And the Streetsies Go To…

Happy 2011! May this year bring peace, harmony, and a six-year transportation reauthorization.

The best part about 2011 is that it’s not 2010. Last year was a tough one at the federal level: constant extensions of both the transportation bill and the general budget, no progress on an adequate funding source for infrastructure investment, and then a bruising election in November.

We asked you, Streetsblog readers, to vote for the bests and worsts of 2010 in our annual Streetsie awards poll. You took time out of singing carols and making snow angels to cast your vote. Here’s what you said.

You’ll miss Jim Oberstar. The architect of the half-trillion-dollar infrastructure proposal that reformers still dream about – Rep. Jim Oberstar, the Minnesota Democrat who chaired the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure – lost his re-election bid by a hair.

"We'll Miss You Jim Oberstar!" say 86 percent of Streetsblog readers. Image: ##http://bikeportland.org/photos/album/72157624788750653/jim-oberstar-visits-beach-elementary-school.html##Bike Portland##

"We'll Miss You Jim Oberstar!" say 86 percent of Streetsblog readers. Image: Bike Portland

Oberstar secured funding for bicycle facilities when few on Capitol Hill wanted to talk about bikes. He told cyclists, “We’re going to convert America from the hydrocarbon economy to the carbohydrate economy.” He helped create the Safe Routes to School program and expand transit access to low-income communities. He helped level the playing field between transit and highway projects.

It’s not every day you find a champion like that on Capitol Hill.

Many of you are also sad to see Sen. Chris Dodd go. From his seat as chair of the Banking Committee, he fought for transit funding and for his Livable Communities bill, which is less likely to see action in the next Congress without his advocacy.

But the blow of losing Oberstar was made harder by the surprise of it: Dodd announced his resignation a year ago, but who really thought Oberstar would lose, after 18 easy election wins? Plus, the Senate is still controlled by Democrats, but a Republican-controlled House could have really used an Oberstar to keep transportation reform at the forefront.

So James Oberstar gets the Streetsie for the politician who will be missed most in the 112th Congress. Which brings us to the category:

Best Bet to Take Up Oberstar’s Mantle in the 112th: Oberstar was a good friend, but he wasn’t the only ally to reformers. Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Peter DeFazio (both D-OR) will continue to be fervent supporters of sustainability, bicycling, and public transportation. And we know we can count on Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) to keep fighting for a National Infrastructure Bank.

But we’re going to give the Streetsie to Sen. Barbara Boxer, hoping she’ll step up her efforts to secure meaningful transportation reform and a robust funding source in the coming year. With Dodd gone, sustainable transportation supporters need her to be a hero in the Senate.

She should receive support from colleagues like Senators Tom Carper of Delaware and Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, who have stood up for transit, as well as the New York delegation. But as head of the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works – and having emerged stronger than expected from a tough re-election battle – she’s got some political capital to spend. We award her this Streetsie in hopes that she’ll spend that political capital on reducing carbon emissions through transportation reform.

Best Idea With a Million Supporters and Still No Chance of Going Anywhere Anytime Soon: A higher gas tax. The Deficit Commission came out in favor of it. So did former Transportation Secretaries Norm Mineta and Sam Skinner. Not to mention outgoing Republican Senator George Voinovich of Ohio and Democratic Senator Thomas Carper of Delaware. And a coalition of economic policy groups.

Still, politicians avoided it like the plague. No one was willing to stand up for a way to replenish the starved highway trust fund during the last election season. The only thing less popular than a hike in the gas tax is a shift to a VMT fee.

Most Important Action Congress Failed to Take in 2010: Of all the unfinished business of the 111th, Streetsblog readers were most bummed out by the failure to pass a transportation reauthorization. Indeed, that’s the centerpiece of nearly all federal-level efforts to reform the transportation system. Making matters worse is the fact that that task now shifts to the hands of Republicans who have announced their intention to cut spending (at a time of rousing cries for greater infrastructure funding) and to prioritize sprawl-spreading highway building over more efficient and sustainable forms of transportation.

But fully a third of you were even more disappointed by the inability to pass a climate bill that dealt with carbon emissions from transportation. The most recent iterations of the climate bill were getting weaker and weaker on that score, and now the bill is on the scrap heap.

Incidentally, that’s why we’re pulling for Sen. Boxer to pick up the transportation reform banner. She worked long and hard on the climate bill, and she could accomplish many of carbon reduction goals set out in that bill by focusing on transportation, which is responsible for a third of all carbon emissions. Which brings us back to that transportation bill…

In our next post: your votes for most short-sighted governor, and some reasons for optimism.