicked the can down the road to have the same fight all over again.

Today I found this article, “The GOP Hates Bikes,” on Mother Jones, reflecting on the bad GOP. The extension of Bike/Ped funding by no means was an indication of a change of heart:

The GOP Hates Bikes

The actual reason that gas tax revenues aren’t meeting demand for infrastructure improvements is that Congress hasn’t raised the tax since 1993, so its value has been eaten up by inflation. But no matter. Targeting bike programs to try to tame the federal budget seems to fall in line with the GOP’s belief that the whole deficit problem could be solved if we just got rid of NPR and Planned Parenthood. It’s an ideological battle rather than a viable budget solution.

And for a couple of weeks now, I’ve been sitting on this article wondering when would be the right time to bring it to our readers. “William F. Buckley Jr.: Ahead of his time” from The Richmond Times-Dispatch, reminding us that it wasn’t always knee-jerk opposition from the Right; reminding us that a late conservative iconreviled in his time by the Left — now seems so warm and cuddly in hindsight:

William F. Buckley Jr.: Ahead of his time

Long before others, principally boomers and environmentalists, discovered the civic virtues of cycling as a mode of transportation, Buckley proposed bike trails in Manhattan. He even spoke of elevated bikeways. He envisioned residents cycling to work and for exercise.

[...]

Buckley remembered that conservatism and environmental stewardship are not incompatible…”


By the way: Over there on the right rail of this Website, is a news feed called Bike Commuter News. That is a relic left to us by our ancestors at Commute by Bike. It’s where I found the Mother Jones article. Whoever set up that news search was brilliant. Since we’ve acquired Commute by Bike, we’ve been afraid to touch it, or even delve into it’s secrets for fear we might break it. If you come to Commute by Bike on a regular basis, I recommend taking a glance at those articles. If you find something great that no other bike blog has yet covered, I can’t take any credit for it.

 
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15 Responses to “Transportation Projects: Good GOP Bad GOP”

  1. Jaime Roberto says:

    A couple of points:
    1) “The actual reason that gas tax revenues aren’t meeting demand for infrastructure improvements is that Congress hasn’t raised the tax since 1993, so its value has been eaten up by inflation.” Partially true. Costs are also higher than they should be do to the Davis Bacon wage act and other contracting hurdles that prevent us from getting more for our dollars. I’d gladly support an increase in gas tax in exchange for an elimination of those hurdles.

    2) “Buckley proposed bike trails in Manhattan.” He did that as a candidate for mayor of New York City. He did not say that the Federal government should pay for it. Local streets are a local issue. Let the local taxpayers pay for it.

  2. BluesCat says:

    Jaime -

    1) The Davis Bacon Act ensures not only that workmen and craftsman are paid fairly for the work they do on federal projects, but also that the QUALITY of those projects is up to the standards necessary to assure their safety and longevity. In my 40 years of experience in civil engineering and construction, I have learned that “getting more for our dollars” is usually politician-speak for “finding ways to cut corners so my rich campaign donors in the construction industry can get even richer.”

    Arizona is a right-to-work state, meaning that unless you have a government mandated Project Labor Agreement (PLA) a contractor can pay his workers as little as he can get away with. This is what has happened in some housing developments on the outskirts of Phoenix. The developer hired whoever would work the cheapest, including some illegal aliens who would work for much less than minimum wage. As a result, there are housing developments where five-year-old, $500K homes are literally falling down.

    With that in mind, the next time you’re a passenger in a car negotiating its way through a big traffic interchange between two federally funded and built Interstate highways, look up at those ramps above your head, and around at the roadway you’re driving on, and think about how safe you would feel if — without a Davis Bacon Act — all that concrete could have been poured, and all that steel could have been hung, by guys who were paid less than what your kid is paid to flip burgers at a local hamburger joint.

    2) The City of Phoenix is divided into quarters by Interstate 17, running north and south, and Interstate 10 running east and west. Without that miniscule 1% for alternative access, those freeways would be dangerous, high speed, impassable canyons for pedestrians and bicyclists.

    Without the Feds requiring smooth access to local roads, for ALL types of traffic (pedestrians and bicyclists included), our American transportation system would be a gridlocked mess as the individual fiefdoms of states, counties and towns decided where they were going to put roads.

  3. Gene @ BU says:

    My GOP congress person summed it up as [paraphrase]: The funds spent on bike infrastructure to date have not shown an adequate return on those investments in terms of utilization or off sets in terms of a shift in transportation alternatives. The cost of these project over their utilization rates show that these are expensive and under used in many instances. Prove to me that dollar for dollar biking projects can compete with the additional hybrid bus service funding in the bill and I’ll consider the project. When cyclists fill the roadways give me a call. And remember me on election day.

  4. Chrehn says:

    Blues Cat. Well said. Thank you.

  5. BluesCat says:

    Thanks, Crehn.

    Gene – (chuckle) That’s a good’un. I like that “dollar for dollar” stuff. You give one guy a dollar, give another guy a hundred dollars, and then criticize the guy with the single buck about not doing as much with HIS “money” as the guy with ten sawbucks!

    Yeah, boy, I’d certainly remember him on election day; with the same love I remember my last case of heartburn.

    • Ted Johnson says:

      I’m trying to extend the analogy to account for the massive subsidies given for automobility way beyond infrastructure.

      Here’s a crack at it:

      It’s like giving one guy $100 to teach Swahili to immigrants from Kenya, and giving another guy $1 to teach them English. There’s a whole lot more benefit on both sides by teaching them English. But it’s going to be a whole lot easier to show instant results by teaching them Swahili, because they come from a society oriented to Swahili.

      I dunno. Does that work? Got a better one.?

  6. Paul S. says:

    @Gene, I actually believe your congressman may actually be correct in some places. I’ve seen bike paths with really long grass growing in the cracks. If one person used it a month, I’d be shocked, and, yes, I think it would be ridiculous to blow more money on infrastructure that that.

    On the other hand, you have the Mt Vernon Trail, the Custis Trail and the Capital Crescent Trail near where I live that see very heavy bike commuter traffic, even in the dead of winter. Here’s a nice link describing it. http://planitmetro.com/2011/05/13/learning-about-bicycle-commuters/ To put it simply and bluntly, you’d have to be a idiot to not support the tiny dollar cost of maintenance for the payback this kind of infrastructure brings.

    The solution to the problem isn’t to defund bike infrastructure, it’s to be reasonably smart about where you put it and why. A blanket “bike infrastructure doesn’t work” attitude just demonstrates your congressman isn’t fully examining the issue. At best.

  7. Paul S. says:

    Regarding Republicans on bicycles, I see them all the time, including my very conservative brother. He values hard work and sports, traits I often see lauded in conservative circles, and which fit naturally with much of cycling.

    But he doesn’t go for all that “hippie crap.” He has commuted by bike in the past, but he did so in his military uniform. He has no use for a bearded guy in Birkenstock telling him how great it is that he’s saving the environment. In fact, I think he’d see such a pat on the back as a disincentive to ride.

    Ok, I have a point in here somewhere. I see conservatives as actual and potential cyclists, but as a group that wants to be seen as distinctly different than liberals. I think they want different styles, different reasons and different identities. Much like they drive cars on the same roads as liberals, the actual cars they drive tend to look a lot different. And they like it that way.

    So you notice Cantor didn’t go off about road cyclists having a ride on the weekend? Notice how he characterized the bike share program as “free” and as a “government program”, but didn’t actually call out the bike paths by name? That’s the wedge. He’s exploiting the liberalness of it all.

    We just need to not let him use that wedge. We need to point out the commuters using Custis to get to their jobs. We need to point out that people “rent” bikes from a private entity for the bike share, much like people rent cars from Avis for business trips.

    Conservatives cyclists can be a big ally on this subject, but probably wont be if they think it’s a liberal cause. Pointing out how this dovetails with conservative values, I think, is the way to get conservatives who are already cyclists to tell their congressmen how they feel.

  8. BluesCat says:

    Ted – Good analogy; couldn’t think of any improvement on it.

    Paul – Yeah, the problem with Gene’s congressman certainly isn’t an “at best” situation. He’s obviously following the Grand Old Pinhead party line of playing to their “base”: Big Oil and Big Auto. If it don’t benefit those two, it ain’t a “responsible” investment.

  9. BluesCat says:

    Paul – Actually, I think you make some great points.

    So, the question for GOPs (pronounced “gawps”; as in “I gawps mine, too bad if you don’t gawps yours”) is, basically, this:

    Since the activity of bicycling to work in inclement weather can be so gnarly (RED ALERT! The proceeding was a possible HIPPIE TERM!), how can we accomplish it and still keep our Florsheims shined and our Brooks Brothers free of wrinkles?

    (snicker) Good luck with that, dude!

  10. Jaime Roberto says:

    Bluescat, Davis Bacon essential requires union wages, which inflates costs. You’re assumption seems to be that union wages ensure quality. What car would you rather buy, a Chevy or a Toyota? If you had the option would you send your child to a public school or a private school?

    I don’t get your point about Feds needing to dictate where roads are going. Most road building, especially road building within cities, is a local issue and should be locally funded.

  11. BluesCat says:

    Jaime – The Davis Bacon Act does no such thing (requiring union wages), it requires contractors to pay “locally prevailing wages and fringes.” In a right-to-work state like Arizona, this means that even WITH a PLA, the wages paid will be well below union wages because the right-to-work laws specifically prevent the locally prevailing wages from including the inflated cost of union dues (as well as other, union-related costs).

    No, I’m certainly NOT assuming “union wages ensure quality.” Reread what I said: part of motives of the Davis Bacon Act is to ensure quality, it doesn’t matter WHAT the “prevailing wages” of a particular state are.

    Let me give YOU an example. If you go into an auto repair shop, and have to pay the same hourly job rate for somebody to fix your car, no matter who that guy is, which guy would YOU choose: a mechanic, with 10 years of experience, who has gone to the school sponsored by the manufacturer of your brand of automobile, OR the high school kid the shop owner just hired that morning to WASH THE CARS? This is the way the Davis Bacon Act works: to give a disincentive to the hiring of cheap, unqualified labor on government projects; you hire THE MOST QUALIFIED, MOST SKILLFUL WORKMEN YOU CAN because you’re going to pay the same wage no matter what.

    If the Feds were not in control of the Interstate system, and where it goes in the 48 contiguous fiefdoms we call “states,” it has been proven — by the experience of other countries — that the only highways we would have would be from rich-guy’s-house-to-rich-guy’s-house over on the East coast; and getting products to market across this nation would be a nightmare.

  12. Jaime Roberto says:

    Actually the motive of the Davis Bacon Act was to prevent migrant black workers from taking jobs from white workers, and “ensuring quality” was a smokescreen. De facto it has come to mean union wages in most places, meaning the taxpayer gets less for his money than he should.

  13. BluesCat says:

    Jaime – Saying the Davis Bacon Act has discriminatory roots has long been recognized as a 50 pound Red Herring. The intent of the law has ALWAYS been to promote the employment of local, skilled workers — at a fair wage — on government funded contracts. Without laws like Davis Bacon you would have MANY more incidents of bridges collapsing, buildings falling down, etc. I’ve dealt with all sorts of workmen on construction projects, and I can tell you that from an owner’s and designer’s perspective the programs the unions have for recruiting, training and certifying workers inspire a good deal of confidence in the quality of the jobs I have worked on. The only people I have heard whining about unions, and union wages, are those who would be perfectly happy with returning to the era of sweat shops and 9-year-old kids toiling in the coal mines.

  14. Mike Myers says:

    I’m conflicted about this issue. I live in an area which could benefit from increased spending on bicycle infrastructure. However, I don’t think some taxpayer in some other state should have to pay for infrastructure he will never use.

    Ultimately, this sort of thing should be paid for with local and state taxes.

    That being said, I have used the Withlacoochee Trail, which is a Rails-to-Trails project, and that likely would never have happened if not for federal expenditures.

    The US is in horrible financial shape. Not just broke, but massively indebted. Huge cuts in spending are necessary if we are to save ourselves. I don’t think that increased federal spending on infrastructure is going to be the magic bullet that saves us.

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