Most of the coverage on President Biden’s Transportation Department has focused on former rival Pete Buttigieg—and for good reason. At just under 40, the Democratic presidential candidate is the youngest person to serve as the US Secretary of Transportation.
Given his heavily-publicized campaign, it’s no surprise Buttigieg has drawn the most attention in the mainstream news. However, another member of the Transit Department is causing a big stir amongst cyclists.
Indeed, many cyclist safety organizations are thrilled to see Steven Cliff become the Acting Head at the NHTSA. While Steve Cliff might not be a household name, he has earned praise in California for his proactive environmental policies. As a bonus, Dr. Cliff is a passionate bicyclist that has built a strong relationship with bicycle safety advocates.
In terms of education, Steven Cliff holds a BS and Ph.D. in chemistry from UC San Diego. Shortly after completing his studies, Mr. Cliff worked as a researcher at the Air Quality Research Center at UC Davis. Cliff has since held prominent positions at the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans).
Interestingly, just a few years ago, Steven Cliff was a leading critic of the NHTSA’s emissions policies. Indeed, the NHTSA actively fought against CARB’s unique pollution standards. Mr. Cliff has also publicly criticized former President Trump’s policies on climate change and pollution.
Throughout his tenure at CARB, Steven Cliff has negotiated with big auto companies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in California. Dr. Cliff has also worked tirelessly to promote electric vehicles and other zero-carbon transit alternatives.
According to many political observers, Biden’s decision to choose Steve Cliff signals the new administration’s commitment to environmental causes. It’s expected Cliff will help introduce sustainable programs into the NHTSA’s agenda.
Although Steve Cliff’s main areas of expertise include global warming and pollution, he has signaled a strong interest in making cities safer for cyclists. Indeed, Mr. Cliff sees clean transit alternatives as a way to solve the current global warming crisis. While Steve Cliff worked at Caltrans’ Sustainability Department, he urged California to promote cycling and walking to help reduce the state’s carbon footprint.
At the recent Road to Zero Annual Meeting, Mr. Cliff addressed some of the NHTSA’s core issues. According to Cliff, speeding and DUI-related fatalities have accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent NHTSA data suggests traffic fatalities have gone up 13 percent between July and September compared with 2019.
In response to these statistics, Steve Cliff vowed to re-think street design to reduce the odds of crash fatalities. Not only does Cliff want to make roads safer for drivers, he noted improving infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Given Steve Cliff’s successful track record in California, many cyclists and environmentalists are optimistic about the next four years.