Living in a Post-Car World

October 26, 2009

By: Christie Findlay | Source: AARP Bulletin print edition | 10/01/2009

Battles over President Obama’s economic stimulus plan and health care ambitions underscore the difference between promising to bridge the capital’s partisan divide and actually doing it. Apart from the fray stands Ray LaHood, the sole registered Republican in Obama’s Cabinet. In his first year as Transportation secretary, the former congressman and Obama’s fellow Illinoisan has become a vocal advocate for his boss’s priorities—from green transportation options like high-speed rail to the wildly popular Cash for Clunkers program.

LaHood, 63, has also emerged as one of the administration’s most enthusiastic proponents of livable communities—places that offer ample housing and transportation options considerate of residents of all ages and the environment—even when fellow Republicans snipe at such notions. In September, LaHood scheduled an unusual national tour with Lisa Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Shaun Donovan, secretary of Housing and Urban Development, to promote the idea of livable communities.

The timing couldn’t be more critical. Congress gets the chance to reshape the way Americans get around just once every six years, when the federal transportation bill comes up for reauthorization. That bill, introduced by House Transportation Committee Chairman James Oberstar, D-Minn., is on the table right now. For decades, despite oil crises and the green movement, alternative transportation, a tenet of livable communities, has seemed an afterthought to car-based policy. Though the administration stalled Oberstar’s forward-looking bill by requesting an 18-month extension of the current act, LaHood remains Obama’s point man for helping Congress shape a plan for the future.

To talk about his vision, Secretary LaHood recently met with the AARP Bulletin in his Washington office. The Department of Transportation headquarters are located in an emerging neighborhood that has subway and bus service, the Anacostia River waterfront, housing construction and many new amenities, including Nationals Park, a stadium for the city’s baseball team.

To read the interview with Secretary LaHood, please visit AARP’s website at