Dick Jackson, M.D., M.P.H. is the Chair of Environmental Health Sciences at the UCLA School of Public Health. He served 15 years at the CDC where he established the National Asthma Epidemiology and Control Program. Over the past decade, much of Dr. Jackson's work has focused on how the 'built environment,' including architecture and urban planning, affect health.
Larry Cohen: "Dick, Don Gagnon, the president and CEO of AAA Mid-Atlantic region wrote in the recent AAA World that the tax money in the Highway Trust Fund should be used exclusively for construction and maintenance of highways and bridges—eliminating the approximately 25% expenditure to other modes of transportation, including bike and walking paths and public transit. With all the work we've put into elevating the health, environmental, and fiscal benefits of non-motorized transportation, this seems like a major setback from a group that should be an ally."
Dick Jackson: "This one upsets me. I used to think well of AAA, I like their maps and road service, but I must give up my membership. They may be friends to those fortunate enough to own a car, but how about the bicyclists and walkers who are forced to negotiate cities that are built solely for cars, and those killed and injured at often preventable rates when they must navigate the unsafe roads with minimal protection every day?"
Larry Cohen: "Just last week my car wouldn't start at the airport when I returned from a long trip. I got great service, and I like that AAA provides good jobs to skilled people. But their policy stance should be as good as their service. Even as a driver, I benefit when we have different modes of transportation. The highways are less crowded, there are fewer potholes, and I get to choose the mode of transit that's right for me on any given day."
Dick Jackson: "Some of our worst traffic jams are around schools morning and afternoon. We now even have a special day in October each year to "Walk Your Child to School". It's wonderful, but it should be every day. I strongly support 'safe routes to schools,' but we also need 'safe routes to: work, store, church, gym, voting booth, college, senior center, hospital, and park.' The social, economic and political fabric of our nation is very different today than it was 25 years ago. I think AAA M-A is stuck in outdated 20th century thinking that ignores the fact that people who walk, bike, and use public transit are also part of the transportation system—and the ones who build community, don't pollute, and help the roads be less congested."
Larry Cohen: "Dick, my professional public health roots are in the field of traffic injury prevention, so these issues are near and dear to my heart. I will be the first to acknowledge that AAA was and is an important partner in advocacy campaigns from seatbelts to helmets. But they contradict their good work with their emphasis on roads only. And what about our environment—shouldn't we be encouraging greener modes of transportation as a way to cut carbon emissions and save money in the long run?"
Dick Jackson: "Yes, we should—and other countries have been doing it for years! 46 years ago Japan began running very high speed trains that travel a distance equal to that between San Francisco and Los Angeles in well less than 3 hours, and they now have recorded 5 billion passenger trips. Europe has 4,500 miles of high speed rail tracks with efficiencies like much lower fuel use, carbon emissions, and deaths than cars and planes. Europe will double its high speed system over the next ten years for about the price of the AIG bailout—I bet they get more for their money than our children will get from our AIG investment.
Also, per mile and per trip, American bicyclists and pedestrians are more likely to be killed in a traffic crash than their German or Dutch counterparts. The Netherlands and Germany have invested heavily in high-quality streetscapes for safe walking and bicycling, making biking and walking a norm compared to passenger vehicle travel. The United States has seen virtually the opposite—an interplay of land use, housing, and transportation patterns that have promoted long commutes, high-speed roadways, narrow or absent sidewalks, unsafe or no crosswalks, the absence of bicycle lanes, and inaccessible or no public transportation at all. We know that smart transportation strategies can reduce traffic injuries and harmful environmental impacts, encourage physical activity, and promote healthier lifestyles overall. Unfortunately, this is no easy feat in a country where the car holds hostage our minds as well as our bodies."
Larry Cohen: "This statement from Gagnon just seems to contradict the claims AAA makes on their website about their support for multi-modal transportation opportunities. Even if he only speaks for the Mid-Atlantic region, AAA needs to clarify its stance. Diverting Highway Trust Fund money away from alternative modes of transportation would be disastrous, and would place yet another burden on those who don't have access to a car, which are often the same people who don't have grocery stores, businesses, and jobs within walking distance of their homes. The reality is that alternative transportation programs would experience deep cuts without the Highway Trust Fund. Transportation is the seventh largest federal expenditure and the largest chunk of money transferred directly to communities for community planning, design, and renovation. AAA M-A should know that there is no way these programs would get the same funding from government general revenues. Don't you think Gagnon's comments are a little reckless?"
Dick Jackson: "You know, the more I research this, the less I think it is just a local mistake. It looks to me that the opposition to non-car transit investments seems to be strongly supported by elements of the oil, auto, cement, gravel, heavy equipment and other industries that are focused on short term profits. I worry in the face of the horrific obesity, inactivity and injury epidemics in this country that that they are selling out our grandchildren for quick bucks."
Larry Cohen: "Imagine the paradigm shift if AAA changes its position on this issue. They would send a signal that they support broader ideals, and that it's time for car owners to adopt a new and different way of thinking. Anyone who commutes can see that road safety is not limited to highways and bridges. Well-maintained bike lanes, buses, and trains are necessary to ease the strain on crowded roadways and provide safer, greener, alternative modes of travel that are both safer in the short-term and better for our health and wallets in the long-term. It is time to look at the big picture: diverse, properly designed transportation systems are essential for the nation's well-being. Not only do they prevent unnecessary death on the roads, they also connect people with job opportunities, services, and social networks. AAA doesn't have to re-invent the wheel, so to speak—transportation advocates have already laid out the path. We'd be happy to send them a copy of The Transportation Prescription, which says that instead of designing transportation systems just to move cars and goods, we need to create systems designed to serve people—all people—efficiently, affordably, and safely. AAA needs to understand that safety isn't a zero sum game. Making the system safer for one mode of transportation makes it safer for all, and there is no need for a highway monopoly on the Highway Trust Fund."
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has a petition asking AAA to support all ways of getting around.