It’s good that road designers are professionally conservative – you don’t want bridges falling down because someone just thought it would be fun to try an off-beat idea. But the world is changing, even though some traffic engineers aren’t always comfortable letting go of the car-centric, suburbs-oriented, Interstate-model of transportation they were trained to create.
Massachusetts’ Secretary of Transportation, Jeff Mullan, has said that he wants to create a new MassDOT that fully implements the Healthy Transportation Compact aspects of the act creating the unified agency. The restructuring act requires MassDOT to “…encourage the construction of complete streets, designed and operated to enable safe access for pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and bus riders of all ages to safely move along and across roadways in urban and suburban areas…[and to] increase bicycle and pedestrian travel…”Read more
Or…How to Improve Our Quality of Life and Get Maximum Leverage from Limited Public Resources by Integrating Complementary Aspects of Policy & Programs in Transportation, Health, Development, Environment, Energy – and everything else!
I was once one of those people who joined in the American chorus of contempt about the inefficiency and incompetence of public programs. Until I began working in the private sector. I quickly learned that the dearth of really good managers, the culture of petty bickering and buck-passing, the incredible lack of inter-departmental coordination and inter-subsidiary synergy was just as common in business as it was in government – if not worse because it was hidden from public view behind the narrow window of bottom line results. So long as the ink was black, internal corporate operations could get away with utterly amazing amounts of wastefulness, nastiness, short-sightedness, and bungling – often because the competition was doing the same!Read more
The public sector can certainly benefit from the adoption of many business practices, from a focus on customer service to more efficient work flow, from TQM to greater transparency. But no matter how important these practices may be, no matter how much the public sector can benefit from their use, there is a fundamental difference between the two sectors that will perpetually lead to differences: the public sector rests on a foundation of democracy while private organizations do not. This plays itself out in at least five ways: government’s requirement to serve everyone, government’s requirement to fulfill its entire mandate, the multiple and sometimes competing dimensions that defines quality in public programs, the complicated way public revenues are generated, and the population-wide ownership of the public sector.Read more
No matter what our concern, each of us has a stake in having government operate effectively and accountably, respecting legal rights while being creative and fast-acting enough to deal with public issues.
Some people say this means that government should be run like a business. But government is not business. Its bottom line is much more complicated than profit, its operations are subject to many more constraints, and it operates with far more public scrutiny than any firm could endure. (For more on the differences, see the associated posting “Why the Public Sector – Schools in Particular – Can’t Be Run “Like A Business.”) But there are a lot of business methods that the public sector can adapt to its own unique circumstances and use – needs to use – if it is to do its job. Here are comments about a few of them – measuring performance, involving the public, outsourcing, and technology.Read more
Republicans are claiming that Scott Brown’s election was an affirmation of their conservative ideology. But it is unlikely that the majority of Massachusetts voters have so radically changed their values and views. It is more likely that his election was the result of two other dynamics — the capture of the election process by our reality-show celebrity culture and the widespread anger about the mess that national elites have made of our society. Both have implications for advocates.
Why do so many people get so involved with celebrities? As Joseph Campbell so insightfully taught, throughout human history we’ve celebrated heroes – people, deities, and even creatures who represent our ideals and our fantasies. And we’ve created myths – stories about those heroes that models ways to struggle with the hardships and fears of our existence.Read more
Why don’t more people just leave their cars at home? Why do so many people eat such terrible food? I am frequently in conversations where someone asks these types of questions. Sometimes the speaker is just a snob, using the question to really announce their own sense of superiority. But sometimes it’s a sincere bewilderment. Why do people make choices that end up hurting not only themselves but our society in the long run? And how can we get them to change?
Few people are consciously self-destructive. The reason most Americans drive, just like the reason that so many Americans eat bad food, is because given the surrounding context it makes sense to do so. Our homes jobs, shopping centers, schools, and friends are often located far away from each other, extending across the metro region into the suburbs. Public transportation doesn’t typically connect scattered starting points with equally scattered destinations – assuming that’s its available at all. Cars are often a necessity.Read more
(This is the full text and title of a letter that appeared in the Boston Globe on 1/10/10)
We all hate bureaucracy – big, rule-based, inflexible. But the impersonal efficiency of bureaucracy is exactly what big organizations need to run effectively. So the James Michael Curley legacy that is most damaging to today’s Boston is not the corruption or ethnic-neighborhood chauvinism or even the patronage described by Peter Canellos (“Curley’s People”, Jan.1, Ideas), but the pattern of delivering public service entirely on the basis of personal relationships. If you want something done, you have to know someone who works in city hall. Even within City Hall, inter-office coordination is more about calling your cousin than oiling a functional machine.Read more
It hasn’t been just the biting cold and the encroaching night that has made this December depressing. The collapse of the Senate’s version of Health Reform into an insurance and drug industry subsidy program, the failure to reach agreement on a climate recovery treaty in Copenhagen, the continued war in Iraq and the announced escalation in Afghanistan….for many of us, these developments have eliminated our little remaining hope that the Obama election would create deeply transformative change – in transportation or anything else.
It’s true that each of these disappointments includes many incremental improvements and sometimes creates a platform for future progress. Simply having an African-American as President is culturally transformative and well worth the effort of his election. But we no longer seem to have enough momentum to push through the structural changes we anticipated. This is important both for what it teaches us about politics and how we have to adjust our strategies going forward.Read more
Why haven’t Massachusetts cities installed traffic light violation cameras, like New York and many other cities, that capture the license plate number of a vehicle running a red light and automatically send a traffic ticket? Traffic-light violation cameras significantly reduce intersection violations and pedestrian injuries. Critics cite possible privacy violations and the possibility that the vehicle owner may not be the driver breaking the law. But neither argument has merit. Just as a landlord can be held responsible for the public nuisance created by his tenants, a car owner is responsible for the behavior of anyone to whom she willingly lends her vehicle. And breaking the law automatically cancels a person’s privacy rights.
When it comes to privacy, we’ve got it backwards. Perhaps the intangible nature of digital information has misled our instincts and reversed our judgment, so that in matters concerning privacy we denounce things that are harmless while allowing things that can cause real harm. Traffic-light violation cameras are not an invasion of privacy; giving business firms access to our registry database information is.Read more
Mayor Menino, like politicians around the country, has been talking about the need to create a more energy-efficient, safe, health-promoting, and community-friendly transportation system that creates less noise, has lower costs, and releases fewer green-house gasses. He has begun a whole list of initiatives, from painting bike lanes to developing “complete streets” policies. But going from vision to reality on a systemic, long-term, city-wide basis will not be easy. There are at least four major challenges facing whoever takes over city hall.Read more