In program and project management, likely in all areas of leadership and management, there are three key questions to ask. This is especially true when coming in as a new project manager, from outside, or as a turn-around agent. There are of course other records and documents that should be reviewed and placed into context with these three questions. Ask these questions in a one-on-one situation, if at all possible, and state at the beginning that these conversations are confidential, and outcomes are non-attributional. Simply listening to what people have to say (use active listening) expresses the courtesy of people’s time and attention and reinforces their value. Trust is the essential element to get honest feedback and is the beginning of the development of strong and trusting relationships which is the “grease” that will help everything else work well. If these conversations cannot be done one-on-one, then do these in small groups of perhaps 5-15. More than five reduces the intimacy of the conversation and tends to limit honest feedback so keep the groups as small as possible. In an effort to obtain honest feedback that people are not comfortable providing in a group, tell the group that you will stay behind for up to an hour if someone wants a more private conversation. Of course, maintain an “open door policy” as well. Typically, I would limit this feedback to three topics or responses in the interest of time. While establishing this feedback in this manner is key at the beginning, it should be conducted periodically throughout the life of the program, project, enterprise, or organization. It is a key to good leadership and the feedback that can be obtained is literally more valuable than gold.
In my experience, these questions should be asked of a cross-section of all stakeholders within a program or project. This might include subordinates, contemporaries, superiors, external partners and stakeholders, clients, and past team members such as prior program or project managers. This feedback is the “breakfast of champions” if you listen. You will also likely begin to identify trends and alignment of issues that will help to prioritize them.
The program or project manager should also filter this feedback through his or her own experience as all feedback is not necessarily meaningful, productive, or actionable. Still, keep this feedback as it is not always actionable or it may be actionable in the near-term, long-term, or as things change. In the end, the program or project manager must assess the feedback, prioritize it, and determine next steps. Next steps might include further analysis, integration into existing plans, development of new plans, or placing the feedback on-hold with no current action necessary or desired. Of course, there are many other options. The key throughout is that the program or project manager acknowledge their appreciation for this feedback, thank people for their feedback, reinforce their commitment to honor the confidentiality and non-attribution of the feedback, and to put the feedback into action as appropriate.
So, what are these questions?
Question 1. What’s going well?
This is not only a key question but a good ice breaker as there is little concern or risk in responding to this honestly.
Question 2. What’s not going well?
This is an essential question to understand what issues, challenges, or problems exist. The program or project manager, will as previously stated, need to assess this feedback to identify trends, alignment, and next steps. Getting honest feedback to this question is dependent on the level of trust that exists with the program or project manager. Without trust, it is not likely that meaningful feedback will be given. Regardless, utilize active listening and mutual respect, as you would with any other conversation. If nothing else, it is likely the people you are engaging will appreciate you asking the question, the courtesy of their time, and of your listening to what they have to say. It will be the beginning of building stronger relationships.
Question 3. How can I help?
This is perhaps the most pointed and key question as this is an opportunity for people to guide the program or project manager to what is the highest priority for their time or what is most urgently needed. If you listen, people will tell you what you need to do. Of course, you need to put this in the context of your own experience.
At the end of each of these one-on-one or small group conversations, thank people for their time and feedback.
So, why are these questions important? There are probably many reasons, but I will assert two. First, a program or project manager will not likely find everything they need to know in reports or documents and not everything that is important can be measured. Morale and other areas are examples of the latter. After all, we are a society and organizations of people, the most valuable asset of any program or project that a manager has. Second, this feedback will likely save time as you proactively seek the highest priority issues that you can impact. In general, I believe there is a 60-90 day window for many program or project managers, and other large organization leaders, to have their biggest impact. In this period, you are a set of new eyes, bringing new objectivity where it is likely needed. And, with an opportunity to build that critical trust and strong relationships that helps everything else work well.
Reimagining the future will be neither quick or easy. Change is the only constant and that can be slow and difficult day-to-day work by teams of people working together. It starts with a well thought out vision, strategy, and holistic plan for the mobility ecosystem with performance metrics, defined roles and responsibilities to track progress. This is a dynamic, not a static, process and must be continually reassessed as change waits for no one. The elements discussed throughout this 13 part series must be incorporated and used to good purpose, especially engaging people through outreach, partnerships, consensus, and collaboration. The vision and strategy must give focus to balancing the built-natural environments—social, economic, and environmental health—and make those efforts sustainable. They are not mutually exclusive. In addition to the diversity, varied and essential disciplines that need to be involved, systems thinking must be used to see the big picture while knitting the individual disciplines and activities into one holistic effort that will accrue one safe, seamless, sustainable multimodal mobility ecosystem that serves the economy, society, environment, and people’s lives. The various existing and emerging technologies must be effectively leveraged to continue to do more with less in the process. Strategic partnerships must be established to leverage public-private strengths including consultants, construction contractors, data analytics, technology developers/providers such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, vehicle and other manufacturers, and others to mutual advantage (Howard, 2021). This will require leadership.
It is the hard day-to-day work that, over time, will result a mobility ecosystem that is sustainable, resilient, and seamlessly integrated into society, the economy, and environment to which we all aspire. Throughout the path ahead we need new, fresh ideas.
—Imagine a world where everything that can be connected is connected within the mobility ecosystem while improving and sustaining a healthy society, economy, environment, and people’s lives.
To some extent, transportation, mobility, and its infrastructure has always been a bit of a “Rorschach test.” That is that everyone, at least every American, sees something different as to what it is, what it is supposed to do, and what they want. So it is little wonder that there is a challenge in developing a strategy, consensus, and alignment in an industry with increasing social, economic, and environmental aspects to address.
No one really knows what the future holds although there is merit in the statement that “the only way to determine the future is to invent it.” There is a premise by futurists that the future can be viewed as a “cone of possibilities” which seems a reasonable approach. A Buzz Feed internet article entitled “Futurists tell us the most amazing and scary things to expect in the future” was posted on Apple News December 3, 2020 (Spohr, 2020). Some of the future mobility is described as follows.
…thinking about BuzzFeed’s younger readers, many of whom will live to see calendar years even more mind-bogglingly futuristic, like 2080, 2090, and even 2100. What will life be like for them over the course of their lives? How many changes will they see over the next 10–80 years?
To find out, BuzzFeed connected with some of the world’s leading futurists and asked them to forecast what the years to come might bring. Here are their fascinating and thought-provoking insights:
Public transit will be radically different in the future — and traffic will be a thing of the past.
Twentieth century public transit will be replaced by private transportation in van-sized smaller vehicles and single-person pods, driving on roads that are rarely congested because everybody follows tools like Waze which work together with cities to stop too many cars bunching up in the same place before they get there.”
— Brad Templeton
Family road trips will be in self-driving recreational vehicles accessorized with robot assistants and food replicators.
Self-driving RVs will pick you up from your home and be pre-programmed to drive the route you chose (including parking themselves in the designated spaces in RV parks), and they’ll stop along the way at national parks…with reservations, of course. The RV will have internet-on-the-go to allow the kids to play computer games when the vehicle is in motion. The entertainment module will be tailored to the child’s age and interests so that you will never hear, ‘Are we there yet?’ The RVs will be equipped with food replicators, so if the parents don’t want to cook, they won’t have to. Robots will handle the setup and tear down, including making sure that the black water is flushed. All the family has to do is enjoy their time together on this all-inclusive holiday.”
— Joyce Gioia
There is increasingly speculation on the future, not to mention the impact of changing technologies on skill sets and the need to re-educate the changing workforce (Shea, 2021; Michal, 2021). Even Warren Buffet was slow to recognize the important role of technology in our society (Gandel, 2021). The point, we must remain open to change otherwise we risk getting stuck (Hawrylack, 2021). This is a dynamic in human nature.
There are also studies and ideas that have been generated such as what should the future of the interstate highway system be? (The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, Medicine, 2018)
National Aeronautics and Space Administration or NASA innovations and products for space exploration have been adopted for use by our society. Most recently, NASAs 2020 Rover, a car sized vehicle has been developed along with a helicopter to learn more about the Martian planet (Adams, 2021). NASA developments will likely continue to add to our transportation-mobility arena and society as a whole.
While this series of blogs has dealt primarily with ground surface transportation and mobility, changes are afoot in other modes. For example, some airlines and investors are betting on electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (eVTOL) to replace helicopters (Subin, 2021; LeBeau, 2021). Many want an improved passenger rail system (Benson, 2021). The Elon Musk inspired Hyperloop is estimated to exceed speeds of over 700 miles per hour and there are companies around the world working to make this a reality. Still, there are technical and economic issues to overcome (Silic, 2021; Kim and McNabb, 2020). Musk has even asserted that while the California High Speed Rail costs exceed $68 billion, the Hyperloop could be built to span the same distance for $6 billion (Nicol, 2018). There is the topic of smart roads (Integrated Roadways, n.d.).
The only thing that is certain is that the transportation and mobility space is changing, and rapidly.
There are discussions, trends, and research on the departments of transportation of the future (Fuchs and Shehadeh, 2017), thinking beyond cars (Busch, 2017), automated drive-thru meals (Metz, 2021), need for greater equity (Lydersen, 2020), easing poverty (Korman, 2021), electrifying transportation for low income communities (Citizens Utility Board of Illinois, 2020), data management (Center for Digital Government, 2020), big data to relieve congestion (Neumann, 2015), getting broadband across the United States and especially rural areas (Harrison, 2021), reducing traffic congestion and saving costs using AI and V2X (V2X=vehicle to everything) technologies (Carey, 2021), 5.9 GHz (Bhatt and Tymon, 2021), 5G (Fulton, 2021; Wachsman, 2021), smart roads and inductive charging (McFarland, 2021; Stout, 2020; Integrated Roadways, n.d.), cloud services for transportation agencies (AWS, n.d.; Silver, 2021; Matteson, 2021; Silver, n.d.), increasing citizen needs for digital technology in local governments (Schiavone, 2021; Rock Solid, n.d.; Pew Research Center, 2021), growth of micromobility (Miller, 2021), reimagine delivery with drones (Drone Delivery Canada, 2021), reinventing container shipping (Saxon and Stone, 2017), changing logistics (vanValkenburgh, 2021), renewed nature-based solutions (Miller and Huber, 2021), renewed emphasis on resiliency (Schmitz, 2021), increasing environmental issues (Teirstein, 2021; Woodyatt, 2020; Phillips, 2019; Irfan, 2019), how to rebuild America’s infrastructure (Della Rocca, et al, 2017), funding (Wehrman, 2021; Lombardo, 2021), bridging infrastructure gaps (Woetzel et al, 2016), private infrastructure financing (Budden, 2017; Parsons, 2021), new innovations in project financing, delivery, and public-private partnerships (U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highways Administration, 2021; Glazier, 2020), and many others. Others speculate on the future of mobility in cities (Harrouk, 2019), the future of autonomous vehicles in business (Gifford, 2017; Lamb, 2019), and an increasingly long line of public and private organizations committing to 100 percent electric vehicles in the next 10-20 years (Bascome, 2021), lessons in electric vehicle launches (Turkel, 2021), generator-equipped electronic vehicles (Morales, 2021), electric buses (Carroll, 2021), growing fleets of electric cabs (Lambert, 2021), electric delivery vehicles (Adams, 2021), electric heavy trucks (Reuters, 2021), design changes in electric vehicles (Korn, 2021), death of the gas-fueled vehicle (Hamza, 2021; Westbrook, 2020; van Lierop, 2020; Evannex, 2018; King, 2016), electronic vehicles will have 100% of the market by 2040 (Entrepreneur, 2021), the need for additional electric power production (Markets and Markets, 2020; Hull and Malik, 2021), new tools (Remix, 2021), some future implications of zero emission vehicles ( Robinson, 2021), expanded broadband (Pressgrove, 2021; McEwen, 2020), smart cities (Napolitano, et al, 2021), mundane mobility including sidewalks (Descant, 2021), fragility of the supply chain (Naughton and Colias, 2021; Ziady, 2021; Thorbecke, 2021), use of highway medians for other transportation purposes including monorail (Ohnsman, 2021), where Covid-19 has accelerated change (McKinsey & Company 2021), flying cars and driverless buses (Broom 2021), continuing developments in mobility technology (Heineke, et al, 2019), and the need to view infrastructure as a system (Smith, 2020). For now in the transportation space, cities are becoming greener, climate change continues largely unabated, and the impacts of the Pandemic continue with an uncertain future (Baruchman, 2021; Ariza and Harris, 2021; EPA, n.d.; The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering Medicine, 2021; vanValkenburgh, 2021b; Frueh, 2021; Lowry, 2021). These are all legitimate forward-looking “think pieces”, products, and services and are needed.
It is also important to remember we live in one world with one global economy and environment (Shalal and Lawder, 2021; Whalen, 2021; Reuters Staff, 2021).
Some aspects of these futures and ideas may materialize but they are just that, speculations on what the future of mobility may look like. What the future holds will likely be messy and not simple (Putnam, 2021; Gifford, 2017). While it can be entertaining and thought-provoking to consider these futures, no one really knows what the future holds.
To emphasize that no one really can predict the future even though many have some basis, it is interesting to look back at some predictions made only a few years ago. For example, pre-2015 (Carroll, 2014; Eaves, 2007; Frey, 2008; Threewitt, 2012) and post-2015 which is closer to what we know now (Marsh & McLennan Agency, 2018; The National Express Transit, 2019; Mire, 2019; Cunningham, 2017; Thansis1997, 2018; Goodnet, 2016; Frey, 2021). To my surprise, there are even futurist schools (The Futurist Institute). And then there are the pundits speculating on the future of transportation stocks and companies that are disrupting the transportation industry (Whiteman, 2021; Sandre, 2017).
There is the issue of what long term effects the Covid-19 Pandemic will have on transportation, mobility, and freight (Furchtgott-Roth, 2021; Polzin and Choi, 2021; Goodman et al, 2021) and warning signs of a longer pandemic (Baker, 2021).
There is also the continuous drumbeat of the need for infrastructure investment (Landers, 2021; Infrastructure Report Card, 2021). I would add to this the need for social and environmental investment since they are not mutually exclusive.
Throughout this series of blogs there has been very little attention to other areas of the transportation and mobility space such the arena of logistics and supply chains which reflect the entire system through a freight lens.
Being somewhat simplistic, we know a few things with a very high level of certainty relative to the future of transportation and mobility:
America’s transportation systems are long overdue for increased investment. As the new Biden Administration proposes massive funding initiatives for transportation infrastructure, technology will play a critical role in enabling a modernized, next-generation transportation system. A new reliable and sustainable funding model to replace the fuel tax is part of this.
Autonomous, electric vehicles, V2V, V2I, V2X, adaptive traffic signals, electronic tolling/user fees, advanced machine learning, artificial intelligence, 5G, and asset management tools using the Internet of Things, will all be foundational building blocks of a modern system.
A modernized system will combat climate change and meet constituents’ changing needs, including equity, social and environmental justice.
These systems will require a fresh approach to how information is acquired, managed and analyzed as they require the processing of petabytes of data in real time. Cloud computing and edge computing will be part of this mix considering the enormous amount of data involved.
Many are looking, exploring, and building the future of mobility and transportation, it happens a piece at a time, and like other infrastructure and systems that society depends on, is sorely needed (The Commission on the Future of Mobility, 2021). The potential for information overload is a likely risk and part of this mix, as it is presently, and must be effectively dealt with (Sammer, 2021).
The interests and impacts of transportation and mobility are vast with far-reaching impacts to our society, the economy and environment. There is likely no one that is not impacted. Although what an average family spends on transportation can vary from 13 percent to 30 percent of their income depending on various factors to include income, a common percentage used is 16 cents of every dollar, and 93% of this goes to buying, maintaining, and operating cars, the largest expenditure after housing ( Elite Personal Finance, 2021; Cautero, 2021; ITDP, 2019; Financial Samurai, 2020; Miller, 2021; U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, n.d.; American Public Transportation Association, 2021).
This has been a broad, somewhat rambling, series through the mobility ecosystem and has not touched a great many areas and topics but, hopefully, has touched upon the major ones. As travelers, explorers, and citizens of the earth, we must continue our aspiration to understand and sustain our built-natural environment, and the mobility ecosystem, before they become unsustainable. This series has not given proper attention to a host or organizations (public, private, academic, and others) that are making substantial contributions toward the challenges and opportunities facing the mobility ecosystem. Some of these and associated organizations include the United States Department of Transportation and its modal administrations and offices, state departments of transportation, city and county associations, the National Academies including the Transportation Research Board, American Association of Highway and Transportation Officials and their regional associations, Intelligent Transportation Society of America, Metropolitan Planning Organizations, American Road and Transportation Builders Association, Associated General Contractors of America and their state chapters, American Council of Engineering Companies and affiliates, National Society of Professional Engineers and affiliates, National Society of Black Engineers and affiliates, Women in Transportation Society and affiliates, Women in Transportation Society International, Society of women Engineers, National Association of Women in Construction, American Society of Civil Engineers and affiliates, Society of American Military Engineers and associated posts, Green Roads, World Road Federation, International Road Federation, International Bridge, Tunnel, and Turnpike Association, Engineering News Record, American Trucking Association and state chapters, American Public Transportation Association and state affiliates, Association of American Railroads, colleges and universities including University Transportation Centers, and others. Other companies too numerous to name helping to lead the way include auto and truck manufactures, technology companies (including AI, 5G, web services, data services, edge computing), safety (National Safety Council and affiliates, American Traffic Safety Services Association, Association of Transportation Information Safety Professionals, and many others), finance agencies including bonding, other agencies (federal, state, and local), interest groups of all kinds (including the American Automobile Association), and many other important organizations that not only add to our body of knowledge through studies, reports, webinars, conferences, news and other means to advance our mutual interests reflecting a cross-section of our society, economy, and environment. My apologies for the many organizations I have not acknowledged.
Dr. “Kevin” Bao also provides an interesting perspective on how leaders should respond to crises and opportunities. (Steele, 2021). Perhaps this can help in our efforts to clearly, objectively, and urgently address the challenges ahead.
The National Academy of Engineering, National Academies, is bringing many previously disparate and fragmented disciplines and areas of scholarship of complex systems into more holistic thinking (Madhavan et al, 2020). It is challenging and difficult work to digest such broad knowledge but it is an important start to a better way forward, in transportation, mobility, and other areas. After all, a unifying characteristic of complex systems is that they are driven by human behavior, and human thinking.
Of course an elephant in the room is what impact will the $1.9 trillion Covid relief package have on our society, economy, environment, and people’s lives to include the transportation and mobility space (Pramuk, 2021; Morris, 2021).
The new Biden Administration also envisions a once in a century opportunity to change transportation—a new transportation era—comparing this opportunity to the interstate highway system started under President Eisenhower and the transcontinental railroad started under President Lincoln (Yen, 2021). As such, the Administration continues to pursue a robust $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan (Tankersley, et al, 2021). While the majority of Americans support this and there is a verifiable need, it is also a “heavy lift” considering the complexities of our modern day society and politics.
There is also the underlying discussion of how to best democratize the Internet and social media without interfering with the great good these tools provide (IoTeX, 2020; Newcomb, 2016; Smith, 2019; Edinger, 2021; Vicente, 2020; Susaria, 2021; Edinger, 2021).
Recently, the first Nobel Prize Summit was held and attended by Nobel Prize Laureates and other experts. The summit was convened to promote a transformation to global sustainability for human prosperity and equity. As was pointed out, time is the natural resource in shortest supply. This summit was established amid a global pandemic, a crisis of inequality, an ecological crisis, a climate crisis, and an informational crisis. Without transformational action this decade, humanity is taking colossal risks with our common future. The future of all life on this planet, humans and our societies included requires us to become effective stewards in creating a harmonious biosphere and society. This includes inherent infrastructure and mobility. The bottom line, there is now an existential need to build economies and societies that support Earth system harmony rather than disrupt it. In summary, we need to reinvent our relationship with planet Earth as we build this new future. (The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, Medicine, 2021)
There is an adage that says the only way to predict the future is to invent, or create, it. There are myriad efforts in that direction. To that end we may be seeing the private sector emerging to lead that future while the public sector follows.
Which takes us back to the quote at the beginning of Part 1 in this series:
The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
Madhavan, G., G. Poste, W.B. Rouse (eds.). (2020). The Bridge. Linking engineering and society. National Academy of Engineering. Retrieved June 12, 2021, from https://www.nae.edu/File.aspx?id=244667
Markets and Markets. (2020). Power Electronics Market with COVID-19 Impact Analysis by Device Type (Power Discrete, Power Module and Power ICs), Material (Silicon, Silicon Carbide and Gallium Carbide), Voltage (Low Voltage, Medium Voltage and High Voltage), Vertical (ICT, Consumer Electronics, Industrial, Automotive & Transportation, Aerospace & Defense), and Geography – Global Forecast to 2025. Markets and Markets. Retrieved May 25, 2021, from https://www.marketsandmarkets.com/Market-Reports/power-electronics-market-204729766.html
Polzin, S. and T. Choi. (2021, January 14). COVID-19’s effects on the future of Transportation. National Transportation Library. United States Department of Transportation. Retrieved June 12, 2021, from https://rosap.ntl.bts.gov/view/dot/54292
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, Medicine. (2018). The future interstate report: 10 big ideas for the 21st century. The National Academies of Sciences Engineering, Medicine. Retrieved May 23, 2021, from https://www.nap.edu/resource/25334/interstate
There is little or no question that education is a key to success. As the responsibilities of transportation professionals broaden, there is needed education in all areas: the suites of disciplines in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) but also digital technologies and their various disciplines and off-shoots, social sciences, human resources management, public relations/communications, organization development and change, project and program management, business, finance, accounting, project controls (scope, schedule, budget), audit, English/editing/writing, planning, project development, design, construction, operations, maintenance, engineering and its disciplines, architecture, systems engineering/management, biological/environmental/climate sciences, geology, hydrology, political science and government, law, economics and economic development, jobs sustained and created, analytics, quality assurance and control, history, leadership, and many others. These are needed along with the skills, talents, and innovations to address the spectrum of transportation and mobility and associated challenges. It is difficult to find comparable data on countries’ STEM graduates. However, it appears while the U. S. produces the most Ph.D.s and 40 percent of India STEM graduates are women, India and perhaps China produce more STEM graduates than the U. S. (Buchholz, 2020; Sindwani, 2020; Gray, 2017). Regardless, the United States needs to keep focused on the importance of STEM programs and adjust to increasing technology and automation (Långstedt, 2021; Dilven, 2021). The competition for talent and skills will only continue in the future. A recently announced leadership development program is a partnership between Kiewit Corporation and University of Nebraska called the Kiewit Scholars Program (Crouch and Reed, 2021).
Marcia McNutt, President of the National Academy of Sciences, provided an excellent overview as the 2021 Transportation Research Board (TRB) Key Note Speaker on where we have been, where we are, and where we’re headed in her presentation: “Delivering science in a crisis: our critical role in helping society build back and forge a more resilient, sustainable future” (https://youtu.be/wuMOSM8BEoA). The TRB celebrated its 100th anniversary November 11, 2020, and as part of the National Academies, signed into law by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.
It is also important to remember that leadership is about people (Bock, 2021).
Strong generalist, systems and servant leadership are essential to bring this all together, setting the vision, mission, strategy, goals and objectives, priorities, policies, and standards through the people to overcome the many challenges—social, environmental, economic—we face (Smith, 2020; Renjen, 2020; Baldoni, 2020; Renjen, 2019; Moore, 2019; Bruce, 2020). (Some of these topics are also discussed in other articles on this website www.leadershipintransportation.com). In addition to the many talents leaders have needed in the past and present, they must continue to learn, adjust, and understand digital technology, at least at a conceptual and conversational level about what it can and cannot do (Joy, 2021; Cheng, et al, 2021). These are in addition to the many characteristics and intangibles that make good leaders—providing vision and direction, listening, asking questions, being responsible and accountable, giving credit, taking blame, being open, transparent and honest, doing outreach, building trust and strong relationships, and many more.
Some good transportation leadership articles written in a plain and direct manner are worth reading (McClain, 2013; Russell Reynolds Associates, 2015; Fohr, 2020). There is also the greening of transportation career fields (National Center for Sustainable Transportation, n.d.).
Top leaders must also develop a strategy that is simple, disciplined, and based on a clear value proposition on which customers, employees, suppliers, partners and stakeholders can mobilize (Oberholzer-Gee, 2021).
Regarding leadership, the Biden Administration has proposed a vast $2 trillion infrastructure package while the Nobel Foundation is hosting a “Nobel Prize Summit: Our Planet, Our Future” in April 2021 in efforts to address the many social, economic, and environmental needs (Tankersley, 2021; Renshaw and Holland, 2021; Schlesinger, 2021; Schapker, 2021; The National Academies of Sciences Engineering Medicine, 2021; Wehrman, 2021). Some are even promoting a $10 trillion infrastructure package over 10 years (Anderson, 2021; Winck, 2021.)
It is likely that we will see more changes in the transportation and mobility space in the next 10 years than in the previous 100, and education and leadership are more important than ever. It is no understatement that the race to the future will require skilled leadership and a well educated and skilled workforce. With the dramatic pace of change, perhaps there is nothing more important than to be life long learners. This writer has learned this lesson many times.
It has perhaps never been more important and necessary to step back and look at the world anew, think anew, and act anew, as a whole, not just its parts and sum of its parts, but as more than the sum of its parts—the built-natural environment we call earth—our home. This, leadership, and education, will continue to help us find a better path forward.
We live in a global economy, driven by multimodal transportation across the earths surface—land, air, and water.
This writer has tried to separate into shorter sections the social, economic, and environmental issues but found separating them was artificial and not real, losing or subordinating the inter-connectivity in the process. While disciplines are important and reasonable to separate out for “deeper dives,” separating them into categories defeats the purpose of a holistic or systems view. Thus, these issues are addressed as they appear—one ecosystem, or mobility ecosystem in this case, with related parts—in at least an attempt to reflect a systems view. Segueing from Part 9, it is also worth noting that without a functioning democracy we have nothing, including meaningful progress in the transportation and mobility space and all of the issues tied to it.
While the current Covid-19 Pandemic was not caused by our global transportation system that drives our global economy, there is no question that the pandemic’s rapid spread was a result. Similarly, the “cure” will be more rapid because of this same transportation system.
The pandemic has lost some of its acceleration as counter measures and vaccinations have taken place although there is concern over variants and a race for booster vaccinations occurs, similar to annual flu vaccinations. Still, more than 30 million Americans, or one in every 12, have been diagnosed positive for COVID-19 with over 550,000 deaths in the U. S. and nearly 3 million deaths globally, as of this writing. The expectation is that the total U. S. deaths will exceed 600,000 deaths by the end of 2021, before the pandemic is “under control” in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, estimates the actual number of Covid-19 infections may exceed 83 million in the U. S alone (CDC, 2021). Worldwide there are currently nearly 140 million recorded cases. (Wu and Chiwaya, 2020; Worldometer, 2021; Baker, 2021).
The year 2020 was the worst year for economic growth since World War II (Siegel, et al, 2021). Moreover, there was no “playbook” of how to respond economically as we continue to try and understand and plan for the future (White, 2021; Ross, 2021; Achenbach et al, 2021). It has changed everything in our lives—how we work, how we shop, how we socialize, how we commute, how we travel, education, business, entertainment, the environment, the economy (Vasel, 2021; Reese, 2021; Lobosco, 2021; Stern, et al, 2021; Watson, 2021; Dickler, 2021; Hughes, 2021; Wikipedia, 2021; Wikipedia, 2021; Parker, 2020; Spear et al, 2020; Pesek, 2021; Burns and John, 2020; Reuters, 2021; Bauer, et al, 2020; Patton, 2020; McKinsey & Company, 2021; Craven, et al, 2021; Entrepreneur, 2021; Davidson, 2021). The Pandemic persists even as vaccinations progress; new variants emerge; some states set aside recommended CDC measures, and a potential 4th surge emerges (Khemlani, 2021; Dearman, 2021; Rodriguez, 2021; Guenot, 2021; Dilven, 2021; Diedrich, et al, 2021; Murray, 2021). This is also changing how we think about cities, remodeling them in ways that could make urban life, and rural life, more attractive and sustainable (Goldsmith, 2021). More specifically, state department of transportation leaders recently discussed the impacts of Covid-19 on transportation (AASHTO, 2021). The “15-minute city” concept is emerging around the world—dwellers should have everything they need (work, grocery stores, bars, restaurants, shops, schools, healthcare, leisure) within a 15-minute trip, on foot or bike, from home (The 15-Minute City Project, 2020; Moreno, n.d.; Sisson, 2020; Harley, 2021). To be fair, there are also concerns about the 15-minute city with potential to increase inequality (O’Sullivan, 2021). Lockdowns gave working from home proof of concept, challenging the notion that cities need to be divided into separate areas for working and living. Many city dwellers experienced life with fewer cars and more bikes on streets and those cities will have to decide whether to make these “healthy streets” permanent (Whittle, 2020). A new smart city work philosophy concept is emerging for companies—smaller workspaces to meet all over the city, closer to people’s homes. The traditional idea of a city, one where smaller communities form around one central hub, is changing. Future cities may become vast urban areas made up of several smaller communities, each with their own center.
There is also the issue of communities holding onto some of the good things that have occurred during the pandemic (Descant, 2021). Besides the Herculean effort to develop and deploy vaccines, there are many other efforts that have been generated in these dark times. In another Herculean effort, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers led the conversion of hotels and other buildings into needed COVID-19 hospitals. They also created an intelligent HVAC system that will likely find many uses in indoor spaces, and perhaps the transportation space as well (Carter, 2021).
None of this discounts the attractiveness of living and working in rural communities because there is much to like in these wide-open, needed spaces, that produce much of the food and other products we consume. Access is through mobility in all its forms. While agriculture is main stem in rural areas, the beauty of wild spaces has an important part in the United States, the world, our psyche, mental health, health of our planet and the life that it supports (Williams, 2017; Louv, 2011).
Even as we deal with this pandemic and its impacts to our lives and economy, there is need to learn lessons and prepare for the next pandemic, including in the transportation/mobility space (Wall, 2021).
The pandemic has caused us to rethink the ways we work. Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, predicts companies will much more begin to question taking a trip “just to discuss things,” reducing business trips by more than 50 percent. Home offices have grown exponentially, turning business meetings into video calls. This way of work is likely here to stay, reducing “office life” by more than 30 percent. (Entrepreneur, 2020).
As mobility emerges as a human right, equity, social and racial justice, equality, environmental justice, and mobility for the under served, disabled, minorities, communities of color, and poor are part of the core mission for transportation agencies. Moreover, as technology evolves and holds promise for improving lives, the digital divide must be closed and made accessible and affordable to all. This is an opportunity and will require strong strategic partnerships with private sector partners such as IBM, Apple, Google, Verizon, GE, and others. These necessary public-private partnerships might include joint committees, agreements versus contracts, and collaboration with other partners and stakeholders. Transportation agencies also would be well served by having offices or positions for experts in these areas and are well integrated into planning, design, construction, operations, and maintenance activities and collaborate with other partners, interests, and departments as appropriate. Updating the American Disability Act and related laws and rules must also occur.
The February 2020 ITE Journal is dedicated to exploring equity, what it means for transportation, strategies, how to put equity at the center of our work, micromobility to reach the under served, and how to make transportation systems better for all. This is a valuable resource for transportation professionals (ITE, 2020). There is evidence that transportation and mobility can help defeat poverty (Korman, 2021). There are also emerging tools and experience for measuring and advancing equity and social values (Fujiwara and Dass, 2020; Alexander et al, 2020; Citizens Utility Board, 2018).
Dorval R. Carter, Jr., President of the Chicago Transit Authority, received the 2021 Thomas B. Deen Distinguished Lectureship from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine Transportation Research Board (TRB). Mr. Carter was recognized for his leadership in the transit industry and legal community, and for spearheading significant advances in public transportation. His presentation, “Our Work is Never Done: Examining Equity Impacts in Public Transportation”, provides an excellent narrative for where equity has been and where it is going. His presentation, given as part of the TRB’s 2021 Annual Meeting on January 25, 2021, can be viewed via YouTube at: https://youtu.be/IBMgn5Ivm3c.
Environmental justice, similar to mobility, is emerging as a human right as it should. Its premise is essentially that all people deserve to live in a clean and safe environment free from industrial waste and pollution that can adversely affect their well-being. Those involved in creating and maintaining the mobility space must take responsibility for insuring this space is accessible, affordable, and with a clean and safe environment for all, including the under -served, minorities, communities of color, poor, and dispossessed. In addition to strong environmental offices and positions, environmental laws and rules must be updated. The impacts of greenhouse gases can have impacts far from their source (TRB, 2021).
In 2020 during the pandemic, the U. S. saw a 10.3 percent reduction in greenhouse gases, the lowest drop in annual emissions since World War II. See Figure 11. (Larsen, et al, 2021). This was a result of an estimated reduction of 15 percent vehicle miles traveled (VMT) compared to 2019 and a 13-40 percent reduction in demand for primarily passenger vehicles and as much as 18 percent reduction in diesel in April and May. This also resulted in delays of many projects as transportation department revenues from fuel taxes cratered.
While this allows the U. S. to exceed the 2020 Copenhagen Accord target reduction of a 17 percent below 2005 levels, this should not be considered a permanent change in meeting the 2025 Paris Agreement target of 26-28 percent reduction from 2005 levels. In addition, the 2020 reduction has come at an enormous price to the economy and human suffering. Serious work to make meaningful structural changes must continue to improve environmental health and limit global warming.
Over the past year, the world has been fixated on the pandemic and its effects on our lives, and for good reason. But an even bigger threat could change the way we live in a less rapid but more permanent way—the climate crisis—an existential and intergenerational quality of life threat. The threats range from the profound to the more subtle (Guterres, 2018; Xu, et al, 2020; Roston and Wade, 2021; Deutsche Welle, 2021; Cassella, 2021). Transportation agencies are some of the largest land owners in the world with responsibility for the land, air, and water. As such, they play a significant role in fighting climate change.
Global warming has already forced an estimated 20 million people to flee their homes every year (Oxfam, 2019; Ropeik, 2021; Newburger, 2021; NOAA, 2021). Rising temperatures combined with population growth means three billion people — one third of the projected global population — could be living in “unlivable” conditions by 2070 (Fleming, 2020). The inevitable result will be mass migration to “climate havens,” or cities sheltered from extreme weather with the capacity to grow (McDonnell and Shendruk, 2020). Preparing for this future can no longer be put off, and heads of state, members of the scientific community, the private sector, NGOs and youth groups will meet to discuss the issue at the world’s first Climate Adaptation Summit in January 2021. As cities around the globe develop climate action plans (C40 Climate Leadership Group, 2020), expect to see more zero-carbon housing projects (C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, Nordic Sustainability, 2019) and green belts replacing asphalt (Totaro, 2020). “The questions we should be asking is how to protect the most vulnerable residents,” says Greg Lindsay, Director of Applied Research at the nonprofit NewCities Foundation. “How to develop new carrot-and-stick approaches to steer people away from the highest-risk areas.” (Lindsay, 2020).
Florida is ground zero for sea level rise and the costs are rapidly escalating into the multiple billions of dollars. Miami is raising their roads two feet and others are preparing to abandon, roads, bridges, and homes (Mitchelides, 2016; Harris, 2019; The Weekly Staff, 2020; Carroll, 2021; Sea Level Rise.org, n.d.). Rising sea levels are threatening Route 1 through the Florida Keys. The costs of raising the roads will amount to $500,000 per resident according to an a narrative without reference (Latanision, 2020). Regardless, published reports state some roads would cost $25 million per mile to adjust for sea level rise (Brackett, 2019). Using that cost and that US1 is 113 miles long over the Florida Keys with an estimated population of 73,000, the cost would be about $40,000 per person. Regardless of which is more reliable, these costs will likely continue to grow and ignore other impacts such as abandoned homes and businesses, property being flooded and below sea level, and ultimately a cost the State of Florida cannot afford.
Florida is not the only location at risk due to the rise in sea level. New Orleans is a case in point where it has been below sea level for many years—protected by sea walls and gigantic U. S. Army Corps of Engineers pumps (Twillie, 2018; Prior, 2019; Dunn, 2020; Laskow, 2017). Add to this that by 2050 70 percent of the world’s population is estimated to live in large cities, and these cities are sinking, literally, under their own weight (Parsons, 2021; Koop, 2021; Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2018). The cumulative effects of storms, land subsidence, and urban cities subsidence could have dramatic impacts on life and the way we live, including transportation and mobility since they are never mutually exclusive from the built-natural environment. Soils have elastic and plastic properties. There is a propensity for cities to expand development through building new land with fill material, on wet soils, or adjacent to water bodies. Thus, it is relatively easy for these saturated soils to be prone to liquefaction, especially in seismically active areas. This is made worse by infrastructure, including roads and bridges, not being seismically designed or retrofitted (Chalmers, 2018; Oregon.gov, 2013). This writer is reminded of the many studies on the risks and catastrophes of building on permafrost, helping to better understand the built-natural environments, including before construction of the Alaskan Oil Pipeline (Péwé, 1979). Engineering has limitations and we frequently learn as we go, or hopefully.
Climate change has resulted in billions of dollars in flood damage (National Centers for Environmental Information, Feb 2021; National Centers for Environmental Information, Jul 2021; Kann, 2021). There is also the threat of land subsidence that may affect 19 percent of the world population by 2040 (Herrera-García, et al, 2021).
There are yet other issues that are likely to have negatives impacts. As many as 572 airports are also threatened by global warming and associated sea level rise by 2021 (Yesudian and Dawson, 2020). A record number of hurricanes, wildfires and floods cost the world $210 billion in damage in last year, much of it due to global warming. There were a record number of disasters during 2020 which occurred in the U.S. (NOAA, 2021).
This does not even mention the many negative impacts to a healthy environment (some of which were mentioned in earlier blogs of this series) that we depend on and continue to emerge (World Wildlife Fund, 2021; Rosane, 2021; World Wildlife Fund, Feb 2021). There are also many negative impacts to our environment, including from global warming, but some may not be attributed directly to climate change (Burt, et al, 2018; University of California – Santa Cruz, 2021; PEW, 2020; McPherson, et al, 2021). .
The recent winter infrastructure crisis in Texas is indicative of the importance and cost of infrastructure upon which society depends. In many cases, the repair, replacement, updating, contingency planning and preparation has been deferred, delayed, and perhaps overtly ignored for decades. This has been made worse by the impacts of climate change (e.g. changing weather patterns, warming/acidic oceans, etc.). Millions of people have gone without power, electricity, heat, water, waste water services, transportation and mobility for days, in some cases weeks. Fish and wildlife have also suffered. This is largely avoidable, if not substantially mitigated, by relying on science and proactive planning. This catastrophe has also impacted other states and communities. This human catastrophe is a failure of leadership. It is a virtual certainty that we will see more of these built-natural environment catastrophes in the United States and around the world. And, it is the most vulnerable, poorest and least able to cope that will suffer the most. (Gonzalez, 2021; Giusti, 2021; Meier, 2021; Fowler, 2021).
Defining carbon zero by 2050 targets, as well as roles and responsibilities, is yet another area that must be clarified and is critical to addressing the challenges of climate change in the United States and around the world (Buddoo, 2021; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, Medicine, 2021; Global Carbon Project, 2015-2020).
The Internet of Things, or IoT, holds promise to mitigate and improve other climate changes in other ways such as biodiversity and habitat loss (McClellan, 2020). Ecological bridges, essentially bridges over roads or other man-made structures, serve to connect wildlife habitat, connect and sustain gene pools necessary for healthy ecosystems (Hui Min and Pazos, 2015; Machemer, 2020). Otherwise gene pools become fragmented, exacerbating the challenges of habitat and species loss due to climate change.
While this author was a researcher at the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers Waterways Experiment Station, the Corps adapted a Wetlands Evaluation Technique developed by Paul Adamus for the Federal Highways Administration (Adamus, 1983). The valuing of nature has continued to evolve to the present. More recently, Dow Chemical Company and The Nature Conservancy developed a technique called the Ecosystem Service Identification and Inventory Tool that is available publicly (www.esiitool.com). This technique quantifies ecosystem services using a nature screen and a nature scoreboard to develop the business case for using nature in lieu of or in conjunction with other man-made systems. Dow has committed to generating $2 billion of value to nature, having achieved $500 million thus far. This system continues to evolve as do the efforts of private and public organizations in creating a sustainable world. On the horizon are what have been termed “stacked benefits.” That is, bringing together many partners, from up stream and downstream, so to speak, to pool resources and funding toward a greater benefit to the natural and built environments. This is part of Dow’s commitment to identify $1 billion in net present value through their Valuing Nature Goal, and work processes developed to support the goal, as well as challenges and successes in driving culture change (Polzin and Molnar, n.d.; Engineering with Nature, 2021).
Recently, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) intends to funnel up to $10 billion into preventing climate disasters, the most ever, preemptively protect against damages by building sea walls, elevating and moving flood-prone homes and businesses, and other steps as climate change intensifies storms and other natural disasters—“Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities or BRIC”. While this is an important step, it is doubtful this will be enough given the costs that climate change will exact. The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers National Nonstructural Committee (NNC) has had a relocation program from flood plains and other areas prone to natural flooding and that has met with some success but resistance as well (National Nonstructural Committee). There is a continuing discussion of resilience (Campbell, 2021). There is the idea of “seasteading”, houses and other buildings built on floating platforms that would rise and fall with the tides and changing sea levels (Cusick, 2020). Although this can seem a bit far-fetched, the Dutch have been doing this for 400-500 years. As with many things in our society including transportation and mobility, lower income families and the dispossessed are disproportionally impacted (Cusick, 2020).
There are also landscape designs emerging to protect cities and property as flood plains of rivers are shrinking, much of it led by the Netherlands, and have relevance to transportation infrastructure (Mossop, 2021; Rijkswaterstaat, 2019). Research also indicates promise for measuring risks and optimal rerouting of traffic during flash floods, minimizing exposure to motorists (Corns, et al, 2021). A lot can be learned from biomimicry as well (Fairs, 2021).
During the devastating 1993 Mississippi River floods the St. Louis District Engineer stated that “you cannot control Mother Nature.” That was true then and is true now. We can, however, work with Mother Nature, perhaps more as native and indigenous peoples did as they had little choice but to live in harmony.
The climate crisis is an existential threat. Roadway traffic alone accounts for about one-third of greenhouse gas emissions. As such, there are many opportunities for transportation professionals to have a positive impact in reducing and mitigating the climate crisis and associated impacts to our transportation and mobility system (Gates, 2021; Adler, 2021). Some examples (Plummer, 2021):
Rethink transportation grants
Make states measure emissions
Mandate cleaner vehicles (go electric)
Lend a hand to public transit
Push congress for new laws
Still other areas hold promise (Schapker, 2021):
Surface transportation authorization
Highway Trust Fund solvency
Project delivery reforms
Most recently, Buttigieg and his modal administrators spoke to the AASHT0 Board of Directors on February 25, 2021 and spoke to the pillars that will drive federal transportation policy:
Breaking down barriers within the U. S. Department of Transportation, between other federal departments, and with state and local agencies
He and his modal administrators also discussed a variety of initiatives and potential initiatives such as environmental justice, jobs, a partnership with auto manufacturers to alert drivers of on coming trains, user-friendliness/less bureaucracy with smaller communities, a dedicated rail trust fund, increasing bus lanes, sustainable funding, a coordinated government setup on climate change, and others. (Cho, 2021).
These are all critical issues for the transportation and mobility space. These and other critical issues have also been reported elsewhere (see most recent TRB critical issues in transportation report).
Still, our society operates in largely economic terms so we must speak in those terms (Milberg, 2021; Wachs, 2011; Cramer, 2018). One recent example is from Florida, of which the state legislature requires a report on the economic impact of transportation investments (Florida Department of Transportation, 2020). Similarly, the Oregon Transportation Investment Act III first priority required by the state legislature was economic stimulus. That was measured in various methodologies including jobs created or sustained (HDR, n.d.).
Tribal Nations as native Americans have a unique status in our country as dependent sovereignties and they have unique challenges. As such, the USDOT and BIA programs at the federal level are important and must be reviewed for reasons similar to reviewing and updating the funding and allocation that is needed for states and communities, urban and rural, and in a partnering framework. Similarly, this is true for territories as they are American citizens as well.
Eventually, transportation and mobility should be addressed holistically in social, economic, and environmental terms on a routine basis, whether in planning, needs assessments, establishing priorities, or other processes. It is the only way to achieve a sustainable and healthy built-natural environment.
Engaging people is critical to success and all means must be exhausted in the effort, virtual as well as physical. Sometimes the process of making a decision together as a community is more important than the decision made (Couros, 2021). This will require significant outreach, public meetings, education, listening, and a sense of humor yet sober seriousness. The United States and world are filled with good people who want to live good, happy, and safe lives. It is only by engaging and educating people and working together that we will achieve the future we all desire. One recent example by industry was announced December 10, 2020, a coalition of 37 leading company CEOs (www.OneTen.org) has formed One Ten to hire and promote one million Black Americans over the next ten years into family-sustaining jobs with opportunities for advancement. As a meritocracy, we must find ways to yoke the intellectual talent and diversity of all Americans regardless of race, color, creed, sexual orientation or other differences.
There are many, many examples where effectively engaging people has been critical to success, as it is a part of virtually any successful venture. One example, the Nebraska Department of Transportation led a statewide safety summit that over a period of a few years reduced roadway fatalities by 50 percent. More recently, the Kansas City area is engaging people for ideas to reduce roadway fatalities and injuries (Mid-America Regional Council, n.d.).
We have a generational opportunity to transform and improve America’s infrastructure (Buttigieg, 2021), and in a post-pandemic world (Cisneros and Fulton, 2021).
There is much to do and there are many ideas. We need them. Still we need a strategy to guide and align these efforts. Transportation agencies have much in common around the world and state departments of transportation have had a dominant presence in the United States—safety, traffic control, infrastructure planning, project development, design, construction, and maintenance. Because of the rapid move to digital technology, one of the more promising services is cloud technologies or computing and its inherent flexibility, agility, scalability. It offers economies of scale through large, centralized server banks and services that provide hardware, software, and applications through the Internet vice the expense of having them on site. The risks must be weighed, but there appears to be considerable upside, to include improved customer facing outcomes vice “back room” or organizational business processes.
Some of the leaders adopting these technologies include toll agencies who are continually seeking ways to improve customer outcomes which include not only the physical infrastructure and traffic speed but paying tolls as easily as possible. As the move toward a mileage-based system continues, especially given Tesla, VW, etc., and increasing pledges of 100% manufacture-only of electric vehicles by 2035 by Ford, GM, and others, transportation agencies may be operating a lot more like a utility in the near future. As such, the experience of toll agencies may allow them to take the lead. Certainly other transportation agencies can learn a lot as this future evolves. The potential for people and freight to move seamlessly, easily, and without cash, through one multimodal mobility ecosystem is possible, if not highly probable or a virtual certainty. (Wehrmann, 2021).
As the mobility ecosystem continues to change, it is in a unique position to be a substantial help in improving society, the economy, environment, and people’s lives.
Adamus, P.R. and L.T. Stockwell. (1983). A method for wetland functional assessment: Volume 1 critical review and evaluation. Federal Highway Administration. Retrieved April 11, 2021, from https://trid.trb.org/view/205071
Burt, J.M., M.T. Tinker, D.K. Okamoto, K.W. Demes, K. Holmes, A.K. Salomon. (2018, July 25). Sudden collapse of a mesopredator reveals its complementary role in mediating rocky reef regime shifts. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Retrieved April 11, 2021, from https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2018.0553
Carter, D. (2021, January 21). Our work is never done: examining equity impacts in public transportation. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Retrieved March 21, 2021, from https://youtu.be/IBMgn5Ivm3c
Engineering with Nature. (2021, February 10). Dow’s valuing nature journey: how a multinational chemical corporation is realizing value by incorporating Nature in its business decisions. Engineering with Nature. Seminar Video. Retrieved April 11, 2021, from https://ewn.el.erdc.dren.mil/seminars.html
Entrepreneur. (2020, November 18). Bill Gates predicts that 50% of business travel and 30% of office life will disappear in the post-Covid-19 era. Entrepreneur. Retrieved March 21, 2021, from https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/359957
Herrera-García, G., P. Ezquerro, R. Tomás, M. Béjar-Pizarro, J. López-Vinielles, M. Rossi, R. M. Mateos, D. Carreón-Freyre, J. Lambert, P. Teatini, E. Cabral-Cano, G. Erkens, D. Galloway, W. Hung, N. Kakar, M. Sneed, L. Tosi, H. Wang, S. Ye. (2021, January 1). Mapping the global threat of land subsidence. Science 371(6524):34-36. Retrieved March 21, 2021, from https://science.sciencemag.org/content/371/6524/34
McPherson, D.J.I. Finger, H.F. Houskeeper, T.W. Bell, M.H. Carr, L. Rogers-Bennett, R.M. Kudela. (2021, March 5). Large-scale shift in the structure of a kelp forest ecosystem co-occurs with an epizootic and marine heatwave. Communications Biology 4(298). Retrieved April 11, 2021, from https://www.nature.com/articles/s42003-021-01827-6
TRB. (2021, March 8). New mobility services combined with transit show potential to further accessibility, efficiency. equity, safety, and sustainability. Transportation Research Board. Retrieved March 21, 2021, from http://www.trb.org/main/blurbs/181729.aspx
Xu, C., T. A. Kohler, T. M. Lenton, J. C. Svenning, M. Scheffer. (2020, May 26). Future of the human climate niche. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 117(21) 11350-11355. Retrieved March 21, 2021, from https://www.pnas.org/content/117/21/11350
While the future can be exciting and an adventure, there are unanticipated events that occur that can disrupt normal flows and operations (Maritz, 2019). On the extreme, there have been catastrophes that seemed “acts of god”, events that are not contemplated in this series of blogs yet provide some context (Maritz, 2019; Gibbons, 2018). More predictable and relevant to our lifetimes, the Cascadia Fault off the coasts of Oregon and Washington is predicted to rupture in the next 50 years and could be the worst North American human disaster on record with significant costs in lives lost and property damage. The damage to roads, bridges, airports, transit, railroads, and navigable waterways will significantly reduce the ability to respond and recover. This event is being studied and planned for (Bauer, et al, 2018; Roth and Thompson, 2018; Sounds, 2019; Steele, 2020).
Risk management is the identification, evaluation, and prioritization of risks followed by methodologies to minimize, monitor, and control the probability or impact of unfortunate events or to maximize the realization of opportunities. The U. S. transportation industry has enormous risk exposure and among the most risk-prone industries in the world. As such, the federal transportation act—Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act or MAP-21 and signed into law in 2012—established the requirement for states to develop a risk-based asset management plan. Risk management is a dynamic process and used routinely within the public and private sectors. Without such plans, organizations can be surprised by events that have negative financial impacts or missed positive opportunities with improved outcomes. The literature on risk management is rich and evolving. A Black Swan is an unpredictable event that is beyond what is normally expected and has the potential for severe consequences. Risks must be identified at the beginning of a project or program, discussed, and updated regularly. Some typical risks might include scope, schedule, and budget issues; safety issues; liability issues; site condition issues; dispute issues; quality issues; workforce turnover or other staffing issues; weather or other delays; contract interpretation disputes; rework; prompt payment; opportunities for additional work; priorities; owner readiness; and so on. Regardless, it is critical to identify risks, actions to prevent or mitigate new risks, probability of occurrence, and a champion/responsible party to take the lead. Various means of identifying the probability of risks are also important such as Monte Carlo simulation.
The Covid-19 Pandemic is a glaring and recent example of positive and negative impacts and could be categorized as a Black Swan. It could not have been anticipated although pandemics are a certainty. As risks do, it is also having positive and negative impacts. For example, remote work and quarantining are reducing CO2 emissions (IEA, 2020; Figure 9), online shopping continues to increase versus brick and mortar stores (Ali, 2021), costs associated with commuting and office space (Boland, et al, 2020; Ambrose, 2020), and reducing traffic congestion (Ronan, 2021). Some reports are that certain categories of online shopping and delivery increased 50-125 percent in 2020 compared to 2019. However, already disadvantaged populations are disproportionately negatively affected and transit faces an existential threat in 2021 and beyond due to the reduction of ridership and associated revenues.
As many as 572 airports are also threatened by global warming and associated sea level rise by 2021 (Yesudian and Dawson, 2021). A record number of hurricanes, wildfires and floods cost the world $210 billion in damage in last year, much of it due to global warming. The six most expensive disasters of 2020 occurred in the U.S. (NOAA, 2021; Kann, 2021). There is also the threat of land subsidence that may affect 19 percent of the world population by 2040 (Herrera-Garcia, et al, 2021).
As of this writing, over 30 million U. S. citizens have tested positive for COVID-19 and over 500,000 deaths. That is more than 1 in 9 that have been diagnosed with the disease. Under more normal conditions before the pandemic, there was not a public transit system that was not subsidized. Even with vaccines being fielded, the future of transit ridership and revenues is far from certain. The course for the foreseeable future, without federal help, is to reduce services. Black Swans and other events may be giving us a “pause” to rethink transportation/mobility.
As weather patterns change, commodities and other flows are interrupted and delayed. The recent Texas utility debacle from unusual winter weather is yet another risk that could have been precluded and mitigated. People and companies lost heat, potable water and waste water services, and have and are experiencing injuries, death, and economic hardships—a series of cascading failures (Northey, 2021). During the crisis, unregulated utilities charged a market cap price of $9,000 per mega-watt hour (McGinty and Patterson, 2021). The lack of preparation was made worse by delaying commodities including food and Covid-19 vaccinations. Moreover, Texas utilities were warned 10 years earlier of the preparation needed but they ignored the risks (Blunt and Gold, 2021). This is a failure of leadership.
In addition to individual risks typically identified in risk assessments, there can also be risk correlations between work breakdown structure (WBS) elements, events, risks of projects, across projects, and programs. Some of these might include (modified from Prieto, 2020):
“Money Allocated Is Money Spent”
Parkinson’s Law – work expands to fill the time allotted
Overconfidence in assessing uncertainties
Complexity with hidden coupling – risk events are likely to affect multiple cost elements with the potential for cascading impacts
State of technology – common new technologies/materials
Common management, staff and work processes
Optimism bias and other biases consistently applied
Budgeting and contingency management strategy and approach
Packaging and contracting strategy
Failures/delays at interfaces
Low frequency high impact events of scale
So risks, associations of risks, and Black Swans can be complicated and reflect the nature of the mobility ecosystem, systems, and systems of systems, in general. Megaprograms and projects (over $1 billion) are particularly prone (Denicol, et al, 2020; Vartabedian, 2021; Garmo, et al, 2015; Irimia-Diéguez, et al, 2014; Zidane, et al, 2013; Flyvbjerg and Bruzelius, 2014).
Dr. “Kevin” Bao also provides an interesting perspective on how leaders should respond to crises and opportunities (Steele, 2021).
Denicol, J., A. Davies, I. Krystallis. (2020, February 13). What are the causes and cures of poor megaproject performance? A systematic literature review and research agenda. Project Management Journal. Retrieved February 27, 2021, from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/8756972819896113
Herrera-Garcia, G., P. Ezquerro, R. Tomás, M. Béjar-Pizarro, J. López-Vinielles, M. Rossi, R. M. Mateos, D. Carreón-Freyre, J. Lambert, P. Teatini, E. Cabral-Cano, G. Erkens, D. Galloway, W. Hung, N. Kakar, M. Sneed, L. Tosi, H. Wang, S. Ye. (2021, January 1). Mapping the global threat of land subsidence. Science. Retrieved February 27, 2021, from https://science.sciencemag.org/content/371/6524/34
The future of transportation/mobility is about leadership. Seven tenants to improve this include:
Safety: reduce crashes, fatalities, injuries, and property damage
At its base, every department of transportation, their partners, and stakeholders hold their first priority as safety. This is the value we put on life. As the future of transportation and mobility evolve, driven by demand for technology and collaboration, a safe system can be achieved with zero crashes, fatalities, injuries, and property damage. However, human nature cannot be controlled and periodic mishaps are bound to occur. Nonetheless, the future is bright for a safer transportation/mobility system.
Mobility: reduce congestion, increase the capacity of existing infrastructure; connected and intermodal=one seamless transportation system
Every transportation department, their partners, and stakeholders were formed to improve mobility, whether that was getting out of the mud or the interstate highway system. Earlier, these departments were focused on engineering and construction using concrete, asphalt, and steel to predominately build a network of roads and bridges. The complexity for these departments has long since become increasingly multi-faceted, demanding additional disciplines, skill sets, and more understanding. The future of transportation and mobility, again driven by increasing demand for digital technology and collaboration, portends the opportunity for one connected, intermodal, seamless transportation system. The parts to this system are fast emerging in autonomous vehicles, one shop stop apps for routing, transfers and payments, and increasing demands from the public to make it so. This latter is driven largely by demand for access, social justice, greater diversity and other social values for fairness.
Economy: improve access to jobs, products and services, origin, destination, and transport
There is a strong argument that transportation and mobility have been a primary driver of economic growth. This is an especially strong argument in valuing the interstate highway system. Other countries recognize that, too. That is why China is building the “One Belt, One Road” which will result in the largest road network in the world and India’s National Highways Development Project which will result in a road network of over 30,000 miles as an element of their industrial revolution. Our entire society depends on transportation and mobility for access to jobs, public safety, health care, food, recreation, and many others. This access can be as large as the interstate highway system or as small as handicap ramps at intersections and curbs. Transportation and mobility are important at every level of our society although many take it for granted. Increasingly and rightly so, departments of transportation are using various and emerging systems to more directly value the impact of transportation and mobility in the economy. In fact, many have this reflected in their mission statements.
As the future emerges and more efficient, environmentally friending fuels come into the market, the future transportation and mobility system may include a newer user-based system such as a vehicle miles traveled tax or VMT, emerging from the fuel tax invented by the State of Oregon in 1919. This has been demonstrated as feasible for over 10 years by Oregon and other states. As such, the transportation and mobility system may operate more like a utility than it does now.
As the demand for digital technology and collaboration has increased, it requires a workforce that knows and understands how to use them. The rate of change is so rapid that the entire transportation and mobility industry, educators, and job seekers are challenged to keep up.
Environment: improve air, land, and water
As the social consciousness of environmental pollution, impacts, and climate change has increased, the efforts to control, mitigate and cleanup those impacts have correspondingly risen. While the environment and the impacts put upon it are often complex, the ownership is often ambiguous. Although many businesses are leaders in improving the environment, governments at all levels are frequently the leaders in regulating, mitigating and cleaning up impacts. As such, it is increasingly common for departments of transportation to be looked to lead in the environmental arena and mitigate the impacts on air, land, or water. My own sense is that these departments are generally very sophisticated and are up to the task.
Costs: reduce overall costs
Most people, governments, and businesses look closely at the costs in dollars since that is a primary measurement of value in our society. We view our savings, reduced costs, or costs avoided to a lesser degree. These can be significant, especially when viewed broadly such as the time-value to the driver either sitting in traffic, not being able to get to work or appointments on time, emergency responders including ambulances being slowed or stuck in traffic, and the increased opportunity for secondary collisions. Still, other impacts on the environment may be affected and add to global warming. What are the impacts on plants and animals which share our planet and sometimes may represent the “canary in the coal mine”. While direct costs in dollars serve an important purpose, viewing the wider range of costs, including those that are difficult or may not lend themselves to being valued in dollars, can be a challenge. In fact, progress in some areas such as environmental impacts and climate change may not be adequately valued in dollars, in spite of the fact that there are real financial impacts. Taking the “big picture” of the real or estimated costs in dollars or other value systems is difficult. Still, this must be done to more fairly assess the impacts to and within the built and natural environments. Otherwise, decision-making, which always has inherent flaws or risks, will not result in optimal judgments. Our ability to make more informed decisions on the total costs is evolving and improving in many parts of our society, including in transportation and mobility. Some of the systems enabling decision-making are well founded and continue to be well used, such as engineering economics. Others such as balancing the built and natural environments are more challenging but are improving within the emerging discipline of sustainability.
Time: reduce travel time
There is only so much time. Most of us are very protective of it. If we cherish our time, then it makes sense to place a value on it. Increasingly this is done. For example, placing a dollar value on a driver’s time and doing a calculation for a construction contractor’s incentive if work is completed early, or conversely charging a disincentive if work is completed late. Driven by increasing demand for digital technology and collaboration, the transportation/mobility system future promises a transition from a fragmented multimodal system to one connected, seamless, intermodal system that will optimize travel time for each of us.
Support: leverage emerging, business intelligence/analysis, data, and decision-making systems
The six previous tenants are ideas that cannot be achieved without an underlying support system. While these are based on education and research and development, emerging technologies are building tools for creating better built and natural environments. The rapidly evolving arena of the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, business intelligence, and analytics, augmented and virtual reality and others are great, especially when considering the Apple iPhone was only released in 2007. Digital technology is a significant driver in this brave new world of transportation and mobility. Another significant driver is our human ability to collaborate for the greater societal good. Using these emerging tools to create a better transportation and mobility system will be a significant step.
The above seven tenants do not supplant the process of planning, design, construction, operations, and maintenance. At least until there is a better way, these do not supplant many other important elements such as a strong safety culture and program, annual needs assessments and their costs or savings, preserving the existing system, utilization of asset management tools, assessing and documenting infrastructure condition, and monitoring and managing traffic speed and volume.
It is the utility of all tools that will optimize outcomes in creating a better world for us and our posterity.
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”
Executive leadership requires a complete and evolving set of tools, including maintaining a big picture perspective and delving into details as necessary. This spectrum of leadership, management, and oversight manifests itself in daily activities. As such, I have borrowed from my own experience in developing the generic outline below for conducting daily activities. Every person develops their own unique daily routines. Thus, I emphasize that this is simply a generic outline and primer based on my own experience.
A basic premise
Opportunity + Preparation = Success
People-based: You lead people and manage things, but it is all about people: first who, then what (Good to Great).
“feedback loops” and continuous improvement
What’s most important? Employees. Select the right people, set the right expectations, provide the right tools and training, provide opportunities, help them succeed and develop leaders. They will take care of the clients. “We listen, we solve.”
Overall, set the vision, values, direction, culture, priorities, and coach within a framework where people can flourish.
“feedback loops” and continuous improvement
strategic plan: goals and performance measures
the future of transportation is at a “tipping point”
public-private partnerships (ramped up collaboration)
digital technology revolution
“feedback loops” and continuous improvement
outreach to employees, clients, client’s clients, stakeholders and partners
leverage emerging technologies
identify issues, problems, obstacles and fix them: continuous improvement
ensure linkage to strategic/long-term and near-term goals
balance everything against risks
do an assessment of employees, new and existing clients, stakeholders and partners
new goals to consider:
expand market share with existing clients…understand client interests and issues, win work, exceed expectations, repeat clients
develop new clients and expand transportation (roads, bridges, rail, transit, aviation, ports etc), through planning, design, construction management, CEI, program and project management, and other services as the preferred provider, including through staff augmentation
be a tier 1 provider of planning, design, construction, operations, maintenance, and support services
build image-increase visibility with various interests, including existing and new clients-legislatures, city councils, county commissions, transportation commissions, dots, aeronautics/airports, economic developers and departments, emergency management, AGC/contractors, ACEC/consultants, ASCE, AASHTO, ARTBA, ITSA, ATA, APWA, PMI, IHEEP, universities/colleges, MPOs, ACO/counties, LOM/cities, UP, BNSF, short line railroads, USDOT, FHWA, FAA, FTA, FRA, USACE, and others
assess the efficacy of acquisitions/mergers
support and collaborate with other line business sectors
monitor and assist growing bridge programs…design and construction
assess the efficacy of alternative delivery…DB, CMGC, PPP
assess economic stimulus of work…jobs created, taxes generated, spending/re-spending, etc
prepare, emphasize and execute sustainability across all business sectors
teaming with contractors, consultants, and others-collaborate to win business
efficacy of targeted acquisitions/mergers
efficacy of new markets
The world is changing and we must change with it. Traditional engineering and construction are not enough.
Commit to the success of team, organization, clients, partners, and stakeholders.
Good to Great by Jim Collins, 2001, HarperBusiness, NY
An owner’s readiness to the success or failure of projects is not limited to major projects as described by Prieto (PM World Journal, Volume III, Issue 1, January 2014, entitled “Owner’s Readiness Index”) although this provides a useful background for discussion. Experience suggests risks to all projects unless certain owner elements are in place to enable project success. I will briefly touch upon some of these elements.
These elements are structured in the following areas.
Owner readiness with respect to clearly articulated strategic business objectives.
Owner readiness with respect to a clearly articulated decision framework and process.
Owner readiness with respect to planning and execution.
Owner readiness with respect to strategic business objectives
Vulnerabilities can unwittingly enter owner readiness like any human-designed system. This can especially be true when owners lack project experience and attempt to manage myriad relationships that are so complex that they can defy thorough understanding. There are several dimensions to this shortcoming to include:
Poorly defined or articulated vision, mission and objectives.
Inadequate alignment between various partners including elected officials, appointed officials, interest groups, planners and executors, the public and similar or corresponding partners in the private sector.
Inadequate communication and support of the “intent” to include the vision, mission and objectives.
Thinking through a strategy with clearly defined objectives requires experience. If this is not done well from the beginning then the project is at risk and the likelihood of failure increases. This is made increasingly complicated since many owner partnerships with differing agendas may be involved. Public sector partnerships might include federal, state and local elected and appointed officials, planners and executors, interest groups and private sector expertise as an extension of the public workforce. A similar collection of partnerships may exist with private sector owners.
While alignment and buy-in are essential to the success of any project, this is greatly facilitated by strong leadership and direction. Moreover, the strategy, to include the strategic business objectives, must be continuously communicated and supported. This greatly impacts maintaining alignment.
Inadequate focus on the strategy and strategic business objectives also allows biases to enter the process, causing increased risks to include delays, uncertainty and confusion. The assumption that there is a shared understanding of the strategy and strategic business objectives may result in suboptimal performance, delays and even failure.
Owner’s readiness with respect to decision framework and process
Planning and execution frameworks and processes greatly impact project success. As such, owners must have a secure grasp on these frameworks to provide stability and direction through the processes. These include but are not limited to:
Business model and scenarios with regards to the project.
Governance structure that provides clear leadership, accountability, alignment and confidence in the strategy.
Clearly defined roles and responsibilities to include an approval matrix and constraints. Executive involvement must be defined as a part of this without inhibiting the initiative of planners and executors.
Phasing and who needs to be involved at each phase.
Process clarity and timing to include approvals.
Decision frameworks and processes are key dimensions of an owner’s readiness. As such, owners must have a secure handle on them to provide stable and confident leadership and direction. As with the strategy and strategic business objectives, an assumption that there is a shared understanding can be a significant risk to project success.
Owner readiness with respect to planning and execution
The owner’s organization must have a clearly defined capability to provide oversight of project implementation, to include planning and execution. This includes:
An ability to assess his or her own project team’s performance, partly to ensure they are enabling contractors and consultants to implement the project efficiently and effectively while not duplicating efforts or erecting barriers to success.
Ensure reports on project progress are efficiently provided to partners and stakeholders.
Ensure that the project is in compliance with the scope, schedule and budget and clearly defined in the contract and as augmented by other administrative requirements.
Ensure that plans and execution approaches are aligned and staffed with individuals with the right competencies to achieve the strategic business objectives. Plans should support required owner approvals and associated processes.
The owner’s strategy for a successful project must be supported by strong leadership and a transparent and clear business strategy. A shared understanding of the strategy, strategic business objectives, decision framework and process, planning and execution is key to project success. The assumption that a shared understanding exists puts a project at significant risk.
“Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.”
Below are some common foundational elements of leadership and management. This is primarily “a top of mind” list based on my experience. This list is neither comprehensive nor unique to me.
Leadership matters—people-based, results-driven; provide direction, remove obstacles; be accountable and responsible for everything that does or does not happen; take blame; give credit; be action-oriented; lead change; systematize; develop leaders; be authentic—to thine own self be true
Know the business
Know the industry
Attract and retain talent and build the team—they are the ones that get the results
Relationships matter—trust, transparency and alignment
Communicate a lot, especially listen
Delegate authority and responsibility (accountability cannot be delegated)
Don’t tolerate micromanagement or bureaucratic nonsense
Focus on a clear and simple mission
Focus on results (outcomes), not process—oriented on a few, simple, elegant performance measures that drive the mission
Focus on continuous improvement
Focus on evidence-based decision-making
Be frugal—spend money as though it is your own
Leverage technology, and allow for changes in technology
Develop economies of scale
Develop feedback loops
Develop simple, elegant, consistent messaging
Develop simple, actionable focused reports
Balance everything against risks
Balance change, directives and control with empowerment, delegation, trust and relationships
Recognize individual and team success—this raises them as an example to others and themselves
Always use simple courtesy and appreciation—say thank you
Celebrate success and have fun
Feel free to add other items to this list or develop your own list of leadership and management foundational elements. What’s important is to be mindful of the foundational elements that work for you so that you can reflect and improve them. Leadership and management are aspirational goals that are never achieved or finished.
“Leadership is an opportunity to serve. It is not a trumpet call to self-importance.”
-J. Donald Waters
“Leadership cannot really be taught. It can only be learned.”
-Harold S. Geneen
“The leader is one who mobilizes others toward a goal shared by leaders and followers… Leaders, followers and goals make up the three equally necessary supports for leadership.”