Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx answered questions on Reddit and addressed bicycles, raisins, transportation funding and social justice. Our fave questions & answers...
Q: As the man in charge of transportation, have you figured out why a lot of people are so anti-bicycle? I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around it.
Secretary Foxx: Yeah, I think there is more support for bicycling as a mode of transportation than there was 10 years ago. Look at all of the bike share programs cropping up around the country. What is still a challenge is the relationship between the car and the bicyclist, and that is a matter of education on both sides and I also think technology will play a role in helping us get to a better place.
Q: Something that often frustrates mayors is that, even though cities are where much of the economic growth happens, state governments control most transportation funding. That often translates into more money for rural projects, like wider highways in the middle of nowhere, and less for things, like public transit, that matter in cities. What can federal policymakers do about this? (And if you have recommendations, do you have any hope that the new administration will follow them?)
Secretary Foxx: Our method of funding transportation needs a fundamental redesign and that will be politically hard to do. I do not believe states are the only, most effective pathway for dollars to flow. We have put together a framework for pushing more $$ to local and regional communities. I also think the planning process is flawed when we have economic regions splintered into separate MPOs that do not work well together on planning. Planning is different than coordinating, which is what most do. The question is how do regions improve their economies through transportation. Having said that, this should never boil down to an urban versus rural thing. Our approach has to be flexible enough to help all types of communities thrive, and right now it is fairly rigid.
Q: Congress can't provide transportation funding for more than two years, and they seem to use it as a political tool. What is your role in securing federal transportation funding, and what can we expect in the future in terms of funding to improve our transportation infrastructure?
Secretary Foxx: Under our Constitution, Congress holds the purse strings. The federal government cannot raise or spend money without their permission. We worked really hard to make a case for the most recent transportation bill, which passed in 2015. But the needs are outstripping our ability to raise revenue. I remain hopeful that the country will keep pushing to build a 21st Century infrastructure.
Q: What are some of your ideas to improve transportation access which disproportionately affects people living in poverty and communities of color? Also, what are your thoughts on environmental justice in the United States in general?
One of the biggest unstated issues is the extent to which lack of transportation access and lack of imagination about how improving that access can help people get to a better school, housing, jobs or whatever. Sometimes transportation assets can even improve a neighborhood and bring those things closer to home. Check out our work on Ladders of Opportunity where we have been pioneering.
Q: Secretary Foxx, It seems like in the US we're trying to scale up this whole "everybody owns a car, and we keep building more highways" thing, and it doesn't seem to be working out. Suburban sprawl, higher population, climate concerns, pollution, gas prices, and all of the rest of the issues make it seem like this kind of way of growing our transportation system just isn't going to work. But we also know that this is a really cultural issue for Americans, and we love our cars. How do you lure people into trying different modes of development and transportation, without making people feel like the freedom of the open road is being taken from them?
Secretary Foxx: Give them choices. That's one of my big mantras. Not forced choice -- although a doubling of one's commute might feel that way. If the choices are not available, people won't know they have them.
Q: What would be your dream public transportation project?
Secretary Foxx: I really think high speed rail could be a game-changer, perhaps even one of the interesting new technologies like Hyperloop or perhaps a cool collaboration between ride-sharing and public transit. Lots of opportunities out there -- and many of them will help rural and urban America.
Q: Any thoughts on how to keep transportation justice and environmental justice moving forwards during the new administration? Working in our towns and states to right past wrongs and ensure that the future of transportation is just is a great option. But a lot of people I talk to are worried that regressive policies raining down from the federal level will reverse some of the recent progress you helped bring to DC and make state and local progress difficult.
Secretary Foxx: Great question. Ultimately, these issues are about balancing interests within a given community. It's about who we elect to serve us and whether they have a broad view of the community. It is about communities being active voices for their own interests. It is also about the federal government sometimes having the courage to intervene if something is being done improperly. I would point you to our tool kit for communities on the USDOT website. dot.gov
Q: What are your thoughts on oatmeal cookies?
Secretary Foxx: There is only one real cookie in my mind, and it is a chocolate chip cookie. All others pale in comparison. Plus, really, you want cooked raisins for dessert? C'mon man.