Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting 2012: Three big ideas from three big names in transportation

So this one time, Gabe Klein (Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation), Janette Sadik-Khan (Commissioner of the NYC Department of Transportation), and Ed Reiskin (Director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency) all walked into a bar…well, not quite a bar, but they did walk in together. Last week, the Transportation Research Board, a research body within the National Academies, held its annual meeting in Washington, DC. These three transportation visionaries spoke about Mobility Strategies for the 21st Century in one of hundreds of conference sessions throughout the week. Most of their presentations were focused on what each had already achieved in their city. San Francisco has smart parking meters, which allow for frequently-adjusted parking prices. Chicago had its first separated bike lane within Klein’s first 30 days in office. New York has blossomed with bike lanes and public seating areas in a mission to reclaim urban spaces for people rather than cars.

Urban Omnibus: NYC pedestrian plaza

The forward-thinking comments came mostly at the end, during a Q&A session. John Robert Smith, of Reconnecting America, hosted the session and posed the question to the panelists, “What one piece of advice would you offer the transportation professionals in the audience about how to achieve change?” Their answers highlight the need for public-private partnerships in the coming years.

Gabe Klein. If you have to have a boss, get a good one, and don’t be afraid to lose your job.

Ed Reiskin. Act short, think long. Communication and marketing are key.

Janette Sadik-Khan. Have a vision and show results.

Each of these comments reflects their individual backgrounds. Klein and Sadik-Khan are most recently from the private sector. Klein worked in several private ventures including ZipCar and Sadik-Khan had been a Senior Vice President of Parsons Brinckerhoff. The spirit in their comments is one of control – control to choose your boss and to put your vision into action. Reiskin, whose career has focused on the public sector, seems to be more political and strategic. He undoubtedly sees the need to leverage others’ power (e.g. politicians, the general public) through communication, marketing, and a baby-steps approach (act short, think long) to achieve his vision.

- Terra Curtis