Better World Club

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

No News is Good News?

Not When You're Waiting on AAA's Public and Government Affairs Office

Massachusetts Trail Advocate Ignored after Requesting Meeting on Transportation Funding

Give Tom Michelman, President of the Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail, credit for patience. He didn't send one email to Lloyd Albert, Senior VP of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Southern New England (AAA SNE), but a long series of them between November 2010 and January of this year.

And what kind of response did he receive? Almost none.

Michelman never did receive a response to his request for a meeting to discuss AAA SNE's position on multi-modal transportation funding as it is currently provided for through the Highway Transportation Fund (HTF).

In our October 2010 edition of Kicking Asphalt, we reported on a proposal by the president and CEO of AAA Mid-Atlantic to eliminate funding for walking, bicycling, and mass transportation infrastructure from the HTF. In response to the AAA proposal, the DC based Rails to Trails Conservancy launched a petition drive to encourage AAA National to distance itself from Mid-Atlantic and support a transportation funding program that included funding for more than just roadways.

Michelman sent his initial request to meet with Albert of AAA SNE shortly after Rails to Trails had received an ambiguous response to a letter it sent to AAA National President Robert Darbelnet. As president of a large and active rail trail advocacy group, Michelman hoped to sit down with a representative from his local AAA region and clarify that organization's position on the HTF issue.

In his first -- and only -- response to Michelman, Lloyd Albert indicated only that, "AAA supports growing the overall transportation program, funded through user fees, to ensure we can meet the transportation challenges of the 21st Century," without commenting on Michelman's request for a meeting.

Michelman followed up, "asking that AAA SNE support keeping the Transportation Enhancement program in place as is," regardless of what the positions of AAA National or Mid-Atlantic might be. He also restated his desire to speak with a representative from AAA SNE either by phone or in person, acknowledging the possibility that AAA SNE's position might be more nuanced.

That message, sent at the end of November, met with no response, as did two other emails, the second of which questioned how a system of user fees would logically and effectively be structured to exact funds from walkers or cyclists. Michelman aptly observed that, "the public can’t choose some of the modes of a multi-modal system (bikeways and pedestrian bridges) without that infrastructure being funded," and that (in words we couldn't have chosen better ourselves), "the AAA stance is, unless [Albert] can argue logically otherwise, disingenuous."

It would seem that neither AAA Southern New England nor AAA National has any intention of openly supporting the continued funding of multi-modal transportation infrastructure from the Highway Transportation -- or of partnering with the rail trail movement and its many supporters. From here, the fight against the exclusion of all but automobiles from the HTF will continue in the Congress, and Better World Club welcomes the opportunity to partner with Rails to Trails and rail trail groups like the Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail in ensuring the funding of walking, bicycling, and public transportation infrastructure both now and into the future.

And in the meantime, if they're looking for roadside assistance without all of AAA's highway lobby baggage, we can probably recommend a reliable alternative.

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