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Re: [NewMobilityCafe] Tear down those walls, Secretary LaHood - National Journal Transportation panel

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  • Richard Layman
    Thanks for providing us with the opportunity to influence this important opportunity to influence the new Secretary of Transportation.   Richard Layman
    Message 1 of 2 , Jan 11, 2009
      Thanks for providing "us" with the opportunity to influence this important opportunity to influence the new Secretary of Transportation.
      Richard Layman
      Citizens Planning Coalition

      --- On Sun, 1/11/09, eric britton <eric.britton@...> wrote:
      From: eric britton <eric.britton@...>
      Subject: [NewMobilityCafe] Tear down those walls, Secretary LaHood - National Journal Transportation panel
      To: NewMobilityCafe@yahoogroups.com, KyotoWorldCities@yahoogroups.com, WorldTransport@yahoogroups.com
      Date: Sunday, January 11, 2009, 3:29 PM

      I've received a number of comments, critical views, and suggestions from a handful of colleagues here, and based on their feedback I have decided to radically revise my forthcoming statement to the National Journal at the end of the day tomorrow.  I'd like to thank them for pushing me to do what I hope is better, and for those of you who are interested in following these discussions attached the text of my almost complete final draft below.  There's time for further feedback and if you have the interest in time, be great to hear from you.  Again the final version of this and all of the other Submittals by the members of the National Journal Transportation panel will be found at http://transportati on.nationaljourn al.com.


      Kind thanks, Eric Britton




      Tear down those walls, Secretary LaHood


      -        by Eric Britton, 11 January 2009

      New Mobility Partnerships, Paris and Los Angeles


      There is not a moment of doubt in my mind that the greatest single challenge before our new Secretary of Transportation faces will be to "get out of the box", to tear down the walls  of the past. The challenge facing him and his team is nothing less than that of redefining transportation, because that is exactly what we need  to do now.  And in the process seizing this probably once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do just that.


      But  this is not going to be an easy challenge because the day Secretary LaHood walks through the door of his new office there will be an incredible number of people, problems, projects, details and interests clamoring for his attention.  Fair enough, but this kind of thing goes with the terrain. 


      However this process of tearing down the right walls is likely to be the most important single initial decision that he can make as he assembles his new team and prepares for the critical four years ahead. This, breaking with the past and redefining the future, is the one decision that will shape all the rest.


      If we can self-criticize the performance and results of our transportation policy, thinking and performance over the last decades, the crux would have to be that our investment and other key choices have been made without sufficient reference to the broader context and issues that shape and are in turn shaped by decisions made in the transportation sector. This long list includes such critical under-pinnings as climate, environment, land use, value capture, energy, city and community development, public health, quality of life, job creation (but the right kinds of jobs for our new century), community relations, aging populations, 21st century economic realities, the special problems of the rural and urban poor, entrepreneurship, the need for bold experimentation, the untapped potential of IT, the beauty of America, and the list goes on. Our sector and the investments that are now going to go into it can succeed only if we bring all of these factors to the table in the decision process.  All of the time!


      With this in view I propose that we now put our heads together to gather our ideas and recommendations on the following proposal for the leaders of the new team.  As you will quickly see what you have here are only the first raw materials for a starting place. Let's see what it looks like once you have had a go at it.


      1.         Beyond “transportation”:


      I propose we recommend that future Secretary LaHood and his team convene a high-level, high-profile cross-agency, cross-platform review and brainstorming session  which will assemble around one table the best placed strategic thinkers from the following agencies – to give them a chance to look together at what the challenges, responses and priorities really are from the necessary broader perspective.  Obvious candidates for such a fundamental outreach and redefinition effort include:


      ·         Department of Health and Human Services

      ·         Department of Housing and Urban Development

      ·         Department of Commerce

      ·         Department of Education

      ·         Department of Labor

      ·         Department of Energy

      ·         Department of the Treasury

      ·         Environmental Protection Agency

      ·         Federal Communications Commission

      ·         VISTA, USAID and Peace Corps


      It goes without saying that this listing is personal and incomplete.  And while I'm sure there are other players who should be brought into such a rethinking process, I would hope that the core group would remain relatively compact so that the key factors and players are going to really get their message through.


      Without wishing to presume or to jump too far ahead in this process, it is also clear that any such program will be to be supported by some kind of continuing advisory group of thinkers, doers, and communicators who can help fill in the dots and thereby ensure that the good ideas and proposals coming out of the more formal sessions actually get done.


      This would be an important thing to do now because here we are not only in a new century but in the opening phase of a period of new government ideas. So now's the time to start to think far more broadly and far more strategically about the issues and choices we now face.


      2.         Modify Mission:


      The traditional focus of DOT and all its many agencies and branches has in a phrase been “to be good at transportation”, which de facto boils down to being good at highways, good at aviation, good at transit, good at railroads, etc. etc. And while that has yielded extensive, sometimes sensational results on the supply side, it is not the kind of approach which is appropriate to the very special conditions and constraints of the 21st century.


      So what should be the appropriate target for the new Secretary and his department?  Let me not even try to make a stab at this here, other than to address this challenge to the panel, and indeed to anybody else who is interested including colleagues in the halls of the Department of Transportation, to help us work out some real guidelines for this extremely important step in what I very much hope will be the new policy of the Department.


      My own preferred single candidate capable of guiding all the rest will be to focus policy on investments and measures that serve specifically to achieve major reductions of vehicle miles travelled (VMT) across the whole transportation spectrum.  This is a very doable strategy which if we get it right will not only support but even enhance the economy of the nation, while at the same time providing more choice for citizens and more affordable and equitable transportation.


      3.         Tighten timeframe:

      Mr. Secretary, it is my respectful recommendation that at least 50% of all investments and programs be geared to getting visible results within the first four years of this administration.  This need not be a policy that throws away the longer-term future.  To the contrary by focusing attention on projects and investments which are expected to be sustainable (i.e. geared to the long-term) and achieve concrete results within this very short timeframe, it is reasonable to expect that once we have lived this very different experience and actually achieved these goals, we will have rather different thoughts about the longer-term future and strategies that we do today.


      The target and results period is 2009-2012. Let's focus and meet this challenge first, and then it from his experience we will be better equipped to tackle the most important long-term investments and challenges.


      4.         Full cost pricing:


      Let's get rid of the free riders all the way down the line. Any person or mode which is making use of scarce resources without paying a fair price for them needs to be reassessed and brought in a coherent manner into the Department’s new transportation and pricing strategy. In some cases the assessments needed to assure accurate pricing are both easy to do, where as in others, especially where there are many different types and levels of benefits, the calculations are more tricky.  Still we know enough about how to carry out these exercises that there is no reason not to do so.


      As we here all know, these readjustments are going to make very large differences in people's choices of when, how, and where they travel.  And that is exactly what is needed to create a more rational and effective mobility system.


      5.         Thin those walls:


      By creating specialized agencies with specific modal and sectoral mandates, we have laid the base for a policy which at best is going to sub-optimize within each of those areas of competence. This chronic tendency to sub- optimization is endemic within the thick-wall structures that the most part today permeate and handicap the various agencies and programs.


      It is my guess that as the new LaHood team presses ahead with the challenge of redefining the mission of the Department in the far broader ways suggested here, it will begin to be clear how it will be possible to go to work on the task of thinning those walls.  (It goes without saying of course that this is hardly the sort of job that can be handled from the bottom up.)


      5.         Entrepreneurship:


      When it comes to transportation in and around cities, for a variety of reasons and contrary to what one might think we are "entrepreneurship- lite”. This is a trap which has come about through a long sequence of historical events which now require immediate attention and prudent rectification.  There are a large number of barriers to innovation in the transportation sector, and these need to be re-examined and reduced so that new ideas and practices can start to transform the sector.


      There is enormous scope for these innovations and thus far we are wasting a lot of real opportunities.  Some of this entrepreneurship commonplaces much of it, will come from the private sector.  But the private sector is not the only source of innovative ideas and successful implementations, so we also need to bear in mind the importance of initiatives coming from more idea-problem public agencies, NGOs, local groups and players, and others.


      6.         Learning from others:


      As much as it may hurt to say it, America is not among the world leaders when it comes to many aspects of transportation. There are many ideas and concepts which are doing heavy-duty everyday in Europe and in fact in other parts of the world, which the US should be looking more closely at and when they pass the acid test adopted and adapted for effective application here. Our programs for international exchanges and joint work should be strongly ratcheted up as part of the new Department’s revised mandate. 


      7.         Rectifying the gender imbalance:


      This is been pointed out elsewhere in these conversations: the quality of our transportation choices and arrangements has suffered greatly from the historic practice of putting decision-making into the hands of a too narrow class of American citizens, for the most part male, middle-class, and almost only car owner/driver' s.  This is not a matter of being politically correct or of compulsive feminism. It is all about for writing, equity, and choices.


      Here is what Swedish policy and law have to say on this subject:


      “The transport system shall be equitable so that it covers both women’s’ and men’s’ transport needs and gives both genders equal influence over the transport system’s creation, shape and function. (To facilitate this goal, by 2010 no traffic/transport policy group will have less than 40% of its members from either gender.)”


      I do think we can learn something from the Swedes (and the Norwegians, and the Finns) on this. It’s a bit about how many Americans have over the last couple decades become something like color blind.  The lesson of history is that once the whole thing is in place nobody even thinks about it any more (unless they walk into a room of all (wo)men). That’s just the normal way to do things if you want great and equitable results in a great and equitable country.


      *           *           *


      Get this right and good could signal the beginning of a major revolution in the transportation sector which just might turn out to be every bit as fundamental as President Eisenhower's Intrastate Highway Program that reshaped America in so very many significant ways.


      Beyond this, the fact is that attitudes and practices in the United States are observed very closely and often blindly copied by institutions and others working in other countries around the world.  The American transportation example is an important one and we have every reason to make it one which is not only going to show the way to new thinking and better practices in the United States, but also to instruct and inspire the many other places in the world are looking to us for examples.


      So rather than holding our heads and worrying about what India, China, and other nations are going to do in their transportation choices and practices to undermine life quality in their own backyards and destroy the planet at the same time, what about our stepping back and providing them with an example that they can understand, come to admire, and go about adapting and improving it for their own special conditions? 


      Leading by example, I believe it is called.






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