Virginia Bike Advocate Cries Foul Over Streetsblog’s Criticism of Eric Cantor

A few weeks ago, Streetsblog wondered aloud if House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) was coerced into riding a bicycle during a recent interview on 60 Minutes. It was a tongue-in-cheek question prompted by Cantor’s outspoken opposition to federal bike-ped programs. But it did not amuse Thomas L. Bowden, Sr., chairman of Bike Virginia and a board member of the Virginia Bicycling Federation. Bowden, a self-described “hard-core Republican bike commuter,” wrote an opinion piece in Saturday’s Washington Post calling out Streetsblog — which Bowden says is one of his favorite blogs — for our treatment of Cantor:

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, shown here enjoying a piece of job-killing infrastructure. Source: 60 Minutes

Rather than accuse Cantor of hypocrisy, I would take a different approach. Here are the kinds of things I hope to say next time I see him:

First: Cool bike, dude! Great to see you setting the example on the tube. It really helps the cause when people in your position are seen on bicycles. Thanks!

Then I’d remind him of the economic benefits of cycling — not just for cyclists, but for the community at large. Lower health-care costs benefit all of us. Fewer cars reduces the need for expensive new roads and parking lots, and it means fewer deaths and injuries from vehicle-related accidents. And jobs? Bike projects create jobs, all right — more than 11 jobs per million dollars vs. 8 jobs per million for highways…

Would this approach make Eric Cantor into a bike advocate? Maybe, maybe not. But I do know this: Without facts and serious arguments, you definitely won’t change Cantor’s mind. And you won’t even get the chance to make your point if all you want to do is try to look clever at his expense.

Of course Bowden is spot on about the value of facts and serious arguments. There are indeed reams of facts that can — and should — be addressed to Rep. Cantor directly, like the ones released today in the Alliance for Biking and Walking’s biannual benchmarking report, which ranks Cantor’s home state of Virginia 33rd in bicycle commuting (0.3 percent, compared to 1 percent nationwide) and second-to-last in per-capita bike-ped funding (57 cents to the national figure of $2.17).

But Cantor has never felt compelled to ground his arguments in facts when it comes to opposing bicycle programs.

Last September, when Cantor tried to disguise an attack on bike-ped funding as an olive branch to the administration on transportation policy, he misleadingly described his proposal as an attempt to “eliminat[e] the requirement that states must set aside 10 percent of federal surface transportation funds for transportation museums, education, and preservation [in order to] allow states to devote these monies to high-priority infrastructure projects.” Streetsblog pointed out that Cantor was really talking about a program that comprises less than two percent of federal transportation spending, which actually directs most of its funding to projects that make biking and walking safer, not “transportation museums.” In that case, what Cantor “thinks” won out over facts.

Maybe the day will come when Cantor acknowledges the value of investing in bike infrastructure and his policies reflect that. Until then, the Majority Leader in the House of No shouldn’t be let off the hook so easily.