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This Bicyclist's Presidential Choice: Al Gore
Presidential Election 2000 Editorial by Jim Joyce, Editor, Bikexchange.com: The Bicycle Exchange
Bicycling. Choosing the President of the United States. Apples and oranges, right?
It seems almost silly to base one's vote on how a candidate may benefit or harm cycling opportunities for Americans. However, when bicycling in the Great Outdoors is your favorite hobby, your principal means of getting to work, or the subject of your very own online magazine (like yours truly), it may well become a key ingredient in the recipe of activities, values, ideas and influences that combine to form a pull of the lever in the voting booth. The countryside, the local rail trail, the bus or train that carries your bike partway, the condition of the air you breathe while climbing that hill--these all shape the cycling experience. For the sake of this editorial, let's say that these bicycling factors do matter toward our voting.
Holding that thought, consider grouping our four main Presidential candidates into two pairs: one pair bike-friendly; the other, not.
Bike Friendly Candidates
Let's take a look at the friendly pair: Al Gore and Ralph Nader. Both have strong records on the environment. Nader's record is superlative. Not only has he consistently advocated for cleaner air, water and reliance on the one "limitless" energy source--the sun--but he is also a true bicycling hero. He does not even own a car and has biked to work for years. While Nader's devotion to bicycling and the environment are tough to top, Vice President Gore packs a saddle bag of impressive credentials himself. He published the book, Earth In the Balance, years ago and--based on its content and his positions listed in his website, Algore.com--he is the very first major party Presidential candidate to seriously address "sustainable communities" (including "bikeability"), "urban sprawl," and "global warming." As most politicians haven't met a giant, multi-lane beltway they didn't like, Mr. Gore has the courage to question the continuous encroachment of large highways and boundless development on farmland and forests. Politicians who claim they want smaller, more limited government suddenly become "big-government socialists" when it comes to public money spent on highways, access roads, tax abatements, and infrastructure expansion in areas where there has been no real net population growth to justify these expenditures.
Both Mr. Gore and Mr. Nader support legislation that will promote more bike lanes and routes, plus bicycle access on buses, subways and trains. The biggest difference, then, between the two candidates is this: the Vice President could win this election; Mr. Nader cannot.
Further, the Sierra Club, the nation's largest and oldest mainstream conservation group (fathered by John Muir, naturalist whose great friendship with Teddy Roosevelt led to the National Parks system), has endorsed Al Gore and recently stood by that endorsement after Ralph Nader sent them a letter challenging it.
Bike Friendly Candidates...Not
To be fair, this editor will give ink to the other two candidates mentioned in this editorial, George W. Bush and Pat Buchanan. Governor Bush: By every measure and opinion, he has a miserable record on the Texas environment. The Governor has not denied his dead last EPA air ranking but responds that this has happened recently due to the growth of industry and factories and that he's been trying to keep up without hampering prosperity. He hasn't been trying hard enough. The price of the Texas prosperity has been high. Mr. Buchanan: He has no record on the environment, besides frequent bashing of mainstream environmental groups, many of whom recommend modest conservation measures and common sense alternative energy and transportation strategies.
Rail Trails Development Threatened
Neither of these two candidates has even mentioned "urban sprawl" as a problem and each has given only the slightest lip service to "global warming." Further, there is real concern that both would be adversaries to "rail banking," the practice of setting aside or "banking" abandoned railbeds for, if needed, national defense or future industrial use. Many of these banked railbeds, in the meantime, have been paved in asphalt or packed gravel and are used by thousands (maybe millions?) of us as recreational rail trails. (My wife and I have spent many fine hours biking the Montour Trail rail trail a few miles from our home.) Launching a successful rail trail takes local interest in cycling and fitness, funding from a variety of sources--perhaps federal park funds, and a reasonable attitude among nearby landowners, who do not own, nor do they have title to, the abandoned railbeds.
Recently, Congressional Republicans have been attempting to derail the rail trail movement by revoking railbanking. With shaky claims of private property rights infringement, though they do not own the railbeds, a few landowners have enlisted sympathetic Republicans and a movement is afoot. The Bush and Buchanan rhetoric about "government interference," "land grabs," and "strict local control," there can be little doubt that the rail trail movement would be threatened by either candidate's Presidency.
In general, is a zealous, general "hands-off" Federal government policy a good way to promote and fund bike lanes, rail trails, bicycle commuting, and bike space on public transportation? Is this scattered, Swiss-cheese approach better than a reasonable Federal government partnership? Is this private property rights movement going a bit too far? Who will be appointing the future judges who will rule on such cases?
There is a reasonable, legitimate role for the next Presidential administration in all of the above issues. The question is: which candidate will keep the wheels rolling forward?
There's a lot at stake this election, especially for bicyclists and lovers of the great outdoors. Otherwise, this editor would avoid this subject altogether and would prefer to stick with a non-political subject like "Good Stretching Techniques for Fall Bicycling."
Your vote will pick a President you must live with for the next 4-8 years and several Supreme Court justices you may live with for the next 30 years. That is why Bikexchange.com: The Bicycle Exchange endorses Al Gore.
Editor note: Nader supporters who want to vote for their candidate in the General Election but want Vice President Gore to win their state's electoral votes, consider legally swapping your vote with a Gore supporter in an uncontested state. Go to www.nadertrader.org or www.voteexchange.com. These sites will indicate whether or not this is legal in your state. Read the passage below...
"Another ABCNEWS tracking poll, released last Thursday [11/2/00], shows 56 percent of Naders supporters saying they would vote for Gore if Nader were not in the race, with just 23 percent indicating they would otherwise vote for Bush. The balance, 21 percent, said they would not vote."
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