Our hearts are with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords today as she struggles to recover from the brutal attack this weekend. By now you must have heard about Saturday’s shocking massacre in a Tucson supermarket parking lot, leaving six dead and 13 wounded. Among the wounded is the Tucson area Congresswoman, shot point-blank in the head and now fighting for her life.
Giffords is a member of the Blue Dog coalition, the conservative wing of the Democratic party. She’s also a regular cyclist and has taken some important actions for transit and against car-centric policy. As we keep Giffords in our thoughts, we wanted to share these with you.
Michael McKisson of Tucson Velo caught up with Giffords for a quick interview this fall while she took a break from her tough re-election campaign for a ride with her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly. McKisson learned that it was another senseless tragedy that spurred Giffords to action when it comes to bike safety: In 2002, her friend Chris Nakamura, a Tucson triathlete, was killed when a commercial delivery truck made a right turn in front of him. Nakamura was crushed and killed instantly.
When the driver who killed Nakamura received no penalty stronger than a traffic citation, Giffords was outraged and worked in the state legislature for stiffer penalties for hitting a cyclist.
Giffords herself rides a custom-made bike with her name in western-style rope on the top tube and an Arizona flag. A member of the Congressional Bike Caucus, she bike commutes to the Capitol from her home in Washington.
She admits “she’ll yell at motorists who pull out in front of her or cut her off when she is on her bike and but says most of the time they don’t mean to do it, they are in their own world and aren’t looking for cyclists,” according to Tucson Velo.
Tucson Velo also reported:
Giffords says bicycling is a critical part of urban infrastructure. She says she biked a lot while getting her Master’s degree in planning at Cornell and that bike and pedestrian planning is an important part of urban planning.
She loves that Tucson is a top-10 biking city and that the city makes bicycling a priority. Giffords says she supports all types of alternative transportation from bike infrastructure to projects like the modern streetcar.
Indeed, Tucson residents have Giffords to thank for some of the early federal support for the city’s streetcar project. Giffords, who has only been in Congress since 2007, learned her way around the earmark process fast enough to bring home federal funding for some key infrastructure projects in 2009. Among them was Tucson’s Modern Streetcar, a light rail system to connect the University Medical Center (where she is currently being treated), the University of Arizona, the Fourth Avenue business district, and downtown Tucson. A TIGER grant provided another $63 million for the streetcar.
At the same time that she secured the first $3 million for the streetcar, she also brought home $1.2 million for a highway repair project to restore the Catalina Highway after devastating forest fires and subsequent flooding had created severe damage. The project did not include any new roads or lanes.
She also helped steer $3.5 million toward a commuter rail study for the Phoenix-to-Tucson corridor.
Giffords is a strong supporter of renewable energy, especially solar, as she comes from a sunshine-rich state. In September 2007, she published a report called The Community Solar Energy Initiative, Solar Energy in Southern Arizona [PDF]. She wrote, “Experts who developed the report agree that Arizona has enough daily sunshine to provide power for the entire United States. However, despite the bountiful sunshine, well over 90% of Southern Arizona’s electricity is fueled by coal.”
She stuck by the Democratic caucus for key votes on health reform and the stimulus, but she went her own way when Democrats pushed a bailout for the auto industry, voting no on a bill to give $14 billion to the automakers. She also voted against the Cash-for-Clunkers bill, another backdoor bailout of the industry.
Whether or not Giffords had ever gotten on a bike, pushed for driver enforcement measures, helped fund transit, or fought taxpayer rescues of the auto industry, we’d be shaken and saddened by Saturday’s horrific events. And no matter what, our thoughts would be with Giffords and her family right now. While we’re thinking of her, we should also thank her for supporting sustainable transportation and wish her many more years of fighting for reform.