WIN WEEK – Planning Hero

Understanding past-mistakes is essential to avoiding them in the future, however, hindsight is 20/20 and we here at Planning Pool are cognizant of this truth. With that in mind and with eyes toward sunnier days, we’ve decided to respond to last month’s Fail Week feature with some of the more hopeful developments in the world of planning: Win Week. After all, planners have to maintain some level of faith that things can be improved – otherwise, what’s the point? Now, choosing planning victories is an admittedly subjective exercise, so take exception wherever you please – soothsayers we are not. That stated, onward ho!

Though I grew up reading Marvel Comics, I’ve never been a big hero worshiper, especially in the realm of public policy.  Still, there is no doubt that some believe a new planning hero has emerged in the US, and his contributions over the past few months represent a symbolic victory for the future of the country. For the longest time, policy coming from higher levels of US government, especially federal policy, has subsidized sprawling growth patterns with infrastructure to facilitate radial, city-suburb transportation. Whether these investments have been made in public transit or roadways (more often the latter), their aim was to move people between localities, rather than within them. The result has been a decidedly auto-dependent civilization, with few exceptions. Now, however, a seemingly large shift has a occurred at the federal level and its champion is the brightest star of the President’s Cabinet: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Over the past two months Mr. LaHood has addressed a number of issues held dear to planners’ hearts, including: committing to a partnership with the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency to promote Smart Growth; issuing policy priorities that place bicycle and pedestrian transportation planning on equal footing with motorized modes; and ushering new, aggressive fuel-efficiency standards for cars. In so doing, Mr. LaHood has made as many enemies as he has friends, but is nonetheless a hero to urbanists across the country. By my estimation, these developments represent an epic win. As a resident Portlander, I’m hoping the Secretary’s support for non-motorized transportation and his admiration for the Rose City translate into federal funds for our ambitious, but unfunded bike plan

Of course, not everyone is so excited about Mr. LaHood. Some question the economic utility of bicycle investments, while others are broadly skeptical of Smart Growth principles. The amount of pushback the Administration receives over these fairly significant shifts in policy remains to be seen, but for the time-being, it appears that the highest levels of government envision a future not wholly different from that envisioned by many progressive planners.

For more on Mr. LaHood’s speech at the National Bike Summit, read Jonathan Hiskes at Grist.

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