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David Fiedler

U.S. Dept. of Transportation Secretary Says Bikes Are Not Transportation

By August 19, 2007

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"Well, there's about probably some 10 percent to 20 percent of the current spending that is going to projects that really are not transportation, directly transportation-related. Some of that money is being spent on things, as I said earlier, like bike paths or trails."

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Mary Peters offered these comments August 15 on PBS in response to a question from an interviewer about where federal transportation money is being spent inappropriately. She appeared on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer to talk about the nation's transportation infrastructure in the wake of the Interstate 35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis.

In the course of the interview, Secretary Peters made several statements to the effect that one of the big problems in the U.S. is that transportation funds are being spent on non-transportation projects, including bike paths and bike trails, and that these things are not part of the transportation infrastructure.

To me, hearing such comments from the chief of transportation planning and policy in the United States is disturbing but, unfortunately not surprising, considering it eminates from a group of people who seem to consider the private automobile the only way to move people around. What was shocking was that Secretary Peters had either the gall or lack of savvy to speak those words publically, as opposed to repeating the usual lip service to bikes, rail services, etc., that we usually get.

You can email Secretary Peters to express your opinion on her thoughts. Here's what I wrote:

Dear Secretary Peters:

I was dismayed by your recent comments that projects related to bike trails and bike paths are not considered transportation infrastructure worthy of tax dollars.

I have not driven my car to work since June. In that time I have 1) improved my overall health; 2) reduced dependence on foreign oil 3) helped the environment by reducing pollution and 4) eased traffic congestion in my city.

Why in the world would we not want to encourage such behaviors? Spending tax dollars to enhance infrastructure that is friendly to bicyclists and pedestrians is money well spent.

Thanks for your consideration.

David Fiedler


August 19, 2007 at 10:33 am
(1) biker2 says:

To be fair, the bike paths and rail trails around here are strictly for enjoyment purposes; they do not lead anywhere, simply meandering through woods for a ride to enjoy scenery without worrying about automobile traffic. It would be a different story, had she said something about a separate bike lane on major roads and byways. While I agree tax dollars should be spent to fund the upkeep of trails and paths, I would much rather see the money spent on providing safe bike lanes and sidewalks so that people could actually get somewhere on their own steam.

August 19, 2007 at 11:54 am
(2) Bike says:

David, it sounds like she was trying to save her ass by looking for a scapegoat.

“If only I had an extra few dollars, I could have fixed that bridge, instead of ignoring the multiple warnings that had been raised concerning its safety.”


August 21, 2007 at 11:02 am
(3) Bill says:

I just want to say that bike paths and trails DO get you places.
I used many times before bike paths and trails to go to work and back.
That is the nice thing about biking, you can use bike paths and trails to move around, connecting them to get where you want to go and yes, one of the reasons bike paths and trails are used, is to avoid automobile traffic.
I hope we get more trails and paths.

August 21, 2007 at 1:05 pm
(4) David Fischer says:

It is thinking like Transportation Secretary Mary Peters has that will guarantee human powered vehicles will never become a viable transportation alternative.

August 21, 2007 at 5:39 pm
(5) Jonathan O'Brien says:

um gosh, this is a bush appointee?

won’t be long before nasa gets some faith-based science too.

August 23, 2007 at 11:29 am
(6) rosemary says:

i have a three wheel bike and i live in chicago. We have a mayor who is really friendly to the bike riders. We need to all get on board and ride and have a great enjoying the great outdoors.

August 23, 2007 at 12:25 pm
(7) boston cyclist says:

I was appalled when I read this. How do they expect to reduce congestion if they don’t support other modes of transportation? While some trails are purely recreational, I can think of trails in Boston, LA, Denver, Chicago, Tucson, etc. that have daily commuters. This is especially true near college campuses that are home to hundreds of thousands of students every year.

Plus, with obesity on the rise, every government official should be doing what they can to encourage Americans to be more active. “Not in my budget” is the government mentality that’s encouraging this terrible obesity trend.

David – Thank you for writing the article.

August 23, 2007 at 1:08 pm
(8) Gabriel Sierra says:

This is a copy of the mail I sent to the Secretary:

Dear Secretary Peters,

When I read about your comments, I thought it was some kind of prank somebody was playing, but the further I read, the more shocked I became.

Each year, many thousands of people cross the nation from coast to coast and even country to country (U.S./Canada, U.S./Mexico) using the bicycle as the means of transportation. I my specific case, besides touring by bicycle, I bike to work 14 miles each way. It is not easy, because of the lack of bike paths or lanes, combined with the car culture mentality, make motorists drive in an aggressive attitude toward bicycle commuters/tourists, and deadly accidents are the results. Since I am riding to work, I have saved a lot of money in car related expenditures, while gaining great health and energy for my daily chores and my family.

Your comments clearly show that either you have never ridden a bike to work or consider cyclists as an annoyance not worth investing on. I do not want to think that. But we are the taxpayers, the engine that keeps this country moving. There are actually programs at the federal level aimed at helping states in the development of bicycle path infrastructure, because most infrastructure planners already recognize the bicycle as a legitimate method of transportation that saves energy, brings health, have no polluting emissions and connect people to the surrounding environment.

I ask you Mrs. Peters, have you ever tried to do a bicycle tour around our beautiful country? I just got back from New Mexico, where I covered the Tour of the Nations, a bike tour that visited four Indian Nations. There is no better way to connect to mother earth and people than the bicycle. I will publish the first article this week, and I invite you to listen to it at the following URL:


Yes, you can download it to your iPod and listen to it while driving to work. I hope it helps you understand the mentality of the people that choose to ride a bicycle for whatever transportation need they might have. Cyclists need protection from traffic, and bike paths and trails provide just that. Think about it, it is not too late to make good about your comments. Bike trails and paths are not just for a cool Sunday ride, but a mean to reach your destination in a safe way.

I hope that you get the cycling bug, and I also hope that sometime in the future, we both can join in a nice bike ride to some beautiful U.S. destination.

Take care,

Gabriel Sierra

Bike Tourist Podcast


Member of Adventure Cycling Association


Only o few cities in my location have started to make bike trails, but it is still not enough.



August 28, 2007 at 11:35 am
(9) Bruce says:

IMHO, what the Secretary of Transportation actually criticized was the spending of transportation funds on projects (not bicycling or bikes) whose direct (i.e., primary) purpose is recreational.

In regards to facilities; while almost any public facility with multiple access points which does not prohibit cycling can be said to facilitate travel by bike, the definition of a transportation facility is more stringent; the transportation of people and/or goods must be the primary (not a secondary) purpose.

Public facilities are designed, built, maintained, funded, operated and regulated differently (i.e., according to different standards, procedures, rules, etc.) depending upon their primary purpose. Usually that purpose is only one mentioned in the definition of a type. Two examples:

“A transportation facility is any engineering structure created for the purpose of transporting people or goods from one place to another.”
“[A] Recreation facility is a facility constructed for recreational use, such as a trail, a shelter or a hut, nature centre, a swimming beach…”

BTW, public facilities generally have multiple indirect (i.e., secondary) purposes. A few examples (in alphabetical order); art, education, emergency shelter, employment, parking, recreation and travel (between access points).

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