The federal Department of Transportation has its roots in the post-World War II era of the American highway. It was formed, in 1966, just a decade after federal legislation created the Interstate Highway System that would change how Americans travel and where they live.
"And highway building has been the primary focus ever since," says David Goldberg, communications director for the advocacy group Transportation for America. Transportation policy, as with housing policy of that era, was designed to enable Americans to spread out from crumbling and crowded cities into new communities in the suburbs. "That’s still essentially how the game has been rigged," Goldberg says, "with some minor modifications."
Look at federal transportation safety programs – they have mostly focused on ensuring the safety of people in cars, not pedestrians or bikers who must share space with them. Or consider how we fund transit. The Highway Trust Fund was created to finance the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s; its mass transit account was an afterthought that came 25 years later.
Goldberg credits outgoing Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood – whose tenure includes the creation of thePartnership for Sustainable Communities – with pushing the federal focus away from highways and toward a more holistic view of transportation.