U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s brief address to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on Thursday got off to an inauspicious start for urbanists. He brought guests to sit on the dais from across the dirty energy industry, such as someone from U.S. coal publications and the CEO of Austin Bridge and Road, but no one representing mass transit. LaHood’s speech focused entirely on shilling for the success of the stimulus legislation at saving jobs and businesses. (Austin Bridge and Road turned out to be a prime example.) Environmental concerns, the health of American cities, the importance of building mass transit and linking it to affordable housing and walkable communities all went unmentioned.
But the journalists in attendance pushed LaHood to discuss his views of those issues and his answers were surprisingly forthright and encouraging. LaHood admitted he wants to discourage driving, talking up Portland (naturally), and multi-modal transit. He dismissed conservative objections to smart growth by joking that “the person with a problem is George Will,” and that “everything we do here is interference in people’s lives.” LaHood may have been a surprising appointment for transit enthusiasts, but he has shown that he has the right instincts, even more than his press shop wants to show.
Ben Adler is a journalist in New York. He is a former reporter for Grist, The Nation, Newsweek and Politico, and he has written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Guardian and The New Republic.