Washington, (CNSNews.com) – Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who said in May that he wanted to use federal policy to "coerce" people out of their cars, told CNSNews.com on Friday that what he really meant to say is that he wants to use federal policy to "lure" people out of their cars.
At a May 21 event at the National Press Club, LaHood responded to a piece in Newsweek written by columnist George Will, which quoted LaHood as saying, " I think we can change people's behavior," and mocked him as the "Secretary of Behavior Modification."
At that May event LaHood talked about a Transportation Department initiative that is designed to change people's behavior by getting them to walk and use bicycles rather drive, and he specifically described the initiative as "a way to coerce people out of their cars.
“Some in the highway-supporters motorist groups have been concerned by your livability initiative," the moderator of the press club event asked LaHood. "Is this an effort to make driving more torturous and to coerce people out of their cars?”"
“It is a way to coerce people out of their cars," said LaHood.
Eventually, LaHood argued at the press club that columnist George Will was the only person who didn't really like the idea of using government policies to encourage people to not use their cars.
“And the only person that I've heard of that objects to this is George Will. Check out Newsweek magazine,” said LaHood.
The moderator then asked: “Some conservative groups are wary of the livable communities program, saying it's an example of government intrusion into people's lives. How do you respond?”
LaHood responded defiantly. “About everything we do around here is government intrusion in people's lives,” he said. “So have at it.”
On Friday, LaHood told CNSNews.com that getting people out of their cars and into other means of transportation remains a priority of the Transportation Department, but he deferred to an assistant when CNSNews.com asked him whether he stands by his previous declaration that the administration's policy's "is a way to coerce people out of their cars."
“I don’t think that was really my term, that’s not something I--,” LaHood started to say before he was interrupted by his director of public affairs, Jill Zuckman.
“He would never use it like that,” Zuckman told CNSNews.com, adding that rather than “coercing” people out of their cars, her boss wants to “lure” people away from driving automobiles
“Maybe somebody else said it and I repeated it,” LaHood added, then asked his press secretary: “Did I actually use the word ‘coerced,’ ‘coerced people?’”
Zuckman answered him: “You repeated the word used in the question.”
To CNSNews.com, she clarified: “He was asked if he wanted to coerce people out of their cars and he repeated the word ‘coerced,’ which we since discussed and thought maybe we want to lure people out of their cars.”
Livable Communities Initiative
LaHood talked to CNSNews.com at a July 24 House Budget Committee hearing on whether funds from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 were being used properly.
The transportation secretary was part of a witness panel that included Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack.
After his testimony, LaHood also talked to reporters about his “livability initative.” Getting people out of cars is just one part of an overall plan to change the way we live.
“I think you’ll see as we proceed along with the highway bill, with the new transportation bill, one of our top four, top five, priorities is livable communities,” LaHood said.
The “livable communities” initiative, he explained, emphasizes traveling by means other than automobiles.
“Livable communities is all about creating light rail, high-speed rail, transit, walking paths, biking paths, and also along those routes creating good affordable housing stock,” LaHood told CNSNews.com.
“In some parts of the country, people like to ride their bikes to work,” LaHood told CNSNews.com “and so it’s going to be a big initiative from our point of view, but I think if you talk to (House Transportation Committee) Chairman (Rep, James) Oberstar (D-Minn) and others on the committee, they like the livable communities idea too.”
“So it’s not just coming from DOT, it’s really coming from the people,” LaHood said.
LaHood believes Americans are ready to use other means of travel rather than driving their cars.
“It’s like high speed rail, even though the president jump-started our initiative, he was way ahead of the curve because that’s (what) the people want, people want high speed rail, they want other alternatives other than automobiles,” La Hood said to CNSNews.com. “We think we really have an obligation to work with the Congress on next the bill to make those things happen.”
The transportation secretary used Los Angeles to illustrate his belief that “affordable housing” can result from the livability initiative.
“They have a light rail that runs from downtown L.A. all the way through the West part of L.A. through an Asian neighborhood, a Hispanic neighborhood, an African-American neighborhood,’” LaHood told CNSNews.com.
“They’re taking down all the bad housing, they’ve constructed all affordable housing and they’ve re-created neighborhoods for people,” he added.
LaHood also pointed out that the benefits of the “livable communities” effort can also be felt in smaller cities like Portland, Ore., where many people already ride their bikes to work.
“You can do it in neighborhoods in big cities or you can do it in cities and Portland is the model for it. When I was in Portland going to this event on street cars, I bet I saw 100 people biking to work at 7:30 in the morning,” LaHood told CNSNews.com.
When a reporter asked him whether some initiatives are considered more important than others, Lahood responded:
“You know the livable communities thing, the president gets that. I've been in a number of meetings with the president where we talked about livable communities,” he told the reporter. “Once the president says something--that immediately translates all up and down the food chain.”