chicago: asking the right question?

Hey chicago

Alex Davies in Treehugger looks at a Chicago campaign seeking public input on what would make people use sustainable modes:

Over the last few weeks, Chicagoans have been asked a simple question: "What would encourage you to walk, bike and take CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) more often?" Ads posing the question in buses, subways and public spaces invite the city's residents to respond with their ideas, via text message. This mass call and response is part of Give a Minute, a campaign created by advocacy group CEOs for Cities and media design firm Local Projects, which looks to take public dialogue out of town meetings and into the streets. The idea is simple: by making participation as simple as sending a text message, Give a Minute will bring more people, and ideas, into the debate.

We've long known that this kind of outreach is needed to have a useful conversation about new transit projects.  The old solution — inviting people to attend public meetings — has always produced highly skewed responses, over-weighting the angriest feedback.  Anything that can broaden the conversation is useful.

But for reasons explored here, I generally advise against grand hypotheticals: "What would you do if …?" or "What would encourage you…?"  Nobody can answer those questions accurately, so the answers are a poor guide to what investments would really pay off.

What's really needed is to engage the public in thinking about real tradeoffs, such as the choices built into budgets.  What are your priorities, this or that?  Those hard choices are the real work of elective government.  If we ask people to think about those questions, we not only get more reliable answers, we also encourage citizens to ask smarter questions themselves.   

Guest Post: Aaron Renn on Universal Fare Media

(Aaron Renn, who writes The Urbanophile, is an opinion-leading urban affairs analyst, consultant, and speaker, based in the US Midwest.)

When I’m at home, I ride bus and rail transit about equally.  But when I travel to a new city, I travel on rail systems frequently, but almost never use the bus.  Why?

For me, while I know how transit systems generally work, the specifics of fares and fare media are different from place to place. I know that if I show up at a rail station there is likely to be a station house where I can look at maps, read about fares and rules, and use nice machines with step by step instructions for purchasing tickets or other fare media.  Continue Reading →

The Urbanophile on Chicago: From Good to Great?

Aaron Renn at The Urbanophile occupies a really important junction in the blogosphere, and I wish he had more company there.  He loves transit but he’s interested in all aspects of urban development and policy, so he tends to place transit issues in the larger context of a city’s politics, especially conversations about civic identity.  He writes mostly on Midwestern US cities, venturing to California only to prophesy its doom.  But he has a good grasp of national and global peers and often draws on them for inspiration.

He’s just completed a series on the transit challenges facing Chicago, but his descriptions of the political challenge are true of many cities.  It’s not about the technical or network planning issues — for those I rely on The Transport Politic — but he does deal with how transit proposals connect, or fail to connect, with fundamental desires of both the business booster and the average citizen.

Check it out.  There’s even some sex.