“Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” —Mark Twain
That quote is over a century old, and things have changed, right?
Perhaps Twain was being a might too ornery.
Take our current Congress, for example. Rep. Michael Grimm, R- Staten Island, voted to repeal health care reform, arguing that it’s an “economy-crushing, job-killing bill.”
Asked to explain why he saw no contradiction in accepting government-funded health care for himself, while voting to deny health care to 51 million of his fellow citizens, he replied:
“What am I, not supposed to have health care? It’s practicality. I’m not going to become a burden for the state because I don’t have health care, and God forbid I get into an accident and I can’t afford the operation. That can happen to anyone.”
Exactly, Rep. Grimm.
Well, perhaps one example is not sufficient for refuting Twain’s observation.
Let’s try at the other end of the country.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R- San Diego, was first elected to Congress in 2008, succeeding his father, who represented San Diego from 1981 to 2009.
Recently, Rep. Hunter was asked his opinion about whether federal transportation money for “things like bike trails” is “waste,” or whether he thinks “biking is a mode of transportation.” Rep. Hunter responded:
“I don’t think biking should fall under the federal purview of what the Transportation Committee is there for. If a state wants to do it, or local municipality, they can do whatever they want to. But no, because then you have us mandating bike paths, which you don’t want either.”
To put things in perspective, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure was, until this year, chaired by Jim Oberstar, a member of the Congressional Bike Caucus and, in Andy Clarke’s words, “a true champion of bicyclist’s issues in Washington.”
Commenting on Oberstar’s defeat, Bikes Belong President Tim Blumenthal observed that “No elected official has done more for bicycling than Jim Oberstar.”
But as they say in Washington, “elections have consequences,” so with Jim Oberstar out, there was a new vacancy on the Transportation Committee, and it was in with Duncan Hunter.
And as he made clear, for him, biking shouldn’t be within the purview of the Transportation Committee.
But why not, you might ask? Because, as Hunter observes, “I don’t see riding a bike the same as driving a car or flying an airplane… I think it’s more of a recreational thing. That’s my opinion.”
In other words, people who drive cars and fly airplanes never do so for recreation; those are activities that are strictly transportational in nature.
Hopefully, this won’t come as surprising news to all of those people who are motoring along the 59-mile scenic drive, or scenic Route 75, both located in Representative Hunter’s hometown of San Diego.
Hopefully, all those private pilots who fly out of Montgomery Field or Brown Field (both in San Diego) are flying only for transportation. Imagine the embarrassment if it turned out that people were recreating on automotive and aeronautic transportation infrastructure, right under Rep. Hunter’s nose.
But perhaps all those motorists really are just transporting themselves to work, and not at all enjoying a scenic drive. And perhaps all those private pilots really are just flying in to the office.
Perhaps federal transportation dollars really don’t get spent on recreation—especially in Duncan Hunter’s hometown.
And as long as we’re talking about our federal transportation dollars, we might want to ask whether they only get spent on transportation that pays for itself.
That is, after all, what Rep. Hunter wants to require for transit projects funded by the Congress.
So, of course, it would be reasonable to ask whether Rep. Hunter is also insisting that the federal government stop subsidizing automobile use. Will all motorists be paying their own way from now on?
Or is Rep. Hunter suggesting that we should require transit to pay for itself, while we continue to subsidize automobile transportation?
Speaking of transportation, let’s get back to those bikes.
It’s clear from Rep. Hunter’s comments that people who ride bikes never do so for transportation; that is an activity that is strictly recreational in nature. Of course, somebody will have to explain that fact to all those people who bicycle to work in the morning, even in towns that aren’t as bike-mad as Portland.
And somebody will have to explain to cyclists that the bike paths cannot be used for both recreation and transportation, just like motorists never use the roads for both recreation and transportation. And of course, cyclists never, ever use the roads. Nope. Unheard of—especially in San Diego, where the weather is a harsh 70 degrees year-round.
And when you get right down to it, the crux of the problem in Rep. Hunter’s eyes is this: As much as some Representatives might want to provide some support for cycling, it would be an unconstitutional abuse of congressional authority for the Transportation Committee to allocate money toward cycling.
It just can’t be done, because as Rep. Hunter explains, it’s a constitutional issue.
So as you can see, things have changed in the last century. Or at least we can say that Mark Twain was just feeling a might ornery that day. Now ain’t that a relief?
In related news, the League of American Bicyclists has sent out the following alert this week:
Working with our partners at America Bikes, we have been monitoring and preparing for possible federal budget cuts that could attack biking and walking. This is a “pre-alert” to give you the heads up that if biking and walking funding and programs are attacked, we will have a very short window in which to take action.
If an amendment attacking biking and walking is proposed we will let you know right away and ask that you do your part as a citizen to raise your voice for biking and walking. If such action is required we will provide specific information and directions.
There is no action to take at this moment – this is just a heads up that we need everyone to stand-by for action.
Thank you in advance.
To stay abreast of this issue, you can follow the latest developments at the League of American Bicyclist’s “Take Action”page.
By Bob Mionske
Research and assistance by Rick Bernardi, J.D.
Connect with Bob on Facebook.
This article, Is Cycling ‘Recreational’ or ‘Transportational’?, was originally posted on Bicycling on February 17, 2011.