As an elected official, you hear from your residents about transportation all the time.
Your constituents complain about rush-hour congestion or about inadequate bus service. They’re annoyed by cut-through traffic driving too fast on residential streets, and they worry about children being able to walk to school safely. They have lots of opinions about parking, potholes, cracked sidewalks and thousands of other transportation-related topics.
Despite transportation’s importance to your constituents, you—like many other local leaders—may feel there’s little that can be done about it. You may have been told that state or federal action outweighs local action, and that transportation infrastructure is the province of higher levels of government.
But that impression is wrong. Local officials have more influence over transportation than even they think they do. Memphis, Chicago, and many other municipalities are using “quick-build” techniques to reconfigure dangerous intersections quickly, instead of accepting traffic deaths as inevitable. Denver; Cambridge, Massachusetts; and cities around the country are changing their zoning and development codes so they can keep growing without huge increases in car traffic. Oakland is targeting transportation investments to make it easier for children to walk to school, while Seattle strategically uses its dollars to expedite buses through existing bottlenecks.
Local leaders in those places have recognized that transportation is intrinsically linked to broader values that matter to citizens like economic growth, equity, public health, and safety. They also recognize that local government has immense power over transportation, because it controls how the street is used and how new development connects with transportation systems.
While conventional wisdom casts transportation as a second-tier issue in terms of public interest, it has huge bearing on a city’s success and on issues of fairness, prosperity, and safety. When transportation accomplishments are linked to these broad issues, they not only improve the city but help leaders win acclaim. Local leaders like Charlotte’s Anthony Foxx, Denver’s John Hickenlooper, and New York’s Michael Bloomberg used transportation successes to grow their reputations. More mayors are doing so today.
While conventional wisdom casts transportation as a second-tier issue in terms of public interest, it has huge bearing on a city’s success and on issues of fairness, prosperity, and safety.
This handbook outlines practical steps that local elected officials can take right away to improve their transportation systems and make their cities better places to live, work, and visit. This how-to guide has four sections. “How to Make the Most of Your Time in Office” and “Alliances That Get Results” deal with the human dimensions of leadership, and “Make the Most of Your Infrastructure” and “Rewrite the Rules to Boost Growth, Not Traffic” deal with the physical and policy dimensions. No single formula fits every single jurisdiction, so elements from each of these sections can be selected as appropriate to your own circumstances. The important part is to find the combination of recommendations that work best for you and your residents.