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
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
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
Earl Blumenauer: You
Aaron Naparstek: Streetfilms,
finally paying off here.