Hoboken. It’s actually a very small town, and their whole main street
has been fixed up with restaurants, grocery stores, anything you want.
On Saturday we took a train to Manhattan—it took us 15 minutes to
get there—and we walked all over, had dinner, took a train home and
never saw our friends’ car. On Sunday, we walked the riverfront.
There were 50 or 60 people out there, walking with their children
or jogging. [Give your town the “Livable Communities Quiz.” check
When you tour the country, what are people telling you they
want changed in their communities?
People want alternative forms of transportation; they don’t
want to own two or three cars. And they want green space, biking and
walking paths, but they want the amenities, too—access to shopping,
restaurants, health care.
It’s still a hard sell. For example, Sen. John McCain charac-
terizes spending on a bridge for pedestrians and bikes instead
of on roads as a waste of taxpayers’ money.
Well, there are a lot of other forward-thinking people in Congress.
They care about where people are going to live, and how they will
live. Look, we built the interstate system. That’s done. Now we’re
trying other things so you don’t have to get in a car every time you
want to go somewhere.
How are we going to afford all of this during a recession?
Well, I don’t know that these things cost much money. It doesn’t
cost an enormous amount to turn an old rail line into a walking path
or to transform a riverfront into an area where people can walk.
Did you seek to delay the new transportation reauthorization
to buy time so you can find the money for these new programs?
That’s exactly why we did it. Everybody wants to spend $400 bil-
lion or $500 billion on a new bill. James Oberstar’s bill costs $450 bil-
lion. There’s just no way we’re going to find that money now. Eigh-
teen months gives us the opportunity to help the economy get a little
better so we can pass a very comprehensive bill.
How do you see the bill benefiting older Americans?
A lot of our seniors want to live in smaller towns where they grew
up, raised children and feel safe. So we’ve got to make sure there is af-
fordable housing in those towns and that they have transportation to
urbanized areas for when they need to go to the grocery store, or the
hospital, or the drugstore. At DOT we can make sure we don’t pour
everything into urban areas, but also look out for rural America.
In an AARP poll of transit planners, two-thirds said they
don’t specifically take the needs of older Americans into ac-
count for their work. Is somebody at DOT specifically tasked
with making sure your plans address the needs of this
growing segment of the population?
I have nine grandchildren; I think I know some of the concerns
older people have. There’s also a sensitivity among our employees
about the needs of seniors. And this is the first time in the history of a
DOT authorization bill that we’re going to have a livability program
in the legislation. That sends a pretty good message that this is not
your grandfather’s—or your grandmother’s—DOT.
Or maybe that it
your grandparents’ DOT.
Exactly. The priorities are a lot different than they were five
Within the president’s Cabinet, you’re also a member of
a smaller group called the “Green Cabinet.” What is that?
When we first got into these jobs, Carol Browner [the president’s as-
sistant for energy and climate change] gathered six or seven Cabinet sec-
retaries around a table, and now it’s turned into the Green Cabinet. It’s
Cabinet members like Interior, Agriculture and EPA, who are working
on green jobs, sustainability, livable communities, affordable housing.
We get lunch together once a month and find ways we can share
resources. The DOT, for example, is working with the EPA on fuel
standards for automobiles. By 2012, we’re going to get to 25 miles per
gallon. By 2016 we’ll get to 36 mpg. This level of collaboration would
have been unheard of in another administration.
A lot of alternative transportation proponents were disap-
pointed the economic stimulus program didn’t become a kind of
Works Progress Administration for alternative transportation.
We got $48 billion, of which $16 billion was for transit and high-
speed rail, and $28 billion was for roads and bridges—because we
could get it out the door quickly. I know people have criticized
there’s too much money going to highways, but it’s a very quick
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