Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Mini-Rant About Transportation Funding

I want to touch on a recent news story where US Representative Duncan Hunter of California said having bicycle funding in the transportation bill is unconstitutional. The heart of Representative Hunter's statement comes from thinking cycling is recreational rather than transportation. Without getting into Constitutional law which I don't feel qualified to discuss, I would like to comment on these ideas.

Many of us who ride for transportation would dispute that cycling is just recreational. Also a significant number of miles people drive in cars, including me, are also recreational. If I drive back and forth to work all week that is about 100 miles. If I drive to the beach of mountains for the weekend that is 200-400 miles.

I poked around a little and found some things in the documents our country is built on that I would interpret to cover the support of cycling infrastructure. The Declaration of Independence includes the words pursuit of happiness. All the cyclists I know riding for transportation would say that cycling gives them more happiness than driving. The Declaration of Independence goes on to say government should organize its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. So if the government is building transportation infrastructure it seems imperative to consider the safety of all users. After all we don't let the truckers just do what they want. There are plenty of rules to make their use of the transportation network safer. The same is true of trains and planes.

It seems like I could go on and on, but I will stop here and see if others would like to comment.

On a related note, Tom Bowden had an article on Commute By Bike discussing How to Talk About Cycling to a Conservative that is worth a read.

1 comment:

  1. It's a difficult question. Ultimately the Declaration is not, as I understand it, a legal document, so, while it may lay out the intentions of the as-of-yet unformed government, it's probably not valid as a basis for law.

    The constitutionality of bike infrastructure seems like an odd topic especially when, as in this case, it seems to be being mentioned specifically in comparison to motorized traffic. Neither bikes nor (obviously) cars were mentioned in the original document, nor do I think they were mentioned specifically in any amendments. As far as I know, the whole constitutional justification for any transportation infrastructure is found in the clause enabling congress "to establish Post Offices and post Roads." To my mind it's a bit of a stretch to say that this justifies creating a car-centric roadway or that it any way justifies excluding any form of transportation. Basically, while I think facilitating interstate transportation is a useful function of the federal government, I doubt that Mr. Hunter is correct when implying that constitution justifies supporting his preferred mode of transportation over someone else's. It seems like if you can find constitutional justification for any transportation infrastructure, you would still be hard-pressed to find justification for arbitrarily preferring one form of transport.

    Perhaps related: I've read that in some areas, some stretches are limited access highways have been opened up to all traffic because the highways represent the only feasible route around some natural obstacle (frequently a waterway). In some of those cases, courts have ruled that requiring someone to have a car to travel that stretch is a form of economic discrimination, limiting citizens free movement on the basis of whether or not they can afford a car. It seems like the same arguments would apply to general transportation funding. The only reason to exclude any bicycle support from a transportation system would be if the bicycle support was itself exclusionary, preventing access to other forms of transportation while providing no alternatives for those other transportation options.

    In the end, if you're talking about transportation funding as something that's to benefit the needs of the citizens, then it seems like you have to you have to use the lowest-common-denominator approach. The most universally accessible transportation option is neither cars nor bicycles but rather our own two feet. You want to create options for other forms of transportation, too? That's great. But if you're going to tell me that the constitution says that the government supports cars as a way to travel between states and nothing else, I'm made to wonder if Thomas Jefferson drove a Chrysler, or if he was a Ford man?