On October 5, I was humbled to join a group of more than 100 other transportation leaders who had been nominated and selected to join Transportation Secretary Foxx for his inaugural Every Place Counts Leadership Academy in Washington, D.C. The purpose of the academy was to demystify, clarify and simplify transportation decision making. The academy was geared toward future community leaders who want to learn how to participate effectively and add their insight to the planning process. It highlighted specific public engagement opportunities that are associated with planning and project development requirements and civil rights, including ADA, Title VI and environmental justice.
Being part of this event was very powerful and moving. The group was enthusiastic about the Secretary’s commitment to improving transportation in real and equitable ways and about his passion for this mission. The enthusiasm and “we’re all in this together” vibe were contagious.
What was surprising about the academy?
A lot. It was eye-opening to take an honest look at our transportation system and to recognize the fact that much of it is antiquated. It was great to hear Secretary Foxx’s story firsthand, especially the impact of his experiences as mayor of Charlotte. The bottom line: he really gets it. It was very inspiring for me to see Secretary Foxx’s team listening and finding solutions for transportation problems in a grassroots and inclusive way. The academy had the feel of a brainstorming or round-table session as opposed to an ivory tower “we’re going to teach you something” feel.
What was thought-provoking about the academy?
This model of bringing a diverse group together to create solutions with all hands on deck was inspiring. Participants were from all over, from different disciplines, different backgrounds — a real melting pot. Folks were there from state DOTs, municipalities, grassroots special interest groups, academics and those like me from private transportation vendors. The participants of the academy actually epitomize who has to be at the table to make public-private partnership happen.
What were the “aha” moments?
Seeing how much money is being spent collectively on transportation — the operating costs and complexity of not having an app that consolidates all available modes of transportation for commuters. With all the technology that we use in our daily lives, I was shocked by the relative lack of data that is being captured and shared today. Last but not least, seeing the ugly side of how much harmful emission is being created and emissions hotspots, the impact of cars idling and the impact on overall health and quality of life reminded me anew of why I’m doing what I’m doing.
I am thankful for the new lens through which I now view transportation challenges. I am thankful to be empowered to speak up and offer ideas that might help, even if they are unconventional — especially if they are unconventional. I can truly say that I am changed by having been a part of this academy. Thank you to Secretary Foxx, his team and other participants for sharing your wisdom. Now I’m off to put it into practice and make a difference.