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: ##http://www.cyclelicio.us/2012/eric-cantor-bicycle/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Cyclelicious+%28Cyclelicious%29##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.

  • Mohrbike

    health, noise reduction are common benefits of cycle commuting. safety is usually not mentioned. if someone is being mugged or having a heart attack will a motorist hear your call for help? only a cyclist or pedestrian would have the opportunity to respond to calls for help.

  • Anonymous

    Even though my politics differ from his, I enjoyed Mr. Bowden’s opinion piece. It’s nice to see that the benefits of bike commuting, which I always thought should be apolitical, can appeal to Republicans as well. Republican proponents of bike safety are in a better position to change Republican politicians’ minds about its merit, and their respectful communications with their representatives will go further than snarky (sorry, it WAS snarky) criticism from opponents. Carry on, Mr. Bowden.

  • “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” – Upton Sinclair

    “Then I’d remind him of the economic benefits of cycling — not just for cyclists, but for the community at large.”

    This is a useless exercise – Cantor’s personal economic benefits trump the community at large’s. You are spitting into the wind.

  • DingDong

    This is evidence of the strange paradox of bike politics.  For cycling advocates to convince others, they have to be apolitical and technocratic — sticking to the facts.  For cycling advocates to get their other cyclists excited, they have to engage in identity politics (cultivating an identity of cyclists v. the rest).  It’s a difficult balance to strike.

  • Anonymous

    Unfortunately, the mere mention of a Republican–or perhaps I should say “Rethuglican”– is enough to set off the auto-snark feature in progressive bloggers…

  • Anonymous

    No. Pretty much just the worst ones, and Cantor is in the pantheon.

  • Andy S.

    Cantor isn’t going to change his mind about bike infrastructure because he has nothing to lose (politically speaking) and everything to gain by trying to defund it, regardless of what his personal feelings might be.

    It’s clear that the national level GOP is convinced that cycling is something for latte-sipping, Democrat-voting-for, Proust-reading, Whole Foods shopping-at, passport-holding urbanite hipsters and/or “iilegals”. Not something for soccer moms or Joe Sixpack, or even little Billy and Jane to use to get to school (that’s why cars were invented!). Or that promoting cycling is some type of Commie/U.N./Soviet plot, as Colorado’s Dan Maes suggested. There are some exceptions, but the general milieu of the GOP discourages the funding of transportation projects that aren’t auto or possibly airport related.

  • I don’t know if Cantor even believes he’s being hypocritical, unfortunately.  Like many casual cyclists, he may just see cycling as a form of exercise and recreation, not a legitimate form of transportation.  The thinking is if it’s just an optional activity, like playing basketball or lifting weights, of course people engaging in it should pay their fair share.  After all, people pay to belong to the gym.  Unfortunately, this mindset leaves out publicly-provided facilities for low income residents, especially children, but the Republicans are clearly uninterested in appealing to that demographic these days. 

    Instead, I think Bowden is partially right.  We need to find ways to point out to Cantor – and more importantly, others reading our articles – that a bicycle can be and is so much more than a toy. Even if we never convince Cantor himself, helping others see how cycling can be a fundamental part of our transportation and economic structure will change views more than just pointing out his specific hypocrisy.

  • Himiebawbaw

    Streetsblog Capitol Hill often gets oddly partisan, perhaps reflecting Tanya’s background I writing about partisan political affairs versus more advocacy politics (I could be wrong there, but that’s the impression I get). One post even made a reference to the GOP’s intransigence on health care reform! I’m a progressive and agree with many of the criticisms, but too often they’re simply not relevant to the core mission of this publication. The other Streetsblog locales don’t engage in this at all, so it’s eater inconsistent.

  • In Tanya’s defense, I don’t think it’s just us that’s getting partisan — it’s all of Washington. But I think this is a good reminder though about consensus building and I really respect the folks at Virginia Bikes for keeping this issue fresh in everyone’s mind. We need Republicans in this movement, badly.

  • Foresthamlin

    As a biker I totally agree with Streetsblog. These guys in congress forget about everything and everybody once they get to the hill. People say it all Washington or just like Washington. Washington for crying out loud is a damn city. And the people that come here are bringing their little minds with them.

  • ThinkEffective

    A big thank you to Mr. Bowden: Streetsblog readers are often preaching to the choir. The whole Beltway rhetoric about wasteful spending could have been countered more effectively with a laser-like focus on safety and cost, rather than righteousness. Although overall the GOP does the bidding of the oil lobby, and should be called out when it does that, that does not mean that bike advocates should not try to build bipartisan support, especially at the grassroots level. The point about snarkiness was especially important: that can motivate other cyclists and urbanists, but drives away (pun intended) any Republicans who might have supported the case being made.

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