Obama wears jeans. Romney drives.
Chances are you’re tired of the election coverage: the internet memes, the incessant squabbling, the interruptions of debate commentary amidst your typically bike-centric social media feed. But among the binders and pension plan insults, the political puffery and the endless punditry, there are still a few looming questions surrounding this presidential election. Those questions, to those of us that organize our lives around pedaling, are about bicycles. Specifically where bikes fit into either of the would-be presidential administrations and what the future holds for bike policy.
Let’s start with the personal. Both President Obama and Governor Romney have had passing time with bicycles. While neither has been seen in lycra, both have used bicycles as a part of a fitness routine, though Obama is more known for his basketball game and Romney admits to jogging more often.
In addition to the occasional pedal for mere fun, both men have done some utility cycling: Mitt Romney used a bicycle while acting as a missionary for the Mormon Church in France in the 1960s. In the case of the president, personal transportation via bicycle on his trips to Martha’s Vinyard was met with some severe style critiques, especially when he appeared without a helmet.
Style aside, how, if at all, do either politician view the bicycle in the context of policy? The Romney campaign has its most overt connection to bicycles as a business example. Through their campaign website, Romney officials have used the involvement of Bain capital in GT Bicycles during the 1990s as a model of business success. GT CEO Mike Haynes is seen here celebrating Romney and Bain.
Since its inclusion in Romney campaign materials, the story has been countered by articles claiming that Bain succeeded at GT through outsourcing and dubious strategies. Aside from his loose involvement with GT, Romney has made no further connection to bicycles for policy. His policies have bicycles and any alternative transportation conspicuously absent.
For his part, the president has paid lip service to alternative transportation, especially rail and fuel-efficient busses, but bicycles have suffered at the federal level due to a recalcitrant congress and the deal-making nature of democracy. A transportation bill submitted to the president by the republican congress radically rolled back funds, accountability and support for pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. (One of the major caveats of the bill allowed states to opt out of the required pedestrian and bicycle expectations for new projects, a huge bummer for those hungering for city-like bike lanes outside of cities.) In his defense, Obama gave up the bike and pedestrian expectations in trade for removing an approval of the Keystone XL pipeline from the bill, a noble, if brief, environmental victory. The end result, however, was a black eye for bikes.
When politically possible, the Obama administration has pushed an agenda of public transportation, alternative transportation infrastructure, and support for non-motorized progress. This is not something seen from the Romney camp. Governor Romney has typically aligned with his party in issues of transportation, stopping short of the Tea Party claims in 2010 that bicycling is the gateway drug to communism. While the Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romey oversaw a highway account that provided five times the support for roads than for public transit, a particularly high number for a state with a public-transit focused city like Boston in its midst. Through his campaign, the Governor has pushed for privatization of all forms of public transportation but has advocated greater spending on support for roads and cars.
Neither candidate is an overt advocate for bicycles. Neither has an emotional connection to the bike in an athletic way, like the remarkably legitimate efforts of President Bush. President Obama, however, has policy views that could, in time, bear results for fans of cycling and in the single issue of voting for bikes, has gained more credibility as a defender for the cycling scene. Just don’t expect him to ride in anything but jeans.