What Kind of Transpo Secretary Will Anthony Foxx Be?

Sustainable transportation advocates have mostly cheered the expected appointment of Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx to the top job at U.S. DOT. Image: ##http://www.cyclelicio.us/2013/anthony-foxx-tapped-for-transportation-secretary/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Cyclelicious+%28Cyclelicious%29##Cyclelicious## via Mary Newsom

Later today President Obama is expected to nominate Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx to replace Ray LaHood as transportation secretary.

The last time we reported about Foxx, the North Carolina Legislature was trying to thwart his plans to pursue a streetcar and light rail expansion at the same time.

Speaking to the Washington Post, an anonymous White House official alluded to Charlotte’s economic health and transit progress as qualifications for the appointment, noting that Foxx is a supporter of high-speed rail and some of the president’s other transportation priorities.

Foxx has been mayor of Charlotte for about four years. Over that period, he has pursued both highway and transit expansion.

Sustainable transportation advocates are greeting the news about Foxx with guarded optimism. Jonathan Maus at Bike Portland reviews his qualifications for the job:

He’s a former lawyer who has spent most of his professional life in politics. From what I’ve seen reported so far, it appears Foxx does not have much transportation experience. He’s pushed for highway widening projects, he’s started a streetcar revival in Charlotte and he’s a big proponent of rail transit in general.

As for bicycling, Foxx has actively supported it. He’s held an annual “Bike to Breakfast” event and he hops on a road bike to help launch “Bike Charlotte,” an annual cycling promotional campaign. When Charlotte launched their bike share system last summer, Foxx grinned for the local media during the inaugural ride [above].

Richard Masoner at Cyclelicious, meanwhile, takes a deeper look at his local experience:

Although Foxx is short on experience beyond the municipal level, some smart growth and alternative transportation advocates are excited about Foxx, who extended a light rail line and brought in a streetcar to promote denser urban development. Foxx was instrumental in obtaining funding to complete the final segment of I-485, a 60 mile beltway that extends 15 miles outside of central Charlotte. Foxx also supports an NCDOT project to widen I-85 from six lanes to eight.

Expanding highways, transit, and bicycling options simultaneously is a good approximation of what we’ve seen so far from the Obama administration: giving people more transportation options without making much of an effort to rein in sprawl infrastructure.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Streets.mn wonders if Minnesota really needs a special law forbidding parking in bike lanes. The Kansas Cyclist reports that the Kansas City Royals have lifted a de facto ban on biking to Kauffman Stadium, saying the sports franchise will now allow cyclists to park their bikes along a fence. And the Transportationist shares a new study investigating how people estimate travel times by different modes and how misperceptions can influence decision making.

  • Anonymous

    Expanding highways, transit, and bicycling options simultaneously is a good approximation of what we’ve seen so far from the Obama administration: giving people more transportation options without making much of an effort to rein in sprawl infrastructure.

    That’s a good summary. And one that should remind us to be more critical of aspects of Obama’s agenda, even as we praise and support other aspects.

  • Anonymous

    Our continuing sense of obligation to fuel sprawl and quench its thirst for added highway capacity will, sooner or later, run up against the walls of impossibility.

    The lowest common denominator in the rise and maintenance of cities and places is resource availability. Most notably, water. If we are failing to account for something as basic as adequate drinking water in our projection of urban development and associated transportation needs, what else are we failing to consider in our multi-billion dollar plans? This comment, however, is not about 21st century water planning, but rather 21st century transportation planning.

    Have we continued to do the right thing – highway construction and expansion – well after the point at which is ceased to be the right thing to do?

    How can it be that the output from our decision-making models validates investment into one highway expansion after another rather than suggesting that addressing our patch-work of transit and alternative transportation infrastructure should be a national priority? Are the models on auto-pilot with everyone asleep at the wheel?

    Are development patterns of the past 30 years predictive of those we should reasonably anticipate for the next 30, and are broadly defined individual transportation needs (cost, accessibility, mode, etc.) expected to remain unchanged across all demographics? Is it realistic for our transportation investment models to be informed by the understanding that our past predicts our future, that sprawl will dominate well into the foreseeable future and beyond? There seemes to be a huge gap in the feedback loop between public transportation policy and the benefits accruing to society.

    To place the gap in the feedback loop into perspective, consider what you would you do if you were on a car trip from St. Louis to New Orleans and began to see highway signs indicating distance to cities such as Chicago and Minneapolis. Recognizing that you appear to be headed in the wrong direction, surely you would take steps to immediately validate your current course, making whatever adjustments may be necessary to achieve your goal – reaching New Orleans, in this case. That isn’t what happens with national transportation policy and the tools we use to validate our decisions.

    Transportation models in use by our state DOTs that project virtually boundless, outward growth are not effectively calibrated to resource constraints and fail to consider significant changes in the broader environment that strongly influence transportation needs and behavior. Not only is an ever-increasing amount of public infrastructure serving low density development not fiscally sustainable, as evidenced by the state of the Highway Trust Fund, but the underlying base assumptions surrounding patterns of metropolitan development, market behavior, and commuter choice, are highly suspect, if not plainly wrong – we’re headed the wrong direction and are doing very little to address the problem apart from glancing at the signs as we continue along the wrong path..

    A number of folks have pondered meaning of the “new normal” – a sense of fiscal conservatism ushered in by reconsideration of what constitutes reasonable risk in the wake of our nation’s economic downturn. Financial projections aren’t as ambitious as they had been in the past. Disposable income isn’t what it used to be. Retirement plans have been put on hold, some indefinitely. Transportation decision-making has not caught-up, and there are few signs that it will any time soon; it is still business as usual down at the highway department – no, state “Department of Transportation.”

    The “new normal” conversation has touched on transportation investment decision-making, but only superficially in-terms of “fix-it-first” rhetoric and cutting back on the number of road projects that would otherwise have been funded. A more meaningful reconsideration of the “new normal” would bear the hallmark of double-looped learning: a fundamental reconsideration as to whether the strategies we’ve been deploying, particularly in urban areas, remain relevant in a dramatically altered fiscal and human landscape.

    Is it reasonable, for instance, to assume that Americans will keep paying more for fuel, will keep driving farther, and will dedicate increasing proportions of their wages to transportation? What are your friends and colleagues saying? Mine are talking about moving closer to their jobs. Mine are talking about trying to make do with only one car. Mine are looking to relocate to communities with rich transit assets, but that can be expensive due to transit access being a factor that increases housing costs.

    Are there really no limits to personal budgets and the availability of finite resources? That’s what our transportation investment models say. They say the patterns of our past few decades – a relatively recent phenomena in the context of human history – are sustainable for the foreseeable future, and beyond. They predict that conditions giving rise to the housing bubble remain primary market drivers – drive ’till you qualify will reign forever. They predict, therefore, that we should keep pumping transportation dollars into investments that support modeled market demand at the urban fringe: highway construction and expansion.

    The models, though, haven’t been inculcated with the right data-points to facilitate improved decision-making. Irrespective of what the models say will happen, young people are already moving back to cities and choosing alternative modes of transportation. Irrespective of what the models say, we know we have an aging population that will increasingly be unable or unwilling to drive; the number of counties across the U.S. with median ages over 40 more than doubled between the 2000 and 2010 census. Recent analysis posted on Streetsblog shows Americans continue to drive less. People are demanding more efficient, less expensive transportation options. The market is already responding differently than it had in the past few decades – it must in order to survive; however, our transportation investment strategy lags severely – it is not keeping pace and has fallen far behind the times.

    Our major transportation investments claim to be supporting market demand; however, they are actually only responding to the echos of transportation demand from a bygone era.

    There are glaring disconnects between the problems that are confronting us and the solutions we are advancing to solve them. We’re relying on indicators of past performance to project future needs, rather than realizing that the world around us continues to change in important and meaningful ways.

    Secretary LaHood was seemingly making incremental progress in getting our bearings and setting an improved course. Hopefully, with the introduction of a Foxx in the hen house, we’ll see more policies and practices coming out of USDOT that reflect the new normal, one where our nation’s needs and aspirations are supported by major capital investments rather than undermined by them.

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