U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg address @ National Bike Summit 2021--How will a mayor who led a Silver-level Bicycle Friendly Community lead the U.S. Department of Transportation?

U.S. Department of Transportation Pete Buttigieg addressed the National Bike Summit on Wednesday, March 3rd--the day Summit delegations from every state, including Missouri, (virtually) visited Capitol Hill for Congressional meetings throughout the day.

Recently appointed U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg spoke
Recently appointed U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg spoke at the 2021 National Bike Summit Wednesday about bicycle and pedestrian friendliness, safety, equity, e-bikes, and more (Wikimedia Commons)

Sec Buttigieg was mayor of South Bend, Indiana--which received the League of American Bicyclists' Silver level Bicycle Friendly Community award under Buttigieg's leadership.

Buttigieg was recently photographed riding a bike share bike to work--not for a photo op or special event, but just in his regular work commute in DC.

MoBikeFed's summary of Secretary Buttigieg's remarks Wednesday:

With the pandemic, we have seen many more people out moving around the city by bicycle.  A lot of this is because of the work the League and its partners around the country have done to help make our cities and streets far safer and more inviting places to walk and bicycle.

When streets are safer for bicyclists and pedestrians, the situation is better for everyone.  We saw that clearly in South Bend.  It also helps stimulate economic development in an area, as we saw when South Bend participated in the Mayor's Challenge in 2014, leading to improvements along certain corridors.

We need to focus on safety--make it safe for people to travel by whatever mode they chose, and especially people who walk and bicycle.

There are many examples in the past where federal transportation funding has not been equitable. For example, places where people more commonly use transit and access by bicycling and walking have too often been neglected.  For example, the walk or ride from home to transit stop is too often dangerous and difficult. So we have a lot of work to do, but some promising initiatives, too.

One promising initiative along this line is Justice 40, which will ensure that 40% of all benefits of work to stop pollution and climate-change emissions will go to areas that are currently underserved.

USDOT has extended the MUTCD (Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices) public comment period recently. The MUTCD sets all the most basic rules about how roads and highways are built and designed, nationwide. Everything from lane width to bike lane design to crosswalk design and road signage. This is the most extensive update the MUTCD in a decade.  It a foundational role in safety.  USDOT felt it was very important to extend the public comment period in order to get the community's feedback on it.

[The draft release of the MUTCD, recently released, had numerous problems and received heavy criticism from the national bicycle and pedestrian community. Many bicycle and pedestrian organizations across the country, including the Missouri and Bicycle Federation, are planning to submit comments and suggestions for improvement to the MUTCD draft.) 

Q: What did you learn from South Bend implementing Complete Streets and working to become a bicycle friendly community?

Complete Streets is a quality of life issue.  The benefits go to both "liberal" and "conservative" areas.  It good for residents, good for businesses.  It is good for retaining young people. But bringing all the people, all the businesses, all the stakeholders together was very important. We had to have that open process and dialogue, taking people seriously and incorporation their concerns and making them part of the plan.  The result was better in the end than if we had just adopted the plan I had initially proposed. 

Q: How to we get more mayors and local leaders around the country to be more supportive of bicycling and walking, as you did in South Bend.

Many leaders see the benefits now.

Advocates need to understand what city leaders priorities are.  They want to see economic growth and vitality, they are interested in safety and public health. 

Advocates, make sure you are working with the mayors and city leaders and helping to support their agenda, in a way that also helps you meet your goals.

Q: What are your plans and goals as Secretary of Transportation?

We need to work closely with states. USDOT is often close to the position of states on, for example, issues of bicycle policy than we think. We need to have open communication and dialogue with the states to move forward on this.

Much depends on funding.  We need to make sure whatever funding we have for roads and highways makes sure to include safe access for people who bicycle and walk as well.

We need the bottom-up support of advocates, too, to make all this possible.

Missouri delegation meets with Devin Kelsey of Congressman Emanuel Cleaver's off
Missouri delegation meets with Devin Kelsey of Congressman Emanuel Cleaver's office

Q: Safety.  The numbers of people killed while bicycling has increased 30%, and number of people killed while walking has increased 15%. Other countries have been able to drive these numbers down, ours are going up.  What can we do about this?

We need to work on two areas: Design and Behavior.

Make sure there are features in cares so that for example collision avoidance technology can detect people who walk and bicycle as well as vehicle-vehicle collisions.

We need to design our roads so they are safer.  Design them to ensure slower speeds and other bike/ped/safety friendly features.

Q: Where is the balance between enforcement and infrastructure, given the recent prominence of issues regarding very inequitable enforcement?

The more we improve design and infrastructure to be safer and encourage safe behavior, the less we need to lean on enforcement to change driver behavior.

We need to set clear standards about how enforcement happens to insure it is done in an equitable way.

Q: What role does reducing vehicles miles traveled play in your plans?

Electric vehicles are a good advance but we can't rely solely on that to reduce pollution and environmental issues.  In addition, we need to give people more options so that they can travel without using a personal vehicles.

Q: What about e-bikes?

I first rode an e-bike on a visit with Sec. Foxx, who was very informed and enthusiastic about advances like this. They provide a good alternative, for example, for commuting to work.


Note: These notes are a summary of Secretary Buttigieg's remarks, made in real-time. They are not a transcription and may contain errors or misunderstandings.


Working for a world-class bicycle and pedestrian system across Missouri is one of the primary goals of MoBikeFed's Vision for Bicycling and Walking in Missouri. Working with other local, state, regional, and national organizations to meet with our congressional leaders and advocate for our shared vision--and the funding needed to implement it--is one way we work to reach that goal.

Your membership and generous financial support help turn our Vision into reality!