One of the most important things you can do as an elected leader is to hire the right transportation leaders: People who aren’t just productive and knowledgeable, but who will work quickly and boldly, and talk about transportation in ways that excite the public. Without strong management working for you, you may find that a recalcitrant bureaucracy makes your term in office frustrating to you and non-responsive to your constituents.
What qualities should you look for in a manager to lead your transportation agenda? Formal credentials and transportation experience can be useful, but they are not the most important indicator of a manager’s potential success. Sometimes the most important thing a transportation leader can do is to question conventional wisdom and create new ways of doing things. Look for a transportation staff leader who:
Understands how transportation influences your city’s economy and quality of life
Transportation doesn’t exist for its own sake, but to serve residents, workers, and visitors. Fundamentally, transportation is about access: How easy is it for citizens to access jobs, schools, groceries, and hospitals? Can they get to religious services, visit friends, and participate in their community?
If your city is one where most destinations can be accessed only by private car, many of your citizens will be shut out. A city that provides choices, allowing access via transit, walking, and biking, is a city that works better for everyone.
Your residents also want to breathe clean air, and their children to be able to walk to school, and for senior citizens to safely cross the street. And your city’s bottom line will be stronger if you build vibrant shopping districts where people can walk to a variety of stores — not strip malls that maroon retail activity on an ocean of parking lots.
In other words, your transportation director should consider herself or himself part of your city’s agenda for public health, safety, economic vitality, and quality of life.