General

JOB! Our firm is hiring at entry level, but act fast!

We need to add two entry level staff to our team, on a fast timeline leading to an April 1 start.  Please share this widely with anyone you know who might be interested!

Jarrett Walker and Associates is a consulting firm that helps communities think about public transit planning issues, especially the design and redesign of bus networks. The firm was initially built around Jarrett Walker’s book Human Transit and his 25 years of experience in the field. Today, our professional staff of eight leads planning projects across North America, with a rapidly growing overseas practice including Europe, Russia, and Australia / New Zealand.

You can learn about us at our website jarrettwalker.com and at jarrett’s blog HumanTransit.org. For a sense of our basic approach to network design, see the introduction to Jarrett’s book Human Transit, which is on the blog and easily googled.

We are seeking 1-2 entry-level transit analysts based in Portland, Oregon. The position offers the potential to grow a career in transit planning. As a small firm, we can promote staff in response to skill and achievement, without waiting for a more senior position to become vacant. Everyone pitches in at many different levels, and there are many opportunities to learn on the job.

Duties include a wide range of data analysis and mapping tasks associated with public transit planning studies.

For this position, the following are requirements. Please respond only if you offer all of the following:

  • Bachelor’s or equivalent degree, or alternatively a minimum of two years professional experience in the skills listed below. (A directly relevant major is preferred but not essential.)
  • Fluency in spoken English and at least strong proficiency at writing.
  • Interest in public transit planning.
  • Experience in Excel analysis, including charts, evidenced in sample work.
  • Experience in spatial data analysis (GIS), evidenced in sample work.
  • Experience in mapping, evidenced in mapping samples that are clear, accurate, and visually appealing.
  • Ability to innovate and solve problems that arise in an analysis process.
  • Ability to explain analytic ideas clearly in writing.
  • References attesting to accuracy and efficiency in these critical tasks.
  • Availability to start fulltime work in Portland, Oregon no later than April 1, 2017.
  • Legal ability to work in the US.

The following are desirable but not essential. If you have any of the following, please emphasize them in your application.

  • Graduate degree in urban planning, transportation, or a related field.
  • Experience with analysis of public transit issues.
  • Proven ability to design clear and easy-to-understand infographics, charts, reports, or other static and/or interactive information visualizations.
  • The ability to describe issues from multiple points of view, including the perspectives of different professions.
  • Experience and comfort in public speaking.
  • Experience using a data analysis programming language (R, Python, etc)
  • Ability to develop interactive information displays and tools.
  • Experience in advanced database analysis. (Postgres/PostGIS, MySQL, etc)
  • Experience with our main analytic and design software: qGIS, Remix, Tableau, InDesign, Illustrator.
  • Expertise with transit-focused routing software, such as OpenTripPlanner.
  • Foreign language ability. Spanish and Russian are especially useful to us but all language skills are valued.
  • Experience working with minority and disadvantaged communities.
  • Experience describing issues from multiple points of view, including the perspectives of different types of people, and different professions.
  • Experience and comfort in public speaking.

Compensation and Benefits

Compensation will probably start in the range of $21-26/hour depending on experience, but raises of over 15% in the first year are routine for excellent work. Our benefits program includes empoyer-paid health, dental, and disability insurance, a free transit pass, paid sick leave (40 hrs/year), and paid time off (80 hrs/year).

How to Respond

To respond to this announcement, please send the following to marketing@jarrettwalker.com . The absolute deadline is February 21, 2017, at 5 PM Pacific Standard Time, but submitting earlier is advantageous as we will be assessing applications as we receive them.

  • 1-page cover letter, explaining your interest in the position.
  • 1- or 2-page resume, describing your relevant experience and skills.
  • Three (3) samples of your work. This can include maps, graphics, charts or reports that you have created. Samples should be clear, accurate, easy to understand and visually appealing. At least one (1) sample should demonstrate your ability to carry out a complex spatial analysis.
  • Important:  Do not put important information in your email!  It will not stay with your application.  Make your pitch in the cover letter.

Hiring Schedule

Our need for staff is urgent so the hiring schedule is brisk:

  • February 7. Announcement.
  • February 21. Absolute deadline for submissions.
  • February 23. Shortlist and invitations to interview announced.
  • March 1. Interviews (in Portland or by Skype)
  • March 3. Final decision (successful candidate and two alternates).
  • March 10. Negotiations complete.
  • April 1. Job begins.

Non-discrimination

JWA follows an equal opportunity employment policy and employs personnel without regard to race, creed, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender expression, age, physical or mental ability, veteran status, military obligations, and marital status.

This policy also applies to internal promotions, training, opportunities for advancement, terminations, outside vendors, members and customers, service clients, use of contractors and consultants, and dealings with the general public.

Thank you!

Thank you for reviewing this listing.  As a matter of urgency, please share it with others who might be interested. We look forward to hearing from you.

How (Not) to Wreck Your Transit System: Downtown Business Edition

What do you think of these people? Photo by the (great) Bay Area public artist Todd Gilens.

What do you think of these people? Photo by the (great) Bay Area public artist Todd Gilens.

Downtown business leaders! I know how much many of you support transit, and I love working with you folks, but here’s a hazard you need to think about.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson has announced that new bus lanes that were designed into city’s main square will be closed to buses, thus choking the bus system’s circulation at its very heart.  Citylab has the story.  The local newspaper of record, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, has an editorial in favor of keeping buses out, citing three points:

*The square is far more popular than anticipated. …

*Keeping buses out has greatly enhanced the pedestrian experience. …

*In an age of terrorism, barring large vehicles from being able to drive into crowded public spaces also matters. Cleveland Public Safety Director Mike McGrath has pointed out that if Superior Avenue is kept open through Public Square, a “determined person” could use a truck or other vehicle to drive into crowds gathered there. …

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Electric Retractable Bollard, SecureUSA.

(Terrorism is a distraction, of course.  The way to prevent someone from driving a heavy vehicle into a public square is to install retractable bollards, which drop for emergency vehicles and transit.  Fixed bollards are also used to define a transit path across a space, and protect the rest from vehicles.)

But really: Would city leaders be saying this if the service being banned were a streetcar/tram?  Of course not.  Streetcars supposedly attract people that the business community values.  So when I read this …

[City Councilor] Zack Reed, … as reported by Cleveland Scene’s Sam Allard, [suggested] that the mayor is in the pocket of downtown’s corporate interests who view transit riders as “low-lifes” and “thugs.”

… I have to say that sadly, from personal experience, this accusation against downtown business interests is sometimes (sometimes) true, and the blowback against it is understandable.

Business leaders: I know you really want a transit system that a more diverse group of people will use, but you can’t promote transit while insulting the people who use it now.  It doesn’t make sense. Nobody will choose to join a category of people, “transit riders,” that you’re marking as unimportant or even despised.

In the course of my transit planning work in several US cities, I’ve been quietly taken aside by a downtown business leader and told that of course those ugly buses have to be gotten off of the main street, and put out on some back street where the loading docks are.  And sadly, I have sometimes been told the same by advocates of public space, often credentialed New Urbanists, who insist that their aesthetic disapproval of the bus should outweigh people’s need for useful, reliable transit service.   Most of these latter group don’t really understand the impact of those comments, but I see the effects: remote, unsafe and/or inoperable bus facilities hidden from the public eye.

Now and then someone makes the class-segregation narrative explicit.  For example, in one US city where I worked years ago, a downtown business leader explained to me that “those people” waiting for buses on the main street were deterring customers from visiting businesses, and “making people feel unsafe.”  The candor was refreshing: the problem isn’t the buses. The problem is unwanted people who do not deserve to be respected by the design of the city — including, of course, many of the business community’s own employees.

This leader also assured me that women would never feel comfortable walking through these crowds — contrary to the view of professional women who were working with us on the project.  The stops in question did have a lot of people waiting at them.  Like any busy place they attracted the usual diversity of urban characters, including street preachers, small scale salesmen, and self-styled performing artists, and perhaps one or two petty criminals.  But people are rarely attacked in the middle of largely law-abiding crowds.

This problem actually had an easy solution.  Robust real-time information, available by text and voice as well as in smartphone apps, encourages people to come to the stop only a few minutes before their bus leaves. Bus stops have become noticeably less crowded in communities that have rolled these out, as you would expect.  That also means, business leaders, that people waiting for the bus have more time to patronize nearby businesses.

But too often, the business community’s solution is to move the buses onto a deserted street where nobody will see them, and also to “spread buses out” so that no stop would be as busy.  This “solves” a problem of the “feeling of safety” by creating a problem of actual safety.  Bus riders have to walk to an isolated street and wait in a place with fewer eyes to witness crimes against them.  And of course, the other effect is to make the transit system less attractive, so that fewer people with choices will use it.  Connecting from one bus to another, for example, would be harder to figure out and require longer walks.

Now, let’s honor the experience of downtown businesses dealing with this situation.  A crowded bus stop in front of your business can be disruptive, depending on the kind of business you’re in.   Transit agencies do what they can to manage these impacts, but in the long run, a bus stop is an essential piece of urban infrastructure.  There are types of business that do very well next to a bus stop: convenience stores, fast food, and other “quick visit” places.  Good business location decisions always consider infrastructure.  Over time, businesses that value bus stops should locate next to them, and those that don’t should locate further away.

But it’s also true, as any planner can tell you, that some businesses will blame government whenever business isn’t going well.  On a busy street, there’s always something around you that’s not as you’d like, and it’s easy to decide that this is the cause of your troubles.

Downtown business leaders, you have a critical role in shaping your transportation future.  The most critical decision you make is whether to risk letting downtown succeed as a city — a place where everyone has a right to be, and move, and be safe — as opposed to trying to replicate the controlled experience of a shopping mall, where unwanted people can be easily removed.

I know you care about your customers, and about their experience.  But there’s a reason prosperity is coming back to downtowns, and it’s not because all those unwanted people are being hidden away.  Come to my city, Portland (where, by the way, buses run on the most important main streets downtown).  In the publicity photos Portland looks shiny and clean, but the real downtown is full of characters.  A few are irritating, and many are unfortunate.  But very few are dangerous, and people who live here have figured that out.  You might prefer to avoid some people’s company, but then you wouldn’t have a city.  And judging from the cost of locating there, downtown Portland and places like it seem to be what people want.

Remember:  Your businesses are all trained in market segmentation, dividing the society into “your potential customers” and “not your potential customers.”  But as soon as you take that habit into the public realm, segmentation becomes segregation.  The ethics of business and the ethics of public space are not the same.

Have courage.  Welcome the buses and their passengers.  Not every business will thrive, but that’s capitalism.  In the long run, you’ll have a city where people want to be.

San Jose and Silicon Valley: A New Bus Network Proposed

We’ve been working for over a year with VTA, the transit agency of Santa Clara County, California, on a rethinking of their bus network.  After a long process that has included multiple alternatives and a round of public discussion about them, we’ve arrived at a recommended network.  The plan is meant to go in this fall, when a BART rapid transit extension opens into the county from the north, and when a rearranged operating plan for the light rail system is also planned.  If you live in the County, or use the system, please tell VTA what you think.  As always: if you like the plan, you should assume it won’t happen unless you tell the agency that you like it.

So here’s the system as it looks now.  (Look carefully at the legend. Right-click and open in a new window for more detail.)

VTA+Next+Network+Draft+Plan+(Weekday,+Weekend,+Existing)-page-003

And here is the proposed network:
VTA+Next+Network+Draft+Plan+(Weekday,+Weekend,+Existing)-page-001

 

Here’s why the plan looks as it does.

  • The plan before the public does not significantly increase the budget for bus operations.  That means existing service has been re-arranged, which is part of why difficult trade-offs are made.  County voters just passed Measure B, which has some additional funds for service, but those funds are not shown in the above plan.  The Board could decide to add some of these funds to create the final plan.
  • A goal of the plan is to shift the percentage of resources devoted to high ridership service from 70% to 85%.
  • That means that the amount of resources for low-ridership coverage services — services that exist because some people need or want them but which not many people ride — goes from 30% of the budget to 15%.  (For background on ridership-coverage trade-off, see here.)
  • So in round numbers, the amount of coverage service drops by half.  You see this in the many areas that have a blue or green line in the existing system but no all day service, and in some cases no service at all, in the proposed.
  • The policy to devote 85% of resources to high ridership service, and 15% to coverage service, is not something we recommended.  It was the result of an extensive public conversation about different paths the network could take.  In the spring we presented three alternative networks to the public, showing this range of possibilities, and the 85-15 policy is the result of that conversation.
  • Where coverage service has been eliminated, it is because of very low ridership, usually tied to low density or difficult geography (see here for the geometric principles involved).  The plan does not discriminate between different parts of the county in this regard.  Every city in the county has one or more coverage segments disappearing.
  • Everyone at the agency, and everyone on the the Board, knows that some people will be mad about the coverage service cuts.  If you are unhappy about this, please tell VTA that in your comments, but be civil, because civil comments are much more effective.  Don’t tell us that we’re idiots or monsters (we’re not) or that we don’t know that people will be affected (we do).   Understand that the service you are defending is very expensive per passenger for the taxpayer, because so few people ride it.  Cuts to that service are not an expression of an opinion about you.

With that, here are some cool things about the plan.

  • A much-expanded frequent grid.  Eastside San Jose has always had one but now the same principle is spread across most of San Jose and a few main lines in the western part of the county, where demand is lower but where there are concentrations of all day demand that could support a grid pattern.
  • A new Rapid Bus line, which means a line that runs every 15 minutes or better all day but makes widely spaced stops (up to 1 mile spacing).  This one runs from the new Berryessa BART station through downtown and out Stevens Creek to Cupertino, then north through downtown Sunnyvale to the Lockheed area.
  • Weekday hourly frequencies (green) are almost gone.  If a route runs at all, it runs at least every 30 minutes.
  • San Jose Airport gets a very different kind of service.  Currently it has just a shuttle to light rail and Caltrain.  This means you may be two connections away from most places you might be going.  In the new network, the airport is on a line that runs all the way across the county, including directly to BART.  That means fewer connections with your luggage.  Much of the county, and much of the BART system in the East Bay, is just one connection away.
  • Weekend service is especially improved.  Here are the frequencies for the weekend network:

VTA+Next+Network+Draft+Plan+(Weekday,+Weekend,+Existing)-page-002

Once again, this draft plan is the starting point. The final plan, based on your comments and on board direction, will be adopted in April, and implemented this fall.

Realtime Information: Facts or Predictions?

Among the cool things that Portland’s transit agency Tri-Met did during our record snowstorm is this:

IMG_1857

Instead of telling us a prediction of when the bus will arrive, they told us the fact of how far away it is.  Predictions are not facts.

Free and conscious citizens should always value facts over predictions.  It doesn’t hurt to have both, but predictions without facts can be dangerous.  Humans always want more certainty about the future than the universe provides, so they tend to overvalue predictions, and even treat them as promises.

A rare citywide disruption puts all this in perspective, by highlighting something that is really always true.  The transit agency is in no position to promise when the bus will arrive.  Too many things out of their control might happen.  What they can do is tell you the facts and let you make your own judgment about what to do.

Three Lyft Rides in a Rare Snowstorm, and Musings on “Rate Your Driver”

Portland's transit mall five days after the snow fell.

Portland’s transit mall five days after the snow fell.

Portland’s epic snowstorm continues.  Five days after we got about 9 inches (30 cm) of snow, most streets are still coated with ice.  Again, this shouldn’t be judged by the standards of snowier cities; this kind of extended storm happens less than once a decade here.

In my last post I talked about my transit experience on the first day, when snow was still coming down hard.  Later that day, and twice the next day, I used Lyft– but since most Portland drivers work for both Uber and Lyft, I’m guessing an Uber experience would have been identical.

My three Lyft rides gave me five interesting data points:

  • A trip to my mother’s house in Portland’s hilly west side.  The driver showed up in a tiny car without snow tires or chains, and said he can’t climb hills.  To prevent discrimination against customers based on their destination, the companies don’t tell drivers the destination until after they accept the ride, so this guy was unable to say no to a destination that he couldn’t physically reach.  Likewise, I was unable to specify, when requesting a ride, that the driver needs chains or snow tires and probably 4-wheel-drive to get there.  That’s obviously a design flaw in Lyft’s systems.
  • A trip back from the same hilly area.  The driver showed up in a small car with no left rear view mirror.  He told me another car knocked the mirror off and drove away the previous night.  He plans to get it fixed, he said, but meanwhile he has to keep driving, so he just glances over his left shoulder now and then.
  • On the same ride: The driver told me he lives in Los Angeles but is in Portland for a few months for some reason.  He’d never driven in snow or ice before, and clearly didn’t understand the risks.  I had to explain that in these conditions, you allow even more room behind the car in front of you.  “But people will cut in!” he said.  “Yes,” I said, “but you won’t die.”
  • … but on an earlier trip back from the airport, the driver was a very recent immigrant from Ghana who had also never driven in snow before.  I was surprised to learn this, because his snow driving skills seemed perfect — which maybe just means he was quite properly terrified and being very careful.

How am I to “rate your driver” in some these cases? The Ghanaian guy gets 5 stars of course, but what of the other two?

Should I give a low grade to the a driver whose car is unsuited to these conditions, at least in the hilly part of town?  Obviously this is mostly a policy failure, but should I declare, from my perch of authority, that he should have had chains?

What about the driver who didn’t have a left rear view mirror?  Well, that’s plainly illegal and unsafe, but as I talked with him, I wondered if he could afford to not drive until he can get it fixed.  As it was, he was also the tailgater, so it was easy to rate him low, but what if he’d been a great driver otherwise?

As I think about this, and about how the “rate your driver” scores are processed, I realize that I pretty much have to give 5 stars for anything other than obvious rudeness (unexplainable by cultural difference) or reckless driving.  That’s because I can sense how much pressure these people are under, how few options they have, and how devastating even a 4-star rating can be.  For all I know, someone’s kids are going to starve if I tell a guy to quit driving until his mirror is fixed.  On the other hand, for all I know, he’s doing fine and is just risking his life and that of his passengers because he’s greedy.

Once you open that window into considering the real causes of problems, and the real impacts of ratings, it’s hard to close it.

This is an instance of a more general problem with all of the “how did we do?” surveys that fill my inbox every day.  They really want my opinion of front-line staff, but often I can see that my negative experience was a matter of management.  The obvious example is restaurant or hotel staff who are harried and unresponsive because the management has decided to have too few people on duty.  I’ve learned to be careful about this.  Unless I’m sure that the frontline person was entirely responsible for the outcome, the worst situations get five stars, plus maybe a little note that nobody will read.

 

Portland: Transit Heroism in an Epic Snowstorm

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Enough snow to almost paralyze Portland. Readers in Canada, Russia, and Scandinavia are invited to keep their comments to themselves. :-)

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Portland’s Gateway Transit Center at 8:30 AM on January 11, 2017. Everything working fine, considering. Rail moved at 4x the speed of an adjacent freeway studded with abandoned cars.

Portland woke up to about 9 inches (23 cm) of snow yesterday, with snow continuing to fall, and I had a chance to watch a bit of the transport situation.

Unfortunately, that morning I was booked to fly out to a client visit in Southern Oregon, so I had to do the ritual of going to the airport so that I would be there in the unlikely event our flight wasn’t canceled at the last minute. When I checked my options at 8 am, with snow still coming down hard, Lyft was nonexistent, Uber had a 20+ minute wait with 2.5x normal pricing, but a bus was coming soon.  I had a small adventure carrying a heavy suitcase through snowdrifts, but once on the bus everything was fine.  The driver even had to stop for a minute because he was running early.  Drop-down chains are great!

I connected to light rail, and because of snow operations I had to connect again within the light rail system, but it all worked fine.  Each station I visited had a friendly transit employee with a snow-shovel.  I got to the airport in about 1.2 times the usual travel time, faster than would have been possible by any other mode of transport.  By then, many freeways were partly blocked by abandoned cars, including some especially dimwitted truck drivers who thought they could get over our highest bridge without chains.

It was funny to hear some people grumbling, as though the snow were the transit agency’s fault or their staff weren’t obviously doing their best.  Remember, everyone who’s at work at 7 am in a snowstorm somehow got out of their houses at 4-5 AM.  Levels of heroism should not be underestimated.  Our agency, TriMet, did an amazing job. So, as you must do when you see staff working heroically, I sent a tweet:

Of course, it was not so easy for everyone.  The transit agency had pre-designed “snow routes” for buses that avoided most steep hills.  (If you live on a hill, this is a “feature” of your location choice!)  Trees were an issue; some trees bowing under the snow touched the catenary of the light rail and streetcar downtown, shutting them down for a while.  “Only so many arborists,” @pdxstreetcar tweeted sensibly.  (Another city might cut down trees that presented this risk, but you just don’t do that in Portland.)

So we got what you expect.  We had made some local value judgments (not cutting down trees) that reflected our values but caused some trouble yesterday.  Most people accepted that consequence of their values.  And the transit agency staff really were amazing. In situations like this, I make a point of thanking every transit or city employee that I meet.  On a snowy morning, a good greeting is: “Hey, I realize you got out here at 5 AM, and I really appreciate it.”  Adjust to taste, but don’t say nothing.  And as studies of gratitude have shown, this will actually help you feel better about your own inconveniences.

Finally, do not use the words “apocalypse” and “armaggedon.”  Your parents and grandparents got through snowstorms without needing those words, so they mark you as a hysterical kid.  Those words should be reserved for nuclear war, the Rapture, climate-induced civilizational collapse, and snow for those thin-skinned drama-queens in Seattle.

Our Top Ten Posts in 2016

Normally, one does a list of the most-read posts of the last year.

But I’ve always tried to write things that would be useful for years, so I’d rather show you the posts that were viewed most often in 2016.  I’m delighted that only four of these were written in 2016:

  1. Does Elon Musk Understand Urban Geometry?  (2016) Why tech visionaries miss the obvious when they talk about urban transportation.
  2. Basics: Walking Distance to Transit (2010).  An explainer.
  3. Sounding the Alarm about Uber’s Impacts on Transit, and on Cities. (2016) The danger of planning cities around unsustainable business models.
  4. Let’s Quit Pretending About Uber. (2016) A quick flare-up that’s long since resolved.  Its the closest I’ve come to clickbait, so of course it got clicks.
  5. Explainer: The Transit Ridership Recipe (2015).  Perhaps our single most essential explainer.
  6. That Photo That Explains Almost Everything (2011).  You’ve seen the photo.  I notice a few things in it beyond its first impression.
  7. Learning from “Mini Metro”.  (2014) Geeking out on the best public transit planning game I’ve seen.
  8. Basics: The Spacing of Stops and Stations.  (2010).  This turned into Chapter 4 of my book.
  9. Core vs Edge Debates in Public Transit. (2016) An eternal issue.
  10. Streetcars: An Inconvenient Truth. (2009) My first controversial post, still starting arguments seven years later.

Remember, this blog is full of old stuff that’s still relevant, notably the “basics” or “explainer” pieces.  For links to all of those, see here!  This year should remind us all that just because it’s hot off the presses today doesn’t mean it’s either useful or true!

Appreciating Anthony Foxx, the “Great Connector”

US Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx will deserve a special place in the history of US transportation policy.  It has been a long time since the nation’s transport policy leader has reframed the conversation so profoundly.  An interview of him in Citylab by Laura Bliss, dubbing him “The Great Connector,” draws out several of these themes:

anthony_foxx_official_portraitBuilding Communities, Enabling Contact

We might not always acknowledge it, but the reality is, when we build infrastructure we’re also building communities. It’s different than housing. It’s where boundaries are drawn, where highways and rail lines cut through, where transit stops are or the places that are skipped over. All of those decisions matter, because they all affect how we come into contact with each other.

This is a truism in urbanist circles but I’ve never heard it so forcefully from a Secretary of Transportation.  In a department where handing out infrastructure money is the primary source of power, Foxx reframed the whole task away from the usual cost/benefit conversations or the love of technologies, to focus instead on the fundamental purpose of transport: how we “come into contact with each other” and thus, among other things, build communities.  The acknowledgment of the “dividing” effect of some infrastructure is especially historic.  Freeways enabled some connections only by obstructing others, like your ability to walk to a grocery store on the other side or the ability of a bus route to trace a straight path.

Devolving Power to States and Cities

Shifting power downward from the Federal government to states and cities used to be a conservative “small government” idea, but no longer.  The first step is to impose fewer Federal limits on how money is to be spent.

I’ve the made case—and will continue to make the case in my next life—that we need a more flexible funding approach. Rather than say that a certain percentage has to go to roads or transit or what have you, let the communities decide how that money should be spent, and grade them on criteria that shows how they’ve improved the system.

He’s especially clear that people who know the local issues need to make the decisions about them:

Regions and cities and towns could use more direct federal funds as well. This harkens back to my mayor days. Those areas can get things done relatively quickly, and many times they have a different sense of what they need than a state might. Rather than having regions, towns, and cities arguing over money, there should be a more dedicated program.

This is especially important for cities, whose needs are different from those of other areas but who often lack the autonomy to solve their own problems.  We are entering an era where urbanist impatience with a controlling and dictating Federal government will be as great as that of conservatives has always been, and for similar reasons.  If the next Administration is as hostile to urban issues (or perhaps, hostile to urban interests other than elite real estate development) we may soon reach a point where devolution of power is the only thing the nation can agree on.  Cities will have to take care of themselves, and have the power to do so.  Even some urban real estate tycoons may see the value of that.

Transit, and the City, as Unifier

Finally, in an age of division, he captures the singular role of transit in holding together urban civilization, using one of my favorite images:

Transportation can bring us together. When I ride on the New York City subway system, I’m riding with millionaires and with homeless people. No one is hidden from the other. That interaction doesn’t mean people live in the same neighborhoods, or that they go to the same school. But what it does mean is that no one is invisible.

Everything about politics today is about visibility.  Are you forced to see the consequences of your own ideas?  It is the genius of the city that almost everyone must, because they happen in front of you on the street, not just on television or the internet.  My own city, Portland, is in a time of general prosperity, but it just had a mayoral election where the predominant issues were homelessness and affordability.  That happened because those issues aren’t invisible in a city, the way they can be in suburbs or country towns.  The genius of the city is that the billionaire, whatever his achievements, must still acknowledge that he shares a city with homeless people, whose condition may result from the same forces that created his.  Transit keeps that reality present through the act of transportation.  That’s not its purpose; no social engineering is involved.  But the fact remains that in cities we must use space efficiently, and that often requires traveling in each other’s presence, so that we see the totality of what our city is.

Foxx’s reign has also included significant achievements in planning for automation, and he hints that they may still do something about the intrusiveness and harrowing potential of drones.  Good stuff.  But these shifts in tone may matter as much as anything.  Good job, Secretary, and I hope you continue to influence the transport conversation.