The 2012 Capitol Hill Streetsies, Part 1

Happy Holidays, Streetsblog readers! I hope this missive finds you stuffed silly with sugar cookies.

You know, you just can’t wrap your head around what a bizarre year 2012 was for federal transportation policy until you put it all together in something like the Streetsies. So it’s a good thing we have the Streetsies to lay it all out for us! And so, without further ado, we’ve got some awards to hand out…

Photo: Viator

MAP-21’s Fatal Flaw(s): There are some strong feelings out there about MAP-21, the two-year transportation bill Congress took three years to pass. The fact is, there are many downsides to this piece of legislation, and it’s hard to choose the worst. Understandably, the votes were all over the map, ending with a three-way tie for this Streetsie award.

To correct MAP-21’s most grievous errors, the next transportation bill will have to, first, restore dedicated bike/ped funding at previous levels (of course, topping the previous levels would be better). Second, a complete streets provision should be included, which would lead more state DOTs to get used to building streets that work for all modes, and could be the chicken before the funding-restoration egg. (Or wait, the egg before the chicken?)

But Streetsbloggers, you are a savvy bunch, and a little bit of federal-bureaucracy alphabet soup doesn’t scare you. So, three: You want TIGER back — authorized and fully funded — and you want it now. After all, with a program like TIGER turning innovative transportation ideas into reality, local agencies all over the country are competing to come up with projects that can land that federal money.

MAP-21’s Silver Lining: OK, we can’t just beat up on this bill without acknowledging that it could have been so much worse – and there were lots of people out there trying to make it worse. There was an effort to eliminate dedicated transit funding. There was a move to get rid of bike/ped funding altogether. But transit and bike/ped programs are still in the bill – and with more local control.

Most Cringe-Worthy Moment on the GOP Blooper Reel: Speaking of those people trying their hardest to make this a uniquely awful transportation law: House Republicans had quite a year, putting all their ideological pet issues (Keystone XL pipeline, oil drilling, etc.) into the bill and then failing utterly to get even their own party members to vote for it. But as bad as all that was, readers, you thought it wasn’t quite as humiliating to the Republican brand as all that paranoid and delusional Agenda 21 scare-mongering going on. That’s some real Made in the USA wingnuttery right there.

Mitt, you don't need to grow a beard, but Al Gore could be a good role model for post-election-loss life. Photo: Pleiotropy

Best Role Model for Mitt Romney: Republicans in the House weren’t the only ones having a bad year in 2012. Mitt Romney took home 47 percent of the popular vote in November and went back to Michigan or Massachusetts or Utah or possibly all of the above and drowned his sorrows in milk. But Mittens: There is a path of glory out of post-election doldrums for the loser. Exhibit A: Al Gore.

Look at this man! Sure, he was unshaven and chubby for a little while, but then he went out and made himself a second career saving the planet. How ’bout it, Mitt? When you were governor of Massachusetts, you had some brilliant ideas about smart growth and you even used to understand the economics of gas prices. So, dust yourself off, re-commit to the principles of efficient development, and go out and be a national-level spokesperson for what walkable communities can do for America!

We’ll Miss You Most of All, Scarecrow: As in any election year, we were bound to lose some good ones. In the 113th Congress, livability advocates will especially be missing Russ Carnahan, a fighter for equal tax breaks for transit commuters, and Steve LaTourette, a transit supporter from the Republican side of the aisle.

Whom We Hope to Honor with Lavish Praise This Time Next Year: All eyes are on you, Bill Shuster. You’ve got a committee to bring back from the brink of hyper-partisan gridlock and a transportation bill to rescue. Let’s see what you got.

And When Will That Next Transportation Bill Be Passed? A little cynicism here among Streetsblog readers. (And who could blame you?) More than half of you think it’ll take three and a half years to pass a bill that should be coming around in less than two. A quarter of you think it’ll take five years or more.

The most sensible path forward for high-speed rail: This is a hard one. More than a few people with impeccable sustainability cred wish high-speed rail would just go away. It has a way of getting more and more expensive, and imagine all the light-rail and BRT service you could buy with that money. But high-speed rail is uniquely positioned to make intercity travel a whole lot more efficient and comfortable, and that’s a dream worth holding onto. The Republican mantra of focusing all HSR in the Northeast Corridor makes sense to a lot of  Streetsblog readers. But you would rather see some real energy put into the California line so that the U.S. can have at least one flourishing high-speed line that can be a model for the rest of the nation.

Favorite celebrity endorsement of sustainable transportation: LeBron James, bike commuter. If the man can spend an hour or two biking to practice and games in a day, who can make the excuse they don’t have time to work a little workout into their daily transportation grind?

Tune in tomorrow for Streetsie awards in the categories of: State DOTs that give us hope (and those that taketh hope away), the worst “solution” for bike safety, and the most stunning urban transformation of 2012.