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State DOTs Mark Earth Day by Pressing a More Road-Centric ‘Livability’

As the Obama administration's inter-agency sustainable
communities project
commands a growing share of attention and
funding in Washington, the response from conservatives and business
lobbies has been decidedly less than enthusiastic.

D.C.'s bike sharing stations, above, got a prominent mention in the
AASHTO report. (Photo: afagen via

When Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood issued a
non-binding statement of support for bicycle and pedestrian
infrastructure, stopping short of setting any "complete streets" standards
for federal projects, the National Association of Manufacturers declared
the idea "nonsensical."

But that initial backlash may be giving way to an "if you can't
beat 'em, join 'em" attitude among road-building industries. In fact,
the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials
(AASHTO) -- state DOTs' voice in the capital -- marked the 40th
anniversary of Earth Day today with a new report that depicts roads and
highway funding as essential to building more livable neighborhoods.

"While State DOTs support what can be done through transit, walking
and biking to enhance 'livability,' what has been missing from the
national dialogue is what can be accomplished through road-related
improvements," AASHTO executive director John Horsley wrote in his
introduction to the report.

Among the 13 developments AASHTO describes as evidence that state
DOTs are "investing in community livability," two are not directly
related to environmentally friendly transportation: creating jobs and
stimulating the economy.

Other items on the list of 13 substantively overlap. For instance,
AASHTO separates "green projects" such as the Detroit area's Midtown
Loop -- a walking and biking path that got
$2.3 million
in stimulus aid last year -- from Transportation
, a 20-year-old program that requires states to set
aside 10 percent of federal road formula money for bike-ped facilities
or other, related efforts.

Yet the Midtown Loop, like many greenways across, got its federal
funding largely from the Enhancements program, which was the U.S. DOT's
primary route for promoting cleaner transportation until the Obama
administration launched its sustainability push.

Indeed, part of the mission of AASHTO's report appears to be
broadening the umbrella of "livability," which LaHood managed to define in
12 words
during a little-seen October interview, to include more
generalized economic development projects. For every mention of
"complete streets" principles in the report, there is a corresponding
attempt to seize the mantle of sustainable transport that is often
claimed by bicycle and pedestrian advocacy groups.

"A public policy that addresses true livability must include not
only urban but rural communities, not only the environment but also the
economy, not only transit riders and bicyclists, but soccer moms and
family vacationers at the Grand Canyon," the report states

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