Roy Nakadegawa, 1923-2013

Roy NakadegawaRoy Nakadegawa, a longtime San Francisco Bay Area transit advocate and board member for both AC Transit and BART, has passed away.  I remember him a soft-spoken but effective advocate who was able, as a professional engineer, to dig into details when they mattered.  

I also remember him as someone who really understood transit networks, and considered them more important than transit technologies.  You can get a taste of that from this 2008 kerfuffle (concerning a debate that I am agnostic on, personally).

From the joint AC Transit / BART press release:

Former AC Transit and BART director Roy Nakadegawa passed
away last Friday morning, August 23, 2013, at his home in Berkeley. 
Mr. Nakadegawa had been suffering from congestive heart failure for some time.

Mr. Nakadegawa served on the AC Transit Board for 20 years,
from 1972 to 1992.  He then served on the BART Board for 12 years from
1992 to 2004.  After he left the BART Board, he joined the Board of TRANSDEF
(Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund), a non-profit
environmental organization created by transit activists to advocate for better
solutions to transportation, land use and air quality problems in the San
Francisco Bay Area.  In all those positions he argued for cost-effective,
mobility improving transit.

Mr. Nakadegawa was an active attendee and participant in TRB
(Transportation Research Board) meetings and was well known and respected
around the world for his depth of knowledge about transit and its relation to
land use.  He was written up in the local press for the frugality of his
travel arrangements.  When Mr. Nakadegawa served on the AC Transit Board
of Directors, its members got an annuity when they left the Board.  For
many years, Mr. Nakadegawa generously donated his annuity payments to buy
prizes for AC Transit's local bus rodeo winners.

As a BART Director he consistently advocated for cost
effective transit administration, which spilled over into his own
campaigns.  In his re-election materials
for BART Director he was proud to point out that in November 2000, he garnered
the highest vote (over 91,000 voters) of five previous BART races and spent
less than a penny per vote.  Mr.
Nakadegawa tirelessly urged his fellow board members to consider innovative
uses of BART facilities as a non-traditional source of
revenue and improved customer access, resulting in the adoption of both
permanent and experimental parking program initiatives.

 He will also be
remembered for his role in advocating BART’s Earthquake Safety Program.  He helped to raise public awareness of this
critical program, resulting in the successful 2004 passage of a bond measure to
fund it.

Professionally, Mr. Nakadegawa had been a transportation
engineer for the City of Richmond and for many years served on the Board that
administers the civil engineering exam in California.  His career as a public sector engineer
reached a pinnacle in 1989 when he was elected National President of the Institute
for Transportation of American Public Works Association and later served as its
liaison to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), the national
transportation advocacy group.  While
with BART Mr. Nakadegawa became an active member of APTA, serving on several
committees including its Policy and Planning; Advanced Technology, Governing
Board; and Transit Management and Performance committees.

Mr. Nakadegawa and his wife Judy were the quintessential
Berkeley couple, dedicated to peace, family, public service and folk dancing.

Cards and letters should be sent to:  Judy Nakadegawa
and family, 751 The Alameda, Berkeley, California  94707-1930. 


Paul Mees, 1961-2013


Paul Mees, the Australian public transit scholar and author of Transport for Suburbia, passed away June 19 after a battle with cancer. 

Paul was an important voice in the struggle to bring contemporary transit planning techniques to Australia in particular.  Transport for Suburbia, like much of his other writing, contains eloquent arguments for the basic geometric principles of ridership-oriented transit planning, ideas that are second nature to most transit planners but that have been extraordinarily hard to convey outside the profession.  

Sadly, I dealt with Paul mostly as an adversary.  We had one meeting in person, in which we drove around Canberra together mostly agreeing about what needed to be done there, but Paul chose, in print, to be mostly a critic of my work.  We certainly had a long-standing quarrel about the role of density in transit ridership, though I think this was mostly a problem of audience and language, not real opinion.  He was certainly caustic at times, and could certainly present is ideas in ways that sounded like personal attacks.

And certainly, there were reasons to be frustrated.  He worked in an era where the very possibility that transit could be planned as a citywide network, and that it was a crucial area of public interest and discussion, was at a low ebb in Australia, lost in the obsession with privatization and narrowly defined "benefit cost analysis".  Media coverage about transit was either about infrastructure debate or about whether some service should be "privatized" or "profitable."  The concept of networks — different kinds of services working together and serving an entire city — was only beginning to emerge.  For years, much of the essential work of transit planning had been outsourced to operating companies that planned for their own turf, not for the network as a whole.  There were few motivations to innovate, and many to suppress innovation.

This was the world in which Paul and I both had to work, and I'm grateful that he lived to see some of the subsequent revolution.  Australian governments are now re-asserting their right to control the design of their transit networks on behalf of the cities that depend on them so profoundly.  Many of the ideas that Paul helped promote are finally surfacing and taking hold.

All progress comes from a broad front of voices, and nobody hears the moderates ones unless more extreme and uncompromising ones are also present.  Paul Mees was, in many ways, the uncompromising conscience of Australian transit planning.  His passion and persistence on the topic will be missed.  

Photo:  Michael Clayton-Jones, The Age.