Thursday, March 10, 2011

Transformative Leadership in Transportation

The National Bike Summit seems to be the nexus of bike advocacy, industry, and political leadership. For as much as I am not sure the bicycle community has a voice equal to transit, highways, and others in transportation (because of the low mode split), I am always impressed with how it is covered by and others in the blogosphere. 

The link (and excerpts) was appreciated because it includes a couple of transformative leaders in transportation. The session included Earl Blumenauer who is arguably the most important person at the federal level (for both bikes and streetcars) and the most exciting leader at the municipal level in Janette Sadik Khan, who is moving NYC forward with a pace that is impressive. 

I used to think that the facilities were the most important element of transforming transportation, but the more I am involved and thinking about it, the more I think it is one part facilities and an equal effort on the softer side of the issue, exposing people to being on their bikes. I started from watching my father commuting by bus, figuring out he could get there faster on his bike, followed by him wanting to accomplish distances on his bike as a part of his life's goals, and then ending with an awareness of how cycling can transform his family and the children, making them healthier, wealthier, and wiser? Okay, the wisdom stuff is tough to come by, but I agree with Blumenauer when he suggests:

“It’s something that speaks to every single item on the front page of our newspapers: Oil instability in the Middle East, health problems, congestion,” he said. “Everybody on a bike is somebody who is not in front of you in a car, competing for a parking space.”

Making the shift from an expensive transportation system built around the automobile to a more efficient network that accommodates all users may be good logic, but it’s also a leap of thought. “The pivot point is not easy,” Blumenauer acknowledged. “We have habits and politics and mindsets that are entrenched.”

I had a good time today spreading the news with a class at Portland State today. I spoke about the importance of bicycle, pedestrians, transit, and freight movement at traffic signals to a class of senior civil engineering students. I am not sure I have much of an impact with a two hour presentation on a single day with undergraduates, but perhaps there is something that rings true with them as people and the next time they make a transportation choice, it becomes a subconscious thought that the City wants them to access downtown with a mode that is more efficient to serve by the transportation system.

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