Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price: A pro-bike Republican

UPDATE: Price responded on Twitter: “Regardless of your political affiliation, we all want healthier communities. I’ll continue to advocate for extended bike infrastructure in Fort Worth. It’s one part of the larger conversation about mobility and connectivity.”

The other day I described how our increasingly tribal politics has led to Republicans opposing alternatives to cars, notably public transit and biking.

There is at least one notable exception, in Texas nonetheless. Her name is Betsy Price. I discovered her when I saw that she was featured in a podcast run by the Institute of Transportation Engineers about how she has pushed for bike infrastructure in Fort Worth.

I can’t tell you how nice it is to hear somebody with such a pronounced Texas drawl extol the benefits of biking and public transit. Among other things, Price talked about the importance of getting Fort Worth’s increasingly obese population out of their cars and described how providing transportation alternatives can reduce road congestion. Since taking office in 2011 the city has added 66 miles of bike lanes and spent $1.2 million on new trails (both of these stats are drops in the bucket for a city as large as Fort Worth, but you gotta start somewhere).

Price also framed her transportation initiative in classic Chamber of Commerce terms, noting how many employers are seeking to encourage healthy habits among workers (and therefore lower their health insurance costs) by locating in areas that are walkable or bikeable. That kind of reasoning is perfectly logical for a right-of-center politician, but today’s GOP is not a logical right-of-center party, which makes Price’s remarks somewhat surprising.

Also surprising: A column in the New Statesman that Price co-authored with Liverpool Mayor Steve Rotherman, a Labour Party member, about how mayors in both the UK and US are leading the way on important issues, such as economic development, transportation and, gasp!, climate change.

It even included a clear dig at Texas Republicans:

In the US, mayors are much more powerful — but the focus should be on protecting our influence in the face of potential mission creep from state and federal authorities. In Texas, for example, we have recently seen state authorities attempt to impose a ban on cities from legislating on issues ranging from planning permission to regulation of plastic grocery bags and ride-sharing car companies. This trend needs to be challenged if US mayors are to continue to deliver for our residents in the way that they both expect and deserve.

Despite all of this heresy, Price somehow earned a shout out from none other than Donald Trump at the recent conference of U.S. mayors.

“Thank you, Betsy,” the president said, after recognizing Mayor Dane Maxwell of Pascagoula, Mississippi. “Thank you for being here, very much. Really, two fantastic friends of mine for a long time.”

It’s not surprising that Trump, who has changed his party affiliation half-a-dozen times, does not assign a high value to party loyalty. But it is surprising that he singled out an elected official who has conspicuously avoided offering him public praise, the thing that he prizes above all else.

She did not attend any of his Texas events during his presidential campaign, including a GOP donor lunch held in her own city. Her public comments about the president have been stubbornly neutral; she justified her decision to attend the inauguration by saying that she hoped to talk to incoming administration officials about infrastructure.

Asked about Trump’s praise at the mayor’s conference, Price barely returned the favor:

“Fort Worth deserves a seat at the table, especially as we discuss opportunities around infrastructure investment, jobs and a final resolution and pathway to citizenship for our DACA residents,” she said. “It was a bipartisan gathering of mayors across the country, all committed to finding solutions for hardworking Americans.
“I was proud the president recognized Fort Worth during his remarks. With a potential $1.8 trillion infrastructure package on the table, it’s good to be noticed, and we are ready to get to work.”

Price strikes me as similar to former Austin City Council Member Sheri Gallo, who I once described as a “Rotary Club Republican.” As a result, she is an endangered species. That’s a shame.