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Earl Blumenauer talks transit, stimulus, bikes and Obama

Moments after he delivered the keynote address to the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), Oregon's Rep. Earl Blumenauer, head of the Congressional Bike Caucus, met with us for this exclusive one-on-one chat.

Streetsblog Editor-in-Chief Aaron Naparstek talks with the congressman about the current federal stimulus bill and how advocates can better engage their leaders. Of the new White House team, which has not shown much energy in pushing transit or livable streets issues thus far, Mr. Blumenauer states:

"...just because [people and advocates] may feel more comfortable with this administration - it doesn't mean they should let up on the pressure."

Amen. This is an important year people, let that sentence stick in your noggin for the next 324 days.

Aaron Naparstek: This is Congressman Earl Blumenauer from Portland, he’s really one of the most progressive voices in Congress right now for sustainable transportation and land use policies. We just caught him at the National Association for City Transportation Officials meeting over here at the Staten Island Ferry and just wanted to take a couple of minutes [00:30] to ask you a few questions. We put together this thing called the StreetsBlog Network and one of the things that it’s made really clear is that there are literally thousands of liveable streets activists across the country who want to get a better sense of how to get more involved in what’s happening in Congress. You know, they’d like to see the Federal Government paying more attention and giving more funding to things like mass transit and bicycling and smart growth, and I’d like to get a sense from you as to [01:00] how these folks can best kind of exert influence and make themselves a part of the process on Capitol Hill.

Earl Blumenauer: That’s a critical question. Ironically one of the most important things that they can do is doing a good job in their community. What we’re seeing now is that examples of people that have recaptured and reclaimed the streetscape, people that have put in bike and pedestrian access, a local streetcar project. These are things that have a galvanising [01:30] effect and makes a difference in communities, but these are the examples that we can have drive the illustrations for policy makers in Congress and in the Federal Government. The second is to be assertive and engage people, every week the majority of people in the House and Senate go back to their home states, inviting them in for tours and conversations [02:00], showing what they’re doing, seeking clarification and assistance. We’re in a brave new world. Being able to engage people, illustrate it at the grassroots level makes all the difference in the world.

Aaron Naparstek: Interesting. So we just went through this and we’re still in the middle of this Stimulus Bill fight. I guess could you talk a little bit about how that went from the perspective of sustainable transportation policy. Are you happy with how the results went? It seemed like you had to fight a lot just to get a little bit of mass [02:30] transit money and bicycle money in there.

Earl Blumenauer: Yes, it’s been harder than I would have liked to get support for transit, for projects that… fixing broken infrastructure, greening the infrastructure. These are things that actually produce more jobs and do it faster while it reduces the carbon footprint. It shouldn’t be that hard. I’m a little frustrated that some of these provisions got [03:00] watered down in the Senate and, frankly, I would hope that there would be a broader marker from the Administration. Having spent a fair amount of time in Oregon with President Obama when he was campaigning, I know he appreciates it, we talked about it, he saw the results, but to this point that hasn’t filtered up in the Administration as a priority.

Aaron Naparstek: 2009 is clearly going [03:30] to be a really big year for transportation policy. We’ve got the Stimulus Bill obviously. Then we have the Transportation Authorisation coming up, probably some more energy legislation. What can activists do to kind of make sure the Obama Administration gets this stuff and these pieces of legislation are done right?

Earl Blumenauer: Well, just because they may feel more comfortable with this Administration doesn’t mean they should let up on the pressure. And one of the things that’s interesting is that the Obama [04:00] phenomenon was based on millions of volunteers, of people who were blogging and emailing. Well, you’re tied into networks like that, so reaching out to the Obama nation, all these people who were part of the Obama networks, to bring them in, to communicate with them, with peoples’ email chains, with their blogs, with their twitter, whatever, you know, whatever. Make the 13 million [04:30] Obama volunteers part of the army for liveability.

Aaron Naparstek: Right, right. Let’s talk for a second about your colleagues on the other side of the aisle. After a couple of Republican Senators tried to strip funding for bike infrastructure out of the Stimulus Bill, you had a nice piece on Huffington Post where you said, you know, when it comes to the bikes Republicans still don’t get it. What’s going on there? Why, why don’t they like bicycles? Why does it drive them crazy? [05:00]

Earl Blumenauer: There are a number of Republicans that are members of our Bike Caucus but unfortunately some of the leaders, this has happened with Republican leader John Boehner repeatedly, with the Republican Whip. There were four or five key leaders last session that somehow seized on cycling. Instead of a symbol for liveable communities, it was a symbol of green wantishness [05:30] that wasn’t worthy of support. I think that’s foolish. It was actually one Republican National Campaign committee that was used to attack a woman who was running against an entrenched incumbent, they attacked her for promoting cycling as part of a comprehensive energy policy. He lost, she won. I don’t know why they seized on that, but it’s wrong, it’s wrong headed. I think it’s going to backfire [06:00] politically, but in the short term it’s very frustrating because I’ve worked very hard for bicycling to be bike partisan. We reach out to Republicans to be a part of efforts. I know when I work around the country that biking isn’t partisan. You know, Republicans, Independents, Democrats, people who aren’t political at all, love bikes. I hope we can convince them to stop taking those cheap shots because it hurts the Republican Party [06:30] and it undermines our efforts.

Aaron Naparstek: Where can you get a pin? Where can you get a bike pin? Is this the official Bike Caucus pin or is it… Oh yeah.

Earl Blumenauer: You know.

Aaron Naparstek: That’s really why we wanted to interview you frankly because, you know, it’s just for a pin.

Earl Blumenauer: Well, you’ve got it.

Aaron Naparstek: Now we’re talking.

Earl Blumenauer: You betcha.

Aaron Naparstek: Streetfilms, finally paying off here.

Transcription Sponsored by: Transcript Divas Transcription Services

Clarence Eckerson, Jr. has been making fantastical transportation media in NYC since the late 1990s. He's never had a driver's license and never will.

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  • http://npgreenway.blogspot.com Scott for npGREENWAY

    Great video guys. This truly is a "BikePartisan" issue. We need to put money into our non-motorized transportation infrastructure now. I'll now wear my little bike lapel pin with even more pride!

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/npGREENWAY Scott for npGREENWAY
  • Doug Aroth

    Earl is cool.

  • chrismealy

    Great video! Keep it up.

  • http://www.ecometro.com/community/blogs/portland_go/archive/2009/02/10/portland-s-newest-bike.aspx Travis A. Wittwer

    This is just the video I needed to see today. Thank you for organizing it and posting. I know how much time is put into something like this. I was re-inspired by the message.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/CrankMyChain Dan Kaufman

    Great interview. I am so glad that Earl Blumenauer is my rep. We need more congresspeople in the bike caucus!

  • Ed Pino

    Lets all get pins.

  • jim

    How old is this video? I see a DHL truck in the back ground. DHL isn't doing stuff here anymore. Just curious. Keep up the good work Earl and remember to read those bills before you sign them

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/dornbiker Paul Dorn

    Great interview. I appreciated the congressman's emphasis on local activism. Pursuing livable streets enhancements within our communities. Think global, act local.

  • http://www.mister-wong.de/user/tesravop5/levitra-rezeptfrei/ Sonilbik

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  • http://www.albrightathletics.com/index.aspx?path=football Caridad Dicaprio

    I’d come to clinch the deal with you one this subject. Which is not something I usually do! I enjoy reading a post that will make people think. Also, thanks for allowing me to speak my mind!