Last Thursday night, a number of mobility luminaries descended upon Union Station to catch the season’s end of UCLA’s Luskin lecture series, featuring the nation’s leading authority figure in transportation, Barack Obama.
Well, no. Actually the guy below him, but that’s still a really big deal. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx spoke in what has been a very active time in shaping the future of mobility.
To start off, it was bike week. And infrastructure week. And craft beer week. It was actually the week where you throw any word before the word week week.
Adding to the excitement, Metro’s new boss, Philip Washington, gave Foxx a formal introduction while still showing signs that he’s acclimating to the job less than a week in.
To my memory, this was the first event I’ve ever attended that included a cabinet member of any sort.
I expected a tight security detail for someone at this level of prominence, but when I arrived at the check-in, it turned out my name tag was lost. The handlers simply asked what name I wanted put down, printed it up, and I was good to go. No ID check or pat down.
Just step in!
That was disappointing for someone who spent the entire subway ride imagining what the Secretary’s Secret Service codename was, like fox trot tango, coconut oil or jelly koala. The possibilities were endless.
If you don’t know anything about Secretary Foxx, he was the former mayor of Charlotte when he unanimously was appointed to the position two years ago. He also commented on his LA ties, describing the all influence his wife had, being a UCLA grad, without actually doing an 8-clap.
Nowadays, when you hear an authority speak about transportation, you almost listen to what he doesn’t say more than specific pieces of content. With our country’s love affair with the car, I was afraid to listen to any pro-freeway talk, but hearing that his childhood home overlooked two of them, you knew there wasn’t much love there.
The speech didn’t set off too many fireworks. Not that Foxx isn’t competent or enthusiastic, but it’s a tough time in the District for transit. It’s not just his department, but we live in an era where any mention of investing in our country immediately gets hammered
by those claiming fiscal responsibility.
Any ambitious goal gets met with skepticism and Foxx wears it. He mentioned the problems behind an underfunded transportation department and how a refusal to raise gas taxes harms our country.
Another continuing issue Foxx brought up was the deadline for the transportation reauthorization extension to pass, an exercise that has continued for the last sixteen years. The deadline for the extension is the 31st, but really it’s the 22nd as congress goes on Memorial Day holiday. Now, this really isn’t that big of a deal, unless you consider Federal FUNDING paramount in keeping our transportation systems running!
At this point, it seems like Washington is unable to provide an overall vision for the future of America’s transportation planning, but is fortunate enough to still fund many projects at the local and state level. The direction between highway funding versus active transportation is an ongoing debate and you can easily guess who the combatants side with.
If there’s any sunshine to pump here is that American reliance of the car has been slipping away and demand for mobility options continues to grow. Foxx stated that 70% of people are willing to pay more in taxes if the money goes directly to improving their own transit.
Attitudes don’t shift on mobility quite as fast as other pressing issues, like deflategate, but if the pressure keeps coming, politicians will continue to take notice. We may not live in an age where the feds move the needle in the right direction, but maybe they can buy enough time so we can turn that dial ourselves.