Public Transportation and Bike Lanes Over Roads, Say Ayanna Pressley, New D.C. Caucus

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Pedaling, walking, and taking public trains and buses ought to take priority over helping drivers of cars in order to achieve “transit justice,” Massachusetts U.S. Representative Ayanna Pressley said.

Pressley (D-Dorchester) is co-chairman of the new Future of Transportation Caucus, which she helped introduce during a press conference in Washington D.C. on Thursday, October 17.

Pressley called for “modernized roads, bridges, and mass transit that connects community to jobs and higher education” and “multimodal networks with seamless bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.”

“Our caucus also aims to explore policies that will promote walking, biking, and public transit over vehicles on our roadways, making transit safer and environmentally friendly,” Pressley said.

Much of federal and state transportation money typically goes to build new roads and expand and repair existing roads so that automobiles can move from place to place more quickly and more easily.

But the new Future of Transportation Caucus (which claims 19 members of Congress) sees pro-car policies as backward.

Climate change and disparities in how long it takes poor minorities in cities to get from Point A to Point B are among the factors driving activists to demand alterations in how public money is spent. The current system, Pressley said, leads to what she called “transit injustice,” which she wants to fight against.

“Investing in the maintenance of our transportation system over the expansion of our roadways is how we can achieve that goal,” Pressley said.

Pressley appeared Thursday with two other Democratic leaders in the new caucus, Illinois U.S. Representative Jesús “Chuy” García and California U.S. Representative Mark Takano. The appearance was captured in a video published on YouTube.

Supporters of the new transportation caucus emphasized that generating more public money to improve transportation, though welcome, is not their highest priority. Making sure the money is spent in ways they deem desirable is also a major goal.

“All of us in this room know that a fix in the gas tax isn’t enough to solve our system problems,” Garcia said.

Takano at one point tried to position himself and his fellow members of Congress at the podium geographically, with the Illinois congressman in the center representing the middle of the country, Pressley on the right to represent the “right coast” (meaning Massachusetts, which is on the East Coast of the United States), and himself on the left representing the “left coast” (meaning California, which is on the West Coast of the United States), much to the amusement of the transportation activists who attended the press conference.

“We may be from different coasts, but we are all to the left,” Takano said, to laughter.

One transportation activist who spoke early in the press conference (but who wasn’t identified in the video posted on Pressley’s Facebook page) said the first thing she did when she got to Washington D.C. after graduating from college was to get rid of her car.

“Once I was here I was able to get around many different ways,” the woman said.

Later, another transportation activist, Stacy Thompson, executive director of LivableStreets Alliance, which has an office in Cambridge, also spoke. She said the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority needs an additional 200 buses “to close those equity gaps in our communities of color.”

Federal funds should pay for additional public-transportation buses rather than what she called “mega-projects that widen roads and cause congestion and pollution.”

Roads are dangerous, she said.

“We need to prioritize projects that promote safety and community well-being,” Thompson said. “… We need to require that states and local governments put safety before speed.”