Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Op-Ed: Peter Wiederkehr on Encouraging & supporting transportation innovations

Encouraging & supporting transportation innovations within the US

Peter Wiederkehr, formerly director of the OECD EST! program for "Environmentally Sustainable Transportation", who is currently senior adviser to the Austrian government on transportation and environmental policy, picked up the phone this morning and called me in Paris to tell me the following (my paraphrase):

"Eric, I think you and your colleagues on that National Journal transportation expert panel are asking some great questions about international experience that the incoming Obama team and the US more generally will do well to know more about. There are, as you know, many great ones out there and this will surely be a fruitful and ultimately useful search for them. I am sure you will find a way to channel to them solid information on some of the best ones.

"But please tell them for my part that, based on my extensive experience with the OECD and other international programs that have had me working extensively over the years with US agencies and projects, as well as people from other nations, probably the most important single thing that our US colleagues could do for themselves today would be to look into the many successful pathbreaking projects inside the United States that have made their mark and paved the way in many important ways.

"The problem is that these projects are often not well known and not consistently or strategically supported by government policy either at the state or national level -- and that is a real pity because it means that, despite their hard work and successes at the local level, these projects and initiatives rarely end up being sufficiently well known to inform and encourage other communities and groups about strategies that work. Moreover, in many cases I have seen situations in which very small amounts of financial and other support could make a big difference for these projects which are leading or trying to lead the way. But that is rarely forthcoming."

What can I do but to agree to with Peter and pass on this message to all of you.

* * *

Taking this one step further I can share with you the observation that this matter of finding and supporting smaller projects and initiatives is one that few countries and institutions have been able to deal with effectively in just about any part of the world. Most of our institutions and procedures are geared primarily to working with small numbers of large projects. It is less confusing, cheaper, and the way they have always done it. I can appreciate that.

However given the nature of the transportation sector and the economic and environmental constraints we face today, there is every reason for us to find ways to encourage and support these local often smaller initiatives. Adjusting our routines and practices to take advantage of all these innovations that are so badly needed, despite the fact that they may be "inconveniently small for orderly processing" is certainly part of the challenge ahead.

This is problematic because in the world in which we live the future will belong to our ability to generate and make succeed very large numbers of often quite small and almost always very diverse projects and approaches. This requires an entirely different legislative, administrative, and financial approach. And behind all that a different mindset. Fortunately we have the communication tools and procedures that will allow us to deal with these new challenges efficiently. Now all we have to fix is that mindset.

I guess that counts for a lesson from "beyond our borders", as much as anything else we are likely to come up with here. Thanks Peter.

Kind regards,

Eric Britton, Editor

Contribution by the author to the world wide collaborative project “Messages for America: World-wide experience, ideas, counsel, proposals and good wishes for the incoming Obama transportation team”. See for latest version of this report of the New Mobility Agenda.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

National Journal Panel: What Can We Learn About Transportation From Beyond Our Borders?

Decidedly our international colleagues continue to come back to support the idea that if America is looking for great new ideas, including that America itself may not be a bad place to start. This latest in this morning from Michael Yeates of Brisbane Australia. I quote:

Thanks Eric and Peter ... excellent ( There seem to be several problematic issues here however so may I use some examples?

A. It seems that aside from the occasional occurrence of a real leader, and then somewhat contrary to ideas of democracy, innovation has first to get noticed and overcome objections and obstructions from those who enjoy and benefit from the status quo ... and then if it can do that, then it not only has to achieve majority support or appear to, it must appear to have far more than that to begin to gain attention. And then it has to overcome the problem of token and/or symbolic acceptance.

So here are three "easy" strategies both "big" and "small" (to use Eric's descriptive classifications below) which if the USA were to adopt them, major global change would certainly follow.

1. The first is adopting what "we" (i.e. "CUST") have called a "Safe Urban Speed Limit" i.e. a speed limit that is safe for the users who would be expected were they to have a "supportive environment". This concept equates well with the "Vision Zero" concepts. It has been shown to work in many places throughout Europe and in particular in the city of Graz in Austria where the (default) speed limit is 30km/h unless otherwise posted ... unlike any other city in the world ... or at least that was the case recently. Most countries and the OECD agree that pedestrians and cyclists are at unacceptable risk of fatality if involved in a crash involving another vehicle with speed in excess of 30km/h so why not adopt 30km/h or 20mph as the "Safe Urban Speed Limit" and ONLY allow design and/or management of the road system at higher speeds where it is safe for ALL expected users?

2. The second is designing and in particular retrofitting towns and cities so the priority is for pedestrians and cyclists and NOT for high speed motorised travel except where designed for those modes. Again this fits with "Vision Zero" concepts. The best known model is the "new" town of Houten in the Netherlands and for retrofit, Groningen also in the Netherlands. Both are well documented and the concepts involved are widely applicable. Why not adopt them as they reinforce use of trains for longer trips and walking and cycling for local trips and no doubt also encourage reduced trips thereby supporting the local economy.

3. The third is (guess what?) from the USA although it has been discovered in other places and here I need to confess to exporting the idea to Brisbane Australia after first seeing it at a conference in Basle in 1995 and while it has been adopted elsewhere as well as in Brisbane, it is still struggling against opposition from (you guessed?) the state road management and road "UNsafety" authorities ... and various elements purporting to advocate for cyclists and/or cycling ...! This is an idea originating from Denver Colorado which aimed to show motorists where to expect cyclists on the road. It is a simple concept because very few road authorities ban cycling on ordinary urban roads i.e. other than freeways. It has been subjected to some 15 or more years "debate" and finally in a much watered down version begun the adoption process in the USA. It has worked well here in Australia and can be found by searching for "BFZ", "BAZ" or "yellow BIKE". But still people don't really want to support it. But once asked "why?" it becomes clear ... they know the roads are too dangerous ... but won't change that. So why not ask for all urban roads to be made safe for pedestrians and cyclists but shared with motorists not segregated? This too fits in well with "Vision Zero" etc.

They work ... there is evidence.

So will the USA adopt them and if not, why not? Are there any examples of these in the USA ... if so please publicise them, and if not, ask "Why not ...?" ...!

B. It also seems that there is too much difficulty in gaining support i.e. everyone has their own ideas and thus populism flourishes ... especially where political decision makers are concerned. We know the issues involved and why we must change. If so, the question is why have we not changed and as above, why not? Also, if the problems are known, why are the "experts" not doing anything much to reduce or eliminate them?

Again the USA provides many good examples that are not then adopted more widely ... in some cases, apparently quite deliberately. So why not try contrasting for example the models of the Californian clean air requirements or Portland for walking, cycling and urban public transport as against other places in the USA? Or Denver with very high car ownership but also surprisingly high use of walking, cycling and/or transit? After all, it is the USA that successfully pioneered the use of front mounted racks for bicycles on buses yet that too has been resisted overseas with the only other international example adopting the concept being the Australian national capital Canberra. Why the resistance to good proven ideas?

C. And what do we do about somehow getting the recently regarded experts to recant or change? What does THAT do for their credibility? Given that they are in fact basing their decisions on sound knowledge and research not too blinkered by recent practices, there is every reason to expect them to acknowledge that change is now essential and to get on with ensuring it occurs and is not held back by old practices ... or practitioners. Those who can't or won't should depart ...! Surely there must be SOME exemplars in the USA ... of both people and places? Again please find them and publicise them.

It may be thought to be difficult to make these almost radical changes .... but the USA and many other places have shown it is not.

And as Groningen has shown, it can be incremental ... but it must be with intent and dedication to the "new" to the detriment if not almost exclusion of the "old".

Regards and best wishes to the USA, hopefully a global leader that can learn from others .. and from itself !

Michael Yeates Australia

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Creating a common “New Mobility Agenda” for policy and decision purposes

Creating a common “New Mobility Agenda” for policy and decision purposes

Paris, 25 January 2009

Dear colleagues,

What some call the New Mobility Agenda is in fact nothing more than a different way of looking at the transportation sector, conditioned by the understanding that the knowledge we have developed over the last couple of decades based on better and worse experiences in our cities, reviewed and extended in light of the extremely different circumstances that characterize the overall decision envelope for these matters in the 21st century, requires something of a retrofit of our thinking about the sector and the priorities that define it. The major retrofit, I would say.

It is my view that the main contribution of this idea of a coherent Agenda, as opposed to ad hoc decision-making which has been the dominant pattern in the past, is that it can be built on an explicit, consistent, strategic framework which can be checked for relevance and usefulness at any point before, during, or after decisions are made. With an explicit agenda, there is no place to hide. There are clear rules of the road which need to be adhered to if the system is to work as it should.

For example, and this is just to take one from my own personal definition of the Agenda (attached), is my continuing dogged insistence that under present circumstances, and specifically in the period 2009 to 2012, all programs launched and money spent in the sector with public support have to be oriented to achieving significant impacts on the main objectives of the Agenda (i.e., significant near-term greenhouse gas and traffic reductions (and energy-saving s) without economic or efficiency reductions).

This for some people, interests and proposed programs involving public money may provide a source of considerable irritation, particularly in the case of favored big and expensive infrastructure or technology projects whose eventual payoffs, if any, will kick in only over decades. The trick here is that the Agenda, at least as I propose it, is not indifferent to longer-term projects and priorities, it simply subjects them to more specific and often considerably more rigorous tests than they have had to face in the past before being awarded great gobs of hard-earned taxpayer dollars.

Most of us, I am sure, would prefer not to have our interests and priorities subjected to too much public scrutiny, but when it comes to the public interest and public dollars there is no responsible alternative to this. And in order to do this in a meaningful manner, we need to have an explicit overarching framework of values and priorities which together constitute our new culture of transportation decision-making.

Where to apply this kind of thinking? A number of concrete examples come immediately to mind. The first is the process of propositions and debate which is presently going on in the U.S. Congress concerning the $800 billion plus Stimulus Bill. If anyone takes a careful look at it, what they will see is a succession of idea after idea, project after project, argument after argument. All that is a fine testimonial to energy and engagement, but it strikes me as totally devoid of the necessary central strategic core and tests that tie the whole thing together and permits rational and responsible decision-making.

This is only one of the very large number of examples, which can be seen in state after state, country after country, city after city, and including in international and regional organizations such as The European Commission, various UN agencies, and others. If you look around at the decision frameworks which exist in all these places which you know about, I am quite certain that you are going to see somewhere between two and no applications of the kind of rigorous thinking and consistent screening which absolutely must be the norm at a time when the needs are great, money is short, and help is needed in the immediate future.

Each of us here who give time and thought to these matters certainly has their own definition of what kinds of things go into making up their personal "Agenda" and which thus determine the priorities for decision-making and action within it. But to the extent in which there are at least a couple of thousand of us spotted around this planet who work in these matters from a wide variety of perspectives and who broadly share the objectives and the ethic of sustainable transportation, I would propose that there is every reason we start to move from our present independent, and scattered, personal understandings about what is important, to see we can now come up with a more or less commonly held Agenda.

With this in mind, and after a number of years of exchanging information and learning from people and projects all over the world, I sat down and tried to work up what is certainly imperfect draft Agenda, in the hope that it can now serve as an explicit starting point, which with your help we may be able to fashion into something which reflects a broader view of priorities and possibilities.

How to get this ball rolling? Here is what I propose.

In the attached I have reproduced my own current understanding of the Agenda which appears as you see it here on the opening page of the New Mobility website at . Working with this base I would now like to invite your individual comments in a first instance, which I will then collect and with this help from you see if I can do a better job with this which reflects a broader view. If the first instance you can post your criticism, comments, and suggestions to me privately at , I will then study and work with them and see if I can use them to improve the structure that follows below.

I look forward with enormous interest to hearing from you on this. If we put our heads together on it, we can for sure get some useful results. They are much needed.

Eric Britton

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

National Journal Panel: The Right to Mobility for All

International Lessons for American Transportation Leaders

“What lessons can America learn from the rest of the world in terms of transportation developments that are safe, efficient, cost-effective, and sustainable?”

Following two-part response submitted on this date by panelist Eric Britton (

Terrific question, thanks for asking it. And of course when I read it I, surely like most of the others on this panel, immediately hunkered down to organize my best thoughts on the subject.

But as I was sweating on the details, it suddenly occurred to me that I could report back to you on this far more usefully than in my own words. All it would take would be for me to step back and find a way to offer this bully pulpit to the thousand or so well-paced international colleagues with whom we regularly work and exchange ideas on just these matters under the New Mobility Agenda -- such that they can tell you what THEY have to share with us on this subject. So I thought, why not, let’s see what we can get a whole collection of ideas and inspirations from all these diverse people, and fashion them into a sort of . .

Mexican Christmas (“A piñata of ideas”)

To get the job done, I sat down immediately and drafted a round-robin email inviting them each to submit a SINGLE IDEA or concept together with up to 250 words of background and explanation. Thus far more than fifty of my distinguished world colleagues have already piled in with contributions, spanning a couple of dozen countries on all continents (except Africa so far, alas). I am now in the process of trying to put them into some kind of order to facilitate your consultation and use, but it is going to take me until the end of the week to get them to you in readable form. (In the meantime if you can stand the heat, you can view the latest draft entries at )

That process now well underway, I would like to conclude this first message with my own best single recommendation, putting it into the same basic form which all the others are kindly respecting.

* * *

The Right to Mobility for All

I would like to take a few minutes of your time here to explore with you a concept which we see gradually emerging out of the transportation dialogue in many parts of the world, one which increasingly is intersecting with and being shaped by considerations of environment, life quality, and social justice as well as serving the critical economic underpinnings of our cities and countries. The idea that people actually have a right to mobility is not one that is particularly high on the screen in the States today . But that’s why you’re asking us these questions, isn’t it?

You will see that this is an idea for our time. For our time right now! But it was not always so.

Why it is needed

For various reasons -- economics, age, health, location, impatience and a certain social blindness being among the most important -- we live in a world in which an increasing number of people, and not the richest and most powerful, are finding themselves systematically excluded from much of what would constitute a normal life: ranging from impossibilities of getting safely, at bearable cost and reasonably quickly to a place where they can find work, to get their shopping done, to meet with friends and family, to get to school or university, to get medical attention, yes to play, and to the full spectrum of daily life activities which all the rest of us take for granted. These people, this growing plurality, are under our present arrangements "transportation deprived".

How has this come about? And what if anything can be done about it?

As the growing prosperity of the 20th century took hold around the world, the idea, the widely shared goal, of having your own car has been considered universally desirable. It was a central part of the American dream and one which has been taken up by people around the world with enormous enthusiasm.

In that world of the past "everybody" understood that the best possible way of getting from your A to your B, when and as you wish to, was due up into your car and drive at your destination. So, reasonably enough, our systems of infrastructure, public expenditure and the rest have been geared around a, basically, car-based system. A car-based system for all. One striking proof of this is that something on the order of three quarters of all public expenditures have been and are being based on this model. And not only in America.

There was a time, not all that long ago, in which this seemed like a perfectly reasonable formula for an efficient and equitable life. Cars were cheap, energy abundant, distances great, roads free, the air fresh (enough), the population young, cities (relatively) small, land plentiful, parking not an issue (have you ever noticed that in movies no one ever has a parking problem?), and our planet boundless and without constraints.

But increasingly in many parts of the world, and of course in parts of the United States, this old formula for mobility and all that went with it has started to show its age. And among the major price tags of this poor fit of public policy and private reality are those being borne by a growing number of people who increasingly are being physically cut off from the mainstream of daily life.

And if you have not read or heard about much about all of this, it is because these same people are also out of the mainstream of communications. They are not a silent minority. They are, worse yet, a voiceless minority.

For a vast majority of Americans this concept of a "right to mobility" will probably be an unfamiliar, even uncomfortable idea. Certainly it is one that does not sit very well with a traditional culture imbued with ideas of individual initiatives as opposed to collective action. For this reason the concept has not thus far made much headway here. Yet!

Message from Europe:

By contrast much of Europe has traditionally been more sensitive to certain basic human rights for all, rich and poor, strong and weak, rights what are seen as indispensable building blocks of a civilized and just (and effective) society. The right to education for all. The right to food. The right to health care for all. The right of equality before the law. The rights to freedom of expression and religion.

Some of our more iron-willed conservative friends have been known to characterize this as an example of a "nanny state" gone amok, an “excessive desire” to protect. Or as one more right-leaning observer put it the day he heard that the US government under former President Bush was going to take an active role to work out some kind of policy to buttress America’s flailing banking system: "When I woke up this morning and read that in the paper, I suddenly thought I was in France ". (And of course to him that was certainly a very fine joke indeed.)

You do not have to come to Europe, get out and have a look for yourself

This may seem like an abstract consideration to anyone comfortably ensconced in a warm room with his own car nearby when he needs it. But if you step away from your office this morning and get out there to talk about these issues and problems with people who are older, infirm, unemployed, trapped in ghettos, living in outlying areas, rural, or just stone poor, your perception of the realities will undoubtedly be changed in a significant manner.

Which brings us to our proposed concept of the Right to Mobility for All. A deep and powerful concept which I and many of my colleagues in the United States and abroad would like to see more carefully examined and put into action by the incoming Obama transportation team. Because when you start to dig into it seriously, you are going to find that it changes many things, many important things, in significant ways.

But we also have to be aware of the "other shoe" of the Right to Mobility, and that is the nuts and bolts of the concept of sustainable transportation. Now over the last years significant progress has been made in both policy and practice in very practical ways about what this concept means and how it applies in very specific ways. While there are a number of places where you can turn for specific guidelines as to how to put sustainable transportation policy to work (you could try for example going to and search for "sustainable transportation"), one that I can recommend to you will be the details menu of strategic building blocks that can be found on the opening pages of the New Mobility Agenda which you can click to from here at .

These two concepts have to move forward together in tandem, and as you dig more carefully into the details and implications, you are going to see that this just might become an important part of the toolkit of the new transportation team.

Something familiar about this

To me there is something very familiar in all this. Back when I was a child in Mississippi, I can tell you for a fact that we did not give a great deal of thought to the concept of the "right to vote". Even the phrase itself was not familiar in most of our conversations, whether we were blacks or whites. Some of us voted and some of us didn’t. Not very many people made a big deal out of this. That was just the way it was.

But for those of us who have lived through the events of the last half-century, with all that has gone on to turn the concept of the right to vote to reality, the universal right to vote, we are well aware that we and our country are indelibly marked, forever transformed, by our collective commitment to the concept of the universality of the right to vote. We would not be where we are today if some people, some concerned and brave citizens, did not think that was something worth fighting for.

I respectfully propose to this panel and to all who may read these two pages that the concept of the Right to Mobility for All is one that deserves to be better known, more closely studied, and very shortly given its place in the law and in practice. And, if it has to be that way, one worth fighting for.

I hope this idea will be carefully considered and discussed at length in Washington DC and across the United States of America. We can send a signal to the world that we are back.

Eric Britton
Paris France and Los Angeles USA

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Message to the World: Blockage removed. Resuming full service .

Dear World:

We, the United States of America, your top quality supplier of the ideals of liberty and democracy, would like to apologize for our 2001-2008 interruption in service.

The technical fault that led to this eight-year service outage has been located, and the software responsible was replaced November 4. Early tests of the newly installed program indicate that we are now operating correctly, and we expect it to be fully functional on January 20.

We apologize for any inconvenience caused by the outage. We look forward to resuming full service and hope to improve in years to come. We thank you for your patience and understanding,



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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Message from the UK: Make the public transport network comprehensive

Make the public transport network comprehensive

As far as I know, North America is unique in that it has populated areas where the only access is by private vehicle. These will either be suburbs or free standing small towns. This brings the following deleterious effects:

1. Almost total car dependence for those who live in these areas – including those who really shouldn't be driving due to infirmity.

2. The need for many local residents, even those who live in areas served by public transport, to own cars to enable them to access these areas. (Carshare is also an option, but at present it is very much a niche market.)

3. The tendency for visitors arriving by plane (or, sometimes, inter-city train or bus) to proceed automatically to the car hire desk for the final section of their journey, even when the public transport option does exist.

I therefore call for the US to develop a public transport system which covers not only the cities and main inter-city routes but also the wealth of suburban centres, smaller communities and key visitor attractions that cover the nation. This would, I believe, do more than any other single measure to bring it into line with the rest of the industrialised world.

Simon Norton,
Cambridge, UK

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

National Journal Panel: Are you listening Secretary LaHood?

Paris. 12:06 pm, Tuesday, January 20, 2009

This is the day in which the change which we voted for is supposed to start to kick in. As the various teams of the new administration pick up their assignments from President Obama tomorrow morning, every one of them has been instructed to come up with an action agenda capable of offering real change, greater effectiveness and greater equity, as opposed to the "more of the same" which has become the sour staple of recent years.

To help bring this about, one group in Washington DC have taken it upon themselves to respond to this challenge in an interesting way. An insider DC publication, the National Journal *, has organized a cycle of expert brainstorming discussions covering key areas of public policy in which change is so much needed. One of these is aiming at providing background, clues and recommendations for the team that is now going to be responsible for making transportation policy in America for the next four years, the United States Department of Transportation.

To get this job done the Journal has convened a nonpartisan panel which brings together the combined brainpower of more than 50 recognized figures in the transportation field, selected for their competence but also because they represent a wide variety of approaches, interests, and constituencies.

Each week editors and panel members get together to prepare a new topic for discussion, which is then posted first thing on Monday morning. Shortly thereafter the floodgates open and a wide variety of opinions and views come tumbling out from the participating panelists. Among the topics thus far discussed are (my titles): What to do about infrastructure? Is mass transit going to be an item? What about dollar gas? How to write the next transportation bill? And, What should the incoming Secretary of Transportation be looking at first?

To see the composition of the panel and its recommendations thus far, click to .

Next week's question is being addressed to transportation, environment, and cities experts living and working outside of the United States. They are being asked to respond to this question for their American colleagues: “What lessons can America learn from the rest of the world in terms of transportation developments that are safe, efficient, cost-effective, and sustainable?” If you want to see what all these people have to offer their US colleagues, just check in to starting next Monday the 26th.

In the meantime it seems fair to ask: how are the incoming teams going to take advantage of such a wide variety of visions and counsel? They certainly have their work cut out for them. But they will never be able to complain that they did not know what we all thought.

Eric Britton, Invited Panelist
New Mobility Agenda, Paris and Los Angeles

* Here is how the Journal describes itself: “Founded in 1969 the National Journal provides in-depth and balanced nonpartisan coverage of public policy and politics for an audience of people with a professional interest in these topics. Readership includes members of Congress, White House staff, congressional aides, lobbyists, trade association executives, and political strategists.”

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Message from the United Stats of America: Offset Incentives for Auto Use:

Offset Incentives for Auto Use

Transit works better in other countries than in America. Good vehicles, infrastructure, etc., don’t offset land use patterns making transit a tough sell in most markets. What planners see as land use economists call subsidies for auto use. Highways and free parking are obvious examples, air pollution and congestion are less obvious, and added resources needed for policing highways and even the military also reflect the auto culture.

America can learn to subsidize auto use less, but the most practical and next best thing is easier. User incentives are needed to offset the built-in incentives for auto use. The US has the tool at hand for offsetting auto incentives: the “tax-free transit benefit” and Internal Revenue Code Section 132(f). It’s gained increasing use in many cities, and since 2008 San Francisco employers are required to offer it.

So, the US can learn from the world that reduced auto use incentives are needed, and can get there with its home-grown tool. Federal policy should require employers with more than 20 employees in medium and larger cities to use Section 132(f), i.e., allow employees to pay transit fares using pre-tax salary. This would go far in offsetting free parking and other auto incentives that are widespread in the US. This solution requires no invention or draconian policy. The San Francisco experience shows employers won’t oppose this idea, because there is no cost to them (in fact, small tax savings) and considerable benefit to employees.

Richard L. Oram –
Fund for the Environment and Urban Life
New York, USA

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Message from the USA: Get ready to learn (from Europe)

Get ready to learn (from Europe)

The #1 most important thing that the Obama Administration needs to hear is that it is possible to make transit viable in a medium/low density suburban environment.

To this end, it would be great to put a few case studies in front of some US decision makers, showing them how European suburbs of comparable density to inner and middle ring US suburbs have much lower car use than their US counterpart due to decent transit service, good bike feeders, land use, behavior mod, etc. and there are some new technologies on the horizon that would make it more so (smart paratransit and carpooling for example)

Paul Steely White, Executive Director,
Transportation Alternatives,
New York City, USA

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Messages from the UK: Nurture and value cycling and walking

Nurture and value cycling and walking

Writing from the United Kingdom perspective and 30 years of work in transportation including working in Germany, India, China, Australia and a dozen other countries the most important thing to nurture and value is the cyclist and the pedestrian. These modes of transport bring significant multiple benefits including reducing car use for short journeys, reducing health damaging air pollution especially PM10/PM2.5, reducing greenhouse gases, reducing obesity, increasing physical and psychological well-being and increasing community support, cohesion and friendliness. It’s also cheap to do.

The main things to do are to civilize motorized traffic with a strictly enforced 20 mph speed limit in all residential areas, build segregated high quality walking and cycle routes that connect places people want to visit, make sure there is a supportive environment for all local facilities and services (shops, doctors, cafes, public offices, work places, post offices), plant millions of trees, de-commission 25% of car parking spaces and replace with children’s play areas and parks. High quality places that reward the pedestrian and cyclists will reconnect people with each other and with nature and with happiness and willingly and enthusiastically.

The missing ingredient (so far) is political will and the USA now has the big chance to rediscover this vital ingredient.

Professor John Whitelegg -
Founder and editor in chief of Journal of World Transport Policy & Practice
Stockholm Environment institute, University of York (UK)

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Message from the USA: Change way we finance infrastructure based on efficiency model

Change way we finance infrastructure based on efficiency model:

Change the way we finance infrastructure based on the efficiency model that CA has applied to energy- By tier pricing energy after a sustainable limit, California was able to reduce the demand and not build additional supply or extend the grid. Demand is managed with price signals. New distributed generation by private producers have also reduced demand. Much more efficiency is available in the system.

We should use the same model for all infrastructure including transport from roads to rail to ports. The goal would be to reduce green house gases and allow economic activity to adjust to new transportation costs. Allow a sustainable limit- buses and 3 plus occupant cars are the lowest cost tier.

After that everyone pays more, with the SOV being the highest. On trains charge higher prices during the commute period. Ships pay more based on dock time. Use the revenue, it must be substantial, for self-sufficient transport modes enhancement and low income bus service on a sustainable hierarchy- walking enhancements get the most money followed by bicycling, etc.

Pricing is adjusted to make demand meet GHG goals.

URL Ref.,9171,1869224-3,00.html

Gladwyn d'Souza,,
Coalition for Alternatives in Transportation, ,
San Mateo County, CA, United States of America

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Roads Are Too Important to Be Left to Governments

Roads Are Too Important to Be Left to Governments

Gabriel Roth

Billions of dollars and an overwhelming amount of time are wasted every year in traffic congestion. Might there be relief in sight? Earlier this year, former Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta announced a federal initiative to relieve transportation congestion, largely with the help of private fees and tolls. “Congestion is not a fact of life,” rightly declared Mr. Mineta, “We need a new approach, and we need it now.” One such approach would be to enable the market economy, on which we depend for most other goods and services, to also provide roads. Toll roads were privately supplied two hundred years ago on a large scale in both the U.S. and the UK. Their private provision today is even more practical because modern technology enables customers to pay for road use without tollbooths, and even without vehicles having to stop.

Services such as electricity, telecommunications and water supply are provided commercially in many parts of the country in response to demand from consumers; most of whom pay the costs associated with their choices, and expect to get what they pay for. In the past decade, the private sector has begun to develop express toll lanes in many parts of the country. In fact, ten years ago, the California Private Transportation Company provided, in the median of California’s State Route 91, the first “Express Toll Lanes” with variable tolls, electronically collected, designed to ensure congestion-free travel at all times.

California’s pioneering Express Toll Lanes have since been replicated on portions of publicly owned roads such as California’s Interstate 15, Minnesota’s Interstate 394, and Denver’s Interstate 25. They give consumers the choice of paying for faster travel on less congested roadways that reliably and predictably get them to their destinations on time. This holds true whether the journey involves picking up a child from day care on time or supplying a business with just-in-time materials delivery. The use of these toll lanes is increasing, especially by women.

The pace of privatization has quickened in recent years:

  • A private consortium led by CINTRA/Macquarie has paid the city of Chicago $1.83 billion to allow it to receive the Chicago Skyway tolls for 99 years, and is buying the State of Indiana’s toll road for $3.85 billion.
  • To relieve congestion on the Washington Beltway, the Virginia Department of Transportation has approved a proposal from Fluor Enterprises to add four HOT (High-Occupancy or Toll) lanes to a 14-mile segment of the Beltway at a cost of nearly a billion dollars. These lanes are to be financed by electronically collected tolls, varied to ensure congestion-free travel at all times.
  • The biggest private road investment proposed to date is $7.2 billion for the first major project of the Trans-Texas Corridor from north of Dallas to south of San Antonio.

The cities of London and Stockholm, under the control of socialist administrations, have drastically reduced traffic congestion in their centers by the use of modern tolling methods, and are dedicating surplus revenues to improve public transportation.

The diversion of surplus road use revenues to non-road purposes is not confined to socialist administrations. It is also taken for granted in the U.S. For example, in 2005 Congress voted to finance, out of monies paid for road use, Virginia’s proposed $4 billion 23-mile rail connection to Dulles International Airport, even if that project were not to meet the relevant federal standards, and even though superior service with express buses could be provided at a third of the cost. Virginia’s financial contribution to this wasteful project is to come from increased tolls on the parallel Dulles Toll Road, which was built to serve, and continues to serve, non-airport traffic.

Road funding has been mismanaged by politicians long enough. The inadequacies of politically inspired projects such as Boston’s $14.6 billion “Big Dig” are now apparent to all. Roads are too important to be left to the vicissitudes of politics. The time has come to unleash the power of the private sector to deliver to road users the innovation, cost savings, quality and choice we take for granted in telecommunications and other services.

Gabriel Roth is a transport and privatization consultant and a research fellow at the Independent Institute. He is the editor of the new book, Street Smart: Competition, Entrepreneurship, and the Future of Roads.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

2 March 2009: Welcome to World Streets

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National Journal Panel: Tear down those walls, Secretary LaHood

Reinventing Transportation in America

Contribution to the National Journal Transportation Panel
- Eric Britton, 12 Jan. 2009, New Mobility Partnerships, Paris and Los Angeles

The greatest single challenge the incoming Secretary of Transportation faces will be to tear down the walls of the past that have worked to hold back the development of a more effective and more sustainable transportation system for the United States. The challenge facing the new team is nothing less than that of “reinventing transportation in America”, which is exactly what we need to do now. And in the process seizing this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do just that.

But we understand that this is not going to be an easy challenge -- because the day Secretary LaHood walks through the door of his new office there will be an incredible number of people, problems, projects, details and interests clamoring for his attention. Many with projects "ready to go" -- but many of which must not be simply approved before making them pass through the critical tests which are outlined here. The real issue here and now, is whether urgently funding more-of-the-same projects will continue making things better . . . or worse. It’s important to scrutinize each proposal very very carefully.

This process of tearing down the key walls is likely to be the most important single initial decision that the new Secretary can make as he assembles his new team and prepares for the critical four years ahead. This, breaking with the past and redefining the future, is the one decision that will shape all the rest. With this in view I propose that we now put our heads together to gather our ideas and recommendations on the following ten-part action proposal for the leaders of the new team. I offer this to the panel as a starting point for their comments and refinements.

1. Modify the Mission: 2
2. The external walls: 2
3. The internal walls: 4
4. Learning from others: 4
5. Tighten timeframe: 4
6. Full cost pricing: 5
7. Innovation from outside: 5
8. Civil Society 6
9. Jobs 6
10. The gender imbalance: 7

1. Modify Mission:

This has to be the starting place.

The traditional focus of DOT and all its many agencies and branches has in a phrase been “to be good at transportation”, which de facto boils down to being historically seen as . . . good at highways, good at aviation, good at transit, good at railroads, etc. etc. And while that has yielded extensive, sometimes sensational results on the supply side, it is not at all the kind of approach which is appropriate to the very different conditions and constraints of the 21st century.

So what under these radically different circumstances should be the target for the new Secretary and his department? Let me at this point just step aside and address this challenge to the panel, and indeed to anybody else who is interested, including colleagues in the halls of the Department of Transportation, to help us work out some real guidelines for this extremely important step in what I very much hope will be the new policy of the Department.

My own preferred single priority candidate capable of guiding and shaping all the rest will be to focus policy on investments and measures that serve specifically to achieve major reductions of carbon-driven vehicle miles travelled (VMT), and this across the whole transportation spectrum. As it turns out traffic management and reduction is a near perfect surrogate for all the key objectives associated with issues of climate, sustainability, economics, energy and systemic efficiency, among others. You figure out how to drive VMT down and the rest moves along in the right direction with it. Or will at least if we are careful about it.

This is a very doable strategy, one which if we get it right will not only support but even enhance the economy of the nation, while at the same time providing more choice for citizens and more affordable and equitable transportation for all.

2. External walls:

Eliminate walls between transportation and all the rest.

Our point of departure has to be to understand that transportation is a means and not an end. This is so well-known that it almost seems unnecessary to state it, however we have all too often failed to recognize this in the past. Fortunately the means to rectify this are at hand. A critical look at our past failures to be sufficiently inclusive to create really effective policies and practices is a good place to start.

If we can self-criticize the performance and results of our transportation policy, thinking and performance over the last decades, the crux would have to be that our investment and other key choices have been made without sufficient reference to the broader context and issues that shape and are in turn shaped by decisions made in the transportation sector. This long list includes such critical under-pinnings as climate, environment, land use, value capture, energy, city and community development, public health, quality of life, job creation (but the right kinds of jobs for our new century), community relations, aging populations, 21st century economic realities, the special problems of the rural and urban poor, entrepreneurship, the need for bold experimentation, the untapped potential of IT, the beauty of America, and the list goes on. Our sector and the investments that are now going to go into can succeed only if we bring all of these factors to the table in the decision process in a way that has rarely been done in the past. All of the time!

The point needs to be made that in the past most to these issues and interests have been treated as “soft” and as such relegated to the outer edges of the decision process, if at all. That is a huge mistake. They are hard and central, and it is going to take ea reorganization from the top to bring this about.

I propose we recommend that Secretary LaHood and his team convene in the first months of taking office a high-level, high-visibility, cross-agency, cross-platform review and brainstorming process which will assemble around one table the best placed strategic thinkers from the following key agencies – to give them a chance to look together at what the challenges, responses and priorities really are from the necessary broader perspective. Obvious candidates for such a fundamental outreach and redefinition effort include:

• Department of Health and Human Services
• Department of Housing and Urban Development
• Department of Commerce
• Department of Education
• Department of Labor
• Department of Energy
• Department of the Treasury
• Environmental Protection Agency
• Federal Communications Commission
• VISTA, USAID and Peace Corps

It goes without saying that my listing here is personal and incomplete. And while I'm sure there are other players who should be brought into such a rethinking process, I would hope that the core group would remain relatively compact so that the key factors and players are going to really get their message through.

Let's look at one example briefly, health: The health impacts of transportation are many, notorious and for the most part strongly negative. And while these factors are at times brought into the planning and decision process, it is my contention that, along with the critical concerns of climate and sustainability, they now need to be brought right into the strong center of transportation policy and practice. Starting at the federal level, and hopefully by its strong example flowing out and influencing the sector’s practices at state, city and other key levels.

At the other extreme of the above lists you will see DARPA – the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. By adding this agency to the group, my intention is to point up one simple truth of the future of our transportation systems, and this is the update are going to find much of the content of their success by becoming ever more aggressive users of the kinds of technology that DARPA has assisted and championed in the past. In the old days transportation was about metal boxes moving about on rails or roads, in the air or on water. Today while we still have the boxes and their supporting media, however the full versatility of performance depends on the extent to which they take full advantage of the kinds of information, communications, and logistics technologies that groups like DARPA and several other government organizations have helped jumpstart. There is plenty of room for that in the four years ahead.

More generally, we need to see a far tighter integration of government and research powerhouses into the mainstream of transportation policy and practice.

This would be an important thing to do now because here we are not only in a new century but in the opening phase of a period of new government ideas and initiatives. So now's the time to start to think far more broadly and far more strategically about the issues and choices now before us.

(Incidentally, if these meetings and exchanges are carried out in a way such that they are fully open to the public, through public broadcasting and the Internet, it can be argued that this form of citizen oversight can be one of the guarantors of the effectiveness of this important initiative. Inclusiveness of the public is part of the solution, no doubt about it)

Finally, it is certainly worth mentioning that there are a considerable number of projects and programs going on which are already trying to reach across these traditional lines and barriers to collaboration. These efforts need to be highlighted, reinforce, and support. They are the makings of the future.

3. Internal walls:

Eliminate walls within the DOT family.

By creating specialized agencies with specific modal and sectoral mandates, we have laid the base for a policy which at best is going to sub-optimize within each of those areas of competence. This chronic tendency to sub- optimization is endemic within the thick-wall structures (silos) that the most part today permeate and handicap the various agencies and programs.

I would also respectfully suggest that the continued existence of pretty rigid bureaucratic structures and routines within the department serves to stifle good ideas and new sources of energy that I and others have encountered at junior administrative levels within the various agencies. More facilitation of bottom-up flow of ideas and cross-agency collaboration strike me as appropriate for a 21st-century operation.

It is my guess that as the new LaHood team presses ahead with the challenge of redefining the mission of the Department in the far broader ways suggested here, it will begin to be clear how it will be possible to go to work on the task of thinning those walls. (It goes without saying of course that this is hardly the sort of job that can be handled from the bottom up.)

4. International walls

Eliminate walls between the rest of the world.

As much as it may hurt to say it, America is not among the world leaders when it comes to many aspects of transportation, and in particular when it comes to sustainable transportation.

There are many ideas and concepts which are doing heavy duty everyday on the roads, rails, and waterways in Europe and in fact in other parts of the world, which the US should be looking at far more closely. And when they pass the acid test adopted and adapted for effective application here. Our programs for international exchanges and joint work should be strongly ratcheted up as part of the new Department’s revised walls-down mandate.

There are international exchange and collaborative programs in the sector that are already out there and making their contributions, They should be made better known, multiplied and supported.

5. Tighten timeframe (2009-2012)

Mr. Secretary, it is my respectful recommendation that at least 50% of all investments and programs be geared to getting visible results within the first four years of this administration -- whether measured in terms of where and how dollars are spent, or in VMT changes or in trip pattern changes, etc. All these and more appear to be appropriate measures to see where we are heading and to measure changes.. And just because it concentrates attention on the four years directly ahead, this need not be a policy that throws away the longer-term future.

To the contrary by focusing attention on projects and investments which are expected to be sustainable (i.e. geared to the long-term) and achieve concrete results within this very short timeframe, it is reasonable to expect that once we have lived this very different experience and actually achieved these goals, we will have some rather different thoughts about the longer-term future and strategies that we do today.

The target and results period is 2009-2012. Let's focus and meet the priority challenges before us first. And then rich from this experience and our successes in really making a difference where it counts, we will be better equipped to tackle the most important long-term investments and challenges.

6. Full cost pricing

Eliminate the walls that keep out appropriate evaluation of externalities.

Let's get rid of the free riders all the way down the line? Any person or mode consuming scarce resources without paying a fair price for them needs to be reassessed and brought in a coherent manner into the Department’s new transportation and pricing strategy. Those of us who use our cars regularly and fly at the drop of a hat are famously not paying our way. Likewise the cost of goods transport is often heavily subsidized, and though this is very comfortable for us as consumers is definitely not part of a sustainability strategy for the sector. The key of course in all cases it is a matter of externalities which need to be brought into the pricing equation. This can and should be done.

The means for getting this important job done will be to mandate a cost-benefit analysis of any publicly backed infrastructure spending so as to recapture all “external economies” (such as windfall real estate price gains) as the first line of financing such investment.

In some cases the assessments needed to assure accurate pricing are both easy to do, where as in others, especially where there are many different types and levels of benefits, the calculations are more tricky. Still we know enough about how to carry out these exercises that there is no reason not to do so.

As we here all know, these readjustments are going to make big differences in people's choices of when, how, and where they travel. And that is exactly what is needed to create a more rational and effective mobility system.

7. Innovation from outside:

Eliminate the walls hindering innovation from new sources.

When it comes to transportation in and around cities, for a variety of reasons and contrary to what one might think we are "innovation-lite”. This is a trap which has come about through a long sequence of historical events which now require immediate attention and prudent rectification. There are a large number of barriers to innovation in the transportation sector, and these need to be re-examined and reduced so that new ideas and practices can start to transform the sector.

There is enormous scope, indeed urgency, for sorting out and prioritizing these potential innovations, and because we have not done as well in the past thus far we have been wasting a lot of real opportunities. Much but not all of the push to do ideas, services, and policies will come from beyond the traditional actors in the sector. We can expect when we begin to remove the barriers, that substantial part of this of this innovation will push will come from the private sector. But the private sector is not the only source of innovative ideas and successful implementations for the transportation sector, so we also need to bear in mind and support good initiatives coming from more transformational public agencies, NGOs, local groups and players, and others.

8. Civil Society

Eliminate the civil society wall.

Based on my experience both in the United States and abroad, one of the things that strikes me as a major shortcoming of present practices, is the challenge of finding a way to integrate the enormous knowledge, competences and energies of civil society into the transportation decision and action process. This is not an easy thing to achieve, in part because it is unfamiliar and as such very different from past practices; and in part because it involves working with a very large number of very diverse groups, interest, and working styles. It is a real challenge to efficiency and diplomacy to find ways to factor them positively into the processes that now need to be engaged.

But we sit today close to the end of the first decade of the century, and we have an enormous array of tools and procedures that will allow us to bring these groups into the knowledge building and implementation process. Indeed when it comes to actually implementing many of the new measures which are more consistent with the objectives of sustainability and social justice, these same external players will be extremely important part of this process.

Let me cite one example which to my mind every city and community in America needs to have a good look at, and which the new DOT team can get behind fast, effectively and at very low cost. A team of citizens in New York City have combined to provide a serious, consistent, and high visibility voice for citizen activism and collaboration. This is an example, a template if you will which any city can follow. Have a look at the site of Transportation Alternatives at Since 1973 they have been a persistent and effective voice in favor of sustainable transportation, bringing together thousands of New Yorkers and others concerned with these problems in their city.

In parallel with this another approach which is being effectively demonstrated also in New York City is the citizen-financed and highly effective Livable Streets Network (LSN) at LSN has created an online community for people working to create sustainable cities through sensible urban planning, design, and transportation policy. Their first high-quality citizen’s transportation blog, Streetsblog at aims to (and succeeds) to influencing policy in New York City. And beyond that they have developed a blog package, template, which is currently being put to work in other cities.

To my mind there are many parallels here with the successful campaign that was waged by incoming President Obama as he moved away from the old models of working with narrow corridors of interest and power to a far more inclusive style. It is my recommendation that in redrawing the structures and routines of the new Department, the Secretary and his team will do well to look hard at these lessons from the very recent past.

9. Jobs

Break down the labor wall.

We have, without necessarily wanting to do it per se, created high walls between jobs and the transportation sector. This has been a very costly error.

The key phrase in this ongoing shift has been "labor saving". On the one hand it has been a natural enough force for change, given the fact that in most transportation operations labor costs are the largest single item, accounting for two thirds or more of total costs. And as technology got smarter one of its primary achievements has been to reduce the labor content of the sector. Hmm. Given the importance of jobs in society as well as the economy, this is a trend which is worth at least seriously thinking about.

Likewise in our rush to privatize things with the idea that fast privatization is going to be too higher productivity and lower costs, we seem to lost sight of a number of important things that cannot be properly measured from a short-term perspective. So a longer-term view to understanding the real impacts of privatization, social as well as economic, as well as the effects that it has on the traditional public service function which is always been a very important part of the task facing sector, would seem to be called for as part of the overall of arrangements at the top.

But now we have an opportunity to revisit our transportation arrangements, thanks to what one can hope it is a bit of fresh air being brought in by the new transportation team at the top. This possible pattern break can give us a chance to be a bit more clever in a future in the way we combine the special talents and contributions that human beings can bring to a system or service, together with all of the smarts that 21st century technology puts in our hands.

In much the same way, many of the tasks that are associated with building and operating transportation system provide opportunities for combining immediate productive output on the one hand together, with carefully integrated programs of education and training that will permit us at the same time to upgrade the skill level and confidence of all of the individuals who constitute the transportation labor force. Think of it perhaps as the "Transportation University", a school without Ph.D.'s for sure but plenty of creative programs in which work and learning are concatenated in ways which leave us with a brighter, more competent, and more optimistic America.

Let's break down that wall.

10. The gender imbalance:

Eliminate the gender wall.

This particular transformative issue been addressed elsewhere in these conversations : the quality of our transportation choices and arrangements has suffered greatly from the historic practice of putting decision-making into the hands of a too narrow class of American citizens: for the most part male, educated, middle-class, and almost all car owner/driver's.

This is not a matter of trying to be politically correct or of kneejerk feminism. It is what I believe is the only responsible way to achieve a government that is “of and by the people”. Adequate gender representation and direct empowerment is a vital part of this process and one that we can address right now.

This forced, high-priority network expansion can open up another outstanding oversight in our present arrangements that also requires rectification. Specifically it can help us to increase greatly the range of backgrounds and skills we bring into the various decision fora. This therefore gives us a golden opportunity to rectify some of the debilitating historical inadequacies in the sector that have led to its underperformance in so many areas. Underperformance and abject unfairness.

So as we look to bring in more women, we need of course to bring in more expertise in the entrenched professional skills such as transport planning, traffic management, engineering, financial planning, technical modeling and the usual array of “hard skills” which have the front stage in the sector. But that is not enough.

But to get the job done right we also need greatly enhanced competence in such areas as environment, climate, land use, public health, cities, rural areas, community relations, demographics, local government, social services, behavioral psychology, education, childcare, job creation, poverty reduction, communications and all those other key areas of our daily lives which thus far have not received the necessary attention in the transport discussions and decision-making process. And in these, we need both women and men to enhance our understanding of these mission-critical issues and to inform policy and practice in the sector.

However to give this full scope we need to go beyond the usual token representation. We need their strength. And we need their numbers. A scattered handful of females does not appear to suffice to force the change. Put enough women into a forum and they will keep us on our toes. I promise. (The key being the ”enough”.)

One of my diligent Australian colleagues, Michael Yeates, offers interesting way of putting this with a question that I pass on to you with half a grin: "Dracula again in charge of the blood bank?" A bit violent I admit but the image is striking enough to remind us of the kinds of changes that are needed not only in terms of ideas and policies, but also in terms of the players.

More down to earth, here is what Swedish policy and law have to say on this subject:

“The transport system shall be equitable so that it covers both women’s’ and men’s’ transport needs and gives both genders equal influence over the transport system’s creation, shape and function. (To facilitate this goal, by 2010 no traffic/transport policy group will have less than 40% of its members from either gender.)”

I do think we can learn something from the Swedes (and the Norwegians, and the Finns) on this. It’s a bit about how many Americans have over the last couple of decades (and often to their great surprise) become something like color blind. The lesson of history is that once the whole thing is in place nobody even thinks about it any more (unless they walk into a conference or workshop of all (wo)men). That’s just the normal way to do things if you want great and equitable results in a great and equitable country.

* * *

Get this right and it could well signal the beginning of a major revolution in the transportation sector which just might turn out to be every bit as fundamental as President Eisenhower's Intrastate Highway Program that reshaped America (and by example so many other parts of the planet ) in so very many significant ways. Not all of them positive, as we now realize.

Beyond this, the fact is that attitudes and practices in the United States are observed very closely and often blindly copied by institutions and others working in other countries around the world. The American transportation example is an important one and we have every reason to make it one which is not only going to show the way to new thinking and better practices in the United States, but also to instruct and inspire the many other places in the world are looking to us for examples.

So rather than holding our heads and worrying about what India, China, and other nations are going to do in their transportation choices and practices to undermine life quality in their own backyards and destroy the planet at the same time, what about our stepping back and providing them with an example that they can understand, come to admire, and go about adapting and improving it for their own special conditions?

Leading by example, I believe it is called.

Eric Britton

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