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A very short list of very bad practices

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  • eric britton
    I received a fair number of communications both on and off-line and I find them interesting, challenging, and generally very encouraging. But at the same time
    Message 1 of 3 , Jul 19, 2011
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      I received a fair number of communications both on and off-line and I find them interesting, challenging, and generally very encouraging.  But at the same time I am made aware of the fact that I have most probably not communicated the basic goal behind this project, so let me see if I can now clarify a bit.


      For starters, this is not a witch hunt.  It is not my interest to castigate or humiliate any project or group behind it.  Life is complex and filled with all kinds of internal contradictions, and moreover the kinds of projects and policies that concern us here tend to be in process, in constant evolution and adaptation, until that is the day comes in which they close down forever.  That of course is the time to do a postmortem. But in our particular case here is my guess that we will be sharing information on projects in process, so let us make sure that we (that I) do not give up on possible adaptations and improvements that may well be in process, hopefully.


      And if the usual ambitious goal of Best Practices surveys and inventories is to get out there and capture quite a large number of attractive and instructive projects, it is not at all the case in our own modest Worst Practices mini project.  What I am looking for is one or two handfuls of outstanding from examples which we can learn.  Yesterday's article in World Streets on the Los Angeles Interstate 405 road widening project is a good case in point.  Let us take a minute to have a look at it together:


      Exemplary Strong points: (Always a good place to start since our goal is to see if we can have a balanced understanding of what is going on and what may have gone wrong.)


      ·         Caltrans and the other players involved in this project are extremely good at what they do. 

      ·         Not only are they world level performers when it comes to creating the planning and engineering standards to make a project like this work, but they also, in partnership with other players, consistently manage to do a fine job of bringing their projects in to standard and on time. 

      ·         For those of us familiar with driving in LA, we can testify on an almost daily basis the manner in which the road crews get their job done, often within minutes of the plan and clean up the mess so that the traffic can start to roll.  ("The cones are up.")


      Exemplary weak points and commentary:


      1.  Oh dear. It is after all 2011 and if we have learned one thing about sustainable and on sustainable transportation over the last decades, it is that any project which extends the capacity of the infrastructure to carry yet more moving motor vehicles is a definite Worst Practice strategy.


      2.  The concept of creating HOV lanes in the place of what went before is in theory an excellent one, but in practice is often watered down and abused in a number of ways.  (Maybe somebody can explain to me in a convincing manner why electric vehicles or hybrid vehicles should be allowed with a single passenger on to HOV, and while I am ready to listen and whether you can pull a rabbit out of a hat that I have ever seen, I most doubtful that you will convince me or any other experienced independent observer.)


      3.  The articles' authors commentary concerning the limitations of carpooling as presently practiced in the region is, according to my best information, right on target.  Does this mean, however, that HOV lanes are not part of the solution?  Not at all!  But what it does mean is that the old ideas about how to do this need to be brought up to date.  So, if we were to think about it from this perspective, here we have a situation in which there is what looks like a potentially excellent hardware solution (i.e., converting portions of the existing road infrastructure to HOV lanes) needs to have better complementarity in terms of software and operations.


      4.  So, to summarize, they failed to do the whole job.  We have at the base of this project a good idea, well executed on the hardware side -- other than the fact that the project team made the old and now well known error of actually increasing infrastructure capacity for cars -- while for the rest they simply fail to give attention to the most important part of all -- i.e., how to get more people into fewer cars with improved mobility and improved quality of life.  Basically they were taking an old mobility approach to a problem/opportunity that required new mobility strategic thinking.


      That is my take on this as an example of the sort of thing that I would like to see in our modest shared Worst Practices inventory and commentary.  I am sure that a number of you will come in and do more and better, at least I hope so.  But my reason for sharing this with you this morning is that I wish to offer this is an example of the kind of project analysis and commentary that I believe can help us to better organize our ideas and be better prepared for future initiatives and opportunities.


      I look forward to hearing from you either personally or here with your views, objections, and eventually your ideas and suggestions on the basic concept here namely , that of setting out to create a collaborative, open, independent Worst Practices inventory and commentary.


      Kind regards/Eric Britton

    • eric britton
      Dear Colleagues, I have been following the various commentaries and suggestions on my little brainstorm proposal with real interest. And I have to say that I
      Message 2 of 3 , Jul 20, 2011
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        Dear Colleagues,


        I have been following the various commentaries and suggestions on my little brainstorm proposal with real interest.  And I have to say that I find it quite fascinating that this simple and I really thought quite sensible concept -- i.e., that there really are some very bad practices and that they really do need to be pinned down and made known so as not to be mindlessly replicated again and again and again -- -- apparently seems to divide us into two rather distinct groups. 


        For my part, I am glad to see the vigorous discussions and at times apparently pretty strongly felt differences among us, because I really do believe that we need a lot more of that kind of lively discussion and a lot less soft agreement that all is for the best and that nothing should ever be criticized publicly.  All is not for the best, and many of the projects that we are discussing or shall be discussing under this heading really suck and should be understood for their outstanding flaws So, given that, it may not surprise those of you who know me know that I really do appreciate the more spirited negative reactions.


        I do not think it would be particularly useful for me to take your time to try to justify my thinking on any of this.  The discussion is out there for everyone to take a swing at it, and rather than defend I prefer to keep pushing out for yet more examples of very bad practices.  And if the recent past is any guide, I will not be alone.


        Thanks to you all for your ideas and suggestions, and let us see what happens next.


        Eric Britton





           Eric Britton, Editor / Managing Director

           World Streets / New Mobility Partnerships  / Sustainability Seminar Series

           8, rue Jospeh Bara   75006 Paris France

           Tel. +331 7550 3788   |  editor@...   |  Skype: newmobility


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      • eric britton
        Subject: Victim Blaming Thank you very much Morton. I find your analysis excellent, as always from, you considered and sober (I guess that is because you are
        Message 3 of 3 , Jul 21, 2011
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          Subject: Victim Blaming


          Thank you very much Morton.  I find your analysis excellent, as always from, you considered and sober (I guess that is because you are a Icelandic) and all in all a good guide to the topic and possible next steps.


          I wonder if I might ask you to write this up an article for World Streets, and of course for this forum, on what you call so rightly Victim Blaming.  An excellent topic, quite at the level of good sense at which we need to operate. Moreover it's great stuff because it is so thoroughly counter-intuitive and against the grain of unexamined but passively accepted standard  practice.  It certainly has to be right up there in the top rank of the pantheon of Worst Practices, and I know that you can do a great  piece for us all on this so as to make sure that becomes part of the battery of tools and awareness is which are so essential to getting transportation related policy decisions right.


          I very much hope you will be able take the time out of your busy schedule to do this for us all.


          In closing I would like to make a brief remark about the importance of treating this little Worst Practices exercise in a properly mature manner.  There is in the very title, Worst Practices, a somewhat jocular stab at the concept of Best Practices with all of the pretentiousness and potential dangers that such a mindset inevitably  carries with it.  I have no great problem with Bet's little cousin Good Practices, but when we begin to get into the hallowed halls of "Best Practices" and I find myself getting a bit obstreperous. 


          "Worst Practices" is like Richard Strauss's opera the Rosenkavalier.  As one critic put it long ago: to be viewed with a wink in one eye, and a tear in the other.


          Eric Britton



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