President-elect Joe Biden has reportedly recruited former South Bend, Indiana mayor and presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg to lead the U.S. Transportation Department. Throughout his presidential bid during the primary, Buttigieg’s transportation platform, which called for a nationwide Vision Zero policy and for de-prioritizing highway expansions, received high marks from Transportation for America, a Washington organization that lobbies for transportation policy reform.
As reported by CNN Business, because of Buttigieg’s work in South Bend, he’s the right person for the role given his track record, intellect, and view of transportation as about more than moving vehicles. He had success in revitalizing South Bend’s downtown, redesigned streets, which attracted new businesses, boosted property values, and made the city safer for pedestrians.
His office reportedly worked with companies to deploy sensors to detect potholes before they happened, and used data to predict failures in water systems ahead of time. South Bend was even one of the first cities in America to adopt LimeBike, an early public e-bike company that could be dockless, or placed anywhere. (The company has since shifted mostly to e-scooters).
But now, he will have to address the challenges facing the nation’s transit and rideshare workers, as well as integrate electric and autonomous vehicles.
Tom Wright, president of the Regional Plan Association, a New York transportation research group, believes Buttigieg is stepping in at the most important time for American transportation since the Interstate Highway system was developed in the 1950s. “The policy and culture behind the American transportation system is up for grabs,” he told CNN Business.
Jim Aloisi, who served as the Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation in Governor Deval Patrick’s administration and supported Buttigieg as a presidential candidate, reportedly expressed his happiness about the nomination to StreetsBlog Mass: “ To have someone with his stature, his ability to bring attention to important issues – there’s a lot of promise there in elevating transportation policy issues and getting things done.”
Also during his presidential campaign, Buttigieg campaigned for shifting to a tax based on miles driven, though how such a system can be successfully implemented remains to be seen. Buttigieg may also be tasked with following through on Biden’s call to invest in 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations. But perhaps most importantly, Buttigieg may need to take action on public transit. According to the American Public Transportation Association, most transit agencies are considering severe cuts to their services, given low ridership during the pandemic.
Moreover, Biden has called for installing infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists, and Buttigieg’s South Bend experiences may prove valuable. The South Bend streets that Buttigieg redesigned had fewer severe pedestrian crashes, according to Santiago Garces, who served as Buttigieg’s chief innovation officer in South Bend. One-way streets were converted to two-ways, bike lanes were added, and sidewalks were widened.
Now, we’ll see if Buttigieg can translate his successes in South Bend — a city with a population of just over 100,000 people — to the national stage, heading a federal agency with about 58,000 employees.
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