We like Ray LaHood.
Never have met him in person or even talked with him on the telephone, but from a distance of 1,020 miles (that's how far Rand McNally says it is from Little Rock to Washington) or however far it might be when he takes one of his frequent trips outside Washington (you’re welcome in Little Rock anytime, sir), we enjoy keeping up with him.
Let’s see, just checking his daily blog (fastlane.dot.gov) in the past few months our Secretary of Transportation LaHood has visited McLean County, Ill., Minneapolis; Detroit; Birmingham, Ala.; Dallas; Shreveport, La., and Moscow, just to name a few.
We also checked The Associated Press photo file which often gives us a view into the personality of an elected official. The AP photos and the photos posted on his blog reveal a man who is sometimes intense, something studious, sometimes frustrated, sometimes stern, sometimes smiling, sometimes preacher-like, sometimes enjoying the company of Joe Citizen.
OK, OK most of the smiling photos were on his blog.
Of the 320-plus AP photos we reviewed, he was smiling in four or five.
Two of those were when he was out of the country and away from partisan politics; another was during his confirmation hearing.
Many of the photos have a commonality — LaHood peering down over his reading glasses (we wear mono vision contact lenses, Mr. Secretary, something we bought after we lost dozens of pairs of reading glasses) or using one or both hands to make a point.
We report these facts to be able to say this: Ray LaHood obviously loves his job, he’s respected by President Barack Obama (early in the administration LaHood seemed to be photographed with Obama more than any other cabinet member save perhaps the secretaries of state and treasury), he works well in a partisan environment (LaHood is one of two Republican members of the Cabinet) and he’s anxious to tell Americans just how he’s improving transportation in this country.
All admirable traits.
So it didn’t surprise us when one day last month, LaHood showed up at a meeting of the National Bikers Summit (cyclists not motorcycle riders).
The cyclists had gathered for a Congressional reception in a large Dirksen Senate Office Building hearing room when the secretary walked in to the surprise of most because his name was not listed on the day’ agenda.
He’d visited them last year when he told the cyclists they had a full partner in the DOT.
Based on reports from two Web sites, pandemonium erupted this year.
“People had memories of what he said last year, so there was a lot of excitement off last year’s visit and the recent TIGER grant announcements,” Jonathan Maus, founder and editor-in-chief of the Web site bikeportland.org told The Trucker. “Everyone was excited to see him. He’s been active in communication and social media. A lot of people follow him on Twitter.”
LaHood had shown up with the intention of announcing the DOT’s Policy Statement on Bicycle and Pedestrian Accommodation.
But the secretary quickly abandoned that idea and instantly assumed his preacher-like posture.
Only he found himself faced with the same problem Zaccheus had when he had to climb a tree to see Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of Luke — the crowd was large and there was no dais.
So the distinguished LaHood did the next best thing.
He climbed atop a desk located in front of where the lawmakers sit during a hearing.
“What a difference a year makes, huh? All of the work all of you have been doing for so long has paid huge, huge dividends. People get it. People want to live in livable communities,” LaHood told the cheering crowd. “People want streetcars that are made in Portland, Ore. People want walking paths, biking paths and opportunities for families to really do the things they do best, which is to hang together and have fun. You all created an opportunity for America with all your hard work.”
Portland, Ore., just happens to be the home of one of the largest bike enthusiast groups in the U.S.
“I really came here just to say thank you to all of you for hanging in there with us. You all have made a big difference. Our whole livable community program … the president has included money in his next year’s budget for it ….
“I’ve been all over America and where I’ve been in America, I have been proud to talk about the fact that people want alternatives. They want out of their cars, they want out of congestion; they want to live in livable neighborhoods.”
When LaHood descended from the table and tried to leave the room, he was mobbed like a rock star, Maus said.
“Every camera and every phone was pointed toward him,” Maus said. “Everyone wanted their picture made with him or to say hello to him. His security detail and summit organizations were trying to get him out of there, but he stayed at least 15 minutes.”
The new aforementioned DOT policy considers walking and bicycling as equals with other transportation modes.
“The primary goal of a transportation system is to safely and efficiently move people and goods. Walking and bicycling are efficient transportation modes for most short trips,” the policy reads.
LaHood was more specific when he formally announced the policy.
Motorized and non-motorized modes will be considered equal when doling out the cash, he said (see story on Page 1).
Which may or may not be a good thing considering the condition of the nation’s highway infrastructure, so critical to the moving goods and services that keep Americans happy.
It will be hard to safely deliver those bicycles to ride over those new bike paths if good highways are not available.
The moral of this column.
Don’t be surprised if someday you look up and see Ray LaHood beside a new highway, a new bike path, a new airport runway, a new walking trail in your community, peering down over those glasses, expounding on his passion for transportation.
We like Ray.
Lyndon Finney of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at email@example.com.