Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Lipinski Symposium: Reactions

The Lipinski Symposium on Transportation was an invitation-only event on Monday designed to encourage Chicago area transportation leaders to think outside the box. Pasted in below are two reports. Add your own in the comments or send them to moderator1stc@yahoo.com and I will post them.

Comment #1

The >Lipinski Symposium was pretty much what I expected. There were exhortations from a couple of politicians, William Lipinski and James Oberstar (someone described them as the "bring home the bacon twins"). The panels of experts covered familiar transportation management techniques (e.g., congestion pricing) as if these things had just appeared on tablets on the mountaintop. There were a couple clunkers (e.g., the fellow who was very excited about logistics). At the end there was a panel of politicians who treaded carefully through questions about the current transit funding crisis.

The audience was pretty passive. There were few politicians there to convert to the "progressive" cause. Those that were, such as Representative Julie Hamos, Lake County Board Chairman Suzi Schmidt and DuPage County Chairman Robert Schillerstrom, weren't biting on the ideas of congestion pricing and a tax on parking spacings that were being discussed.

I thought that some of the day might be spent on breakout sessions with the goal of developing a set of principles/priorities that might be adopted, or at least voted upon, by the group. Instead, we were pretty much pumpkins for the day.

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Comment #2


I don't know if you got in the Lipinski symposium. I strapped on a tie and snuck in for the afternoon session (even got a cookie).

What struck me is how male, pale and stale the group was. This is a highly diverse region, but you would never know it from this group. A large majority were white men over 50. There was a smattering of women, maybe 10% in all, and even fewer minorities.

There were some good ideas thrown out during the day, but this group seemed stuck in a Fifties/Sixties time warp. They clearly are oriented (indoctrinated?) to think that minor changes to existing institutions, lots more money, and some engineering fixes will allow Chicago to continue on its merry way.

Have the well dressed tushes of these fellows ever felt a bike seat for a commute? Have concepts like global warming and reducing the carbon footprint penetrated their consciousness? Are they aware of the potential of ride-sharing programs using a mesh network model?

The pivotal moment came when Todd Litman, who is to transportation what Eric Clapton once was to the electric guitar (i.e., god), was speaking. Litman outlined why reducing vehicle miles traveled is by far the preferred solution to our transportation system woes. This approach generates the most benefits--congestion relief, accident reduction, environmental improvements, etc. Litman then laid out some strategies involving little or no new infrastructure, such as pricing insurance on a VMT basis and a tax on parking spaces, that together could reduce VMT by 20 percent.

The audience was dumbfounded. These guys clearly didn't get it. Their brains were spinning because they can't think outside of what Litman called the reductionist mindset that says that only a transportation solution can solve what is being perceived as a transportation problem. The more cynical among them were probably thinking that Litman's approach will never fly because there are not enough construction contracts involved.

I'm sorry, but all these good ideas were largely wasted on a group that is clearly set in its ways and fighting hard to preserve the status quo. I never realized what such a stodgy group is the public's custodian/advocates for our transportation system. Scary.


Anonymous said...

Reflections on matters moral and diverting:

1) The crowd (i.e. middle aged white males) represented the combine's best and brightest--the whole of local consultantdom--a real who's who of a hoedown.
2) The speakers (including Litman) posed no real threat that could not be met with standard spin/drivel/redirect except--
3) The gentleman from USDOT who lectured the hired gun consultants with a longitudinal analysis of the gross misrepresentations of Cost and Ridership forecasts (so much for demand models) for the last dozen (+/-) national transit new starts. Wow.
4) The special interest in a special interest subset of the so called audience was nonplussed to say the least. Tally Ho.

Pskosey said...

I would strongly encourage anyone who attended the symposium to please speak up. This anonymous blog will provide us with much more useful feedback than the evaluation forms we handed out at the end.

thank you.

Anonymous said...


I found the synposium, the best opportunity to meet transportation policy advisors, transit directors, union officials, service boards officials, planners, transit advocates, and various consultants; but it was a one stop shop of the who's who in transportation for the State of Illinois.

And no, I wasn't one of those middle aged white males in the room. To comment on the diversity of the room is rather preposterous and takes away from the intent of the synopsium.

I must admit, I was awestruck and hanging on to every word that Chairman Oberstar spoke during the synposium.

As a region, we need to move forward and our leaders need to start thinking outside of the box when it comes to transportation finance.

Ms. Marta Perales

Chris Robling said...

Dear all,

I applaud MPC, Northwestern and McCormick Tribune Foundation for presenting the Lipinski Symposium.

Our region's need for a world class system is unquestionable. Without it we will face worse congestion and lost growth.

As the benefits of transportation in an economy such as ours are universal, so are the potential detriments of a failing system.

Todd Litman echoed what many of us have said for years: without a serious target, such as holding vmt's where they are, we are kidding ourselves.

But to move towards a target, we have to focus on global best practices for building, operating and maintaining the system.

If the system falls victim to sub-goal pursuits, whatever they may be, then we move away from the goal, not towards it.

Generally speaking, transit is far better managed and operated in Europe and Asia than in North America. We can no more fund a sub-optimal transit system and "keep up" with our competing metro regions around the world than Motorola or Caterpillar can be competitive with substandard products.

The Lipinski Symposium is a needed first step in the regional transportation leadership coming to terms with the latest learning.

If anything, we need more such forums on more such topics.

One must also observe that in light of what we were hearing, our inability to resolve the Springfield matter is that much more disappointing.

We need to be designing a vastly expanded and refined system, not worrying about getting next week's paychecks funded. This is of course maddening, but such is the democratic process.

One hopes for an outbreak of reasonability.

I had the privilege of participating at the Lipinski Symposium in a small way, for which I thank MPC. All of us should appreciate the money, time and effort the three sponsors put into the event. Given the scope of the issues we face, they provided a very worthy start for this kind of meeting.


Chris Robling