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Episode 93 guest David Howard

As Chief Deputy Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Transportation, David Howard must balance not only the needs of both urban and rural transportation users, but also the potential of innovation with the foundation of transit networks.

You can read more about the differing needs of urban and rural transportation users by downloading our economic development white paper today!


Cohen: Josh Cohen
Howard: David Howard

Cohen: My guest today, David Howard, grew up in west Charlotte where his passion for improving the community began, inspired in part by Charlotte’s first African American mayor, Harvey Gantt. You’ll hear more from David’s journey coming up now on The Movement podcast. Let’s go.

F: The freedom of movement to access jobs, education, and social activities is a fundamental human right, but that freedom is not distributed equitably, undermining our ability to create vibrant and sustainable communities for all. Welcome to The Movement where we talk with the leaders who are reshaping their communities with brave decisions, inspired advocacy, and a stubborn unwillingness to accept the status quo all in an effort to inspire the next generation of leaders. Here are your hosts Josh Cohen and L’erin Jensen.

Cohen: My guest today is David Howard, the Chief Deputy Secretary for the North Carolina Department of Transportation. Prior to his service to the State of North Carolina, David served the country at the U.S. Department of Transportation as Associate Administrator of Policy and Governmental Affairs for the Federal Highway Administration, and he also served Charlotte as a member of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission and later the Charlotte City Council. Welcome to The Movement, David.

Howard: Thank you so much, Josh. Thank you for having me.

Cohen: Well, good. I’m looking forward to digging in here because you’ve had such a fascinating career. I mean, you’ve done kind of almost everything at the local and then the state and the federal, public-sector levels. And so, you know, I really just want to start here with how have they all been different as it relates to how you move your agenda forward. Because that’s certainly part of, you know, being in the public sector, is you’re kind of trying to kind of bring positive things to the community. And so how have those been different or similar, I guess, as it relates to moving your agenda forward?

Howard: Yeah, sure. First of all, thank you for having me. And, you know, as I started thinking about kind of how I would approach that, it’s interesting. I’m not sure that at any one level I thought I had an agenda, but, you know, after thinking about it, I think some things have kind of shook out of kind of my analysis of it. I think it comes down to three broad areas. It would probably be kind of how the urban and rural divides can be dealt with. It dealt with innovation from a transportation and a community, smart-city approach; and then there would be social equity, always with that being in mind. Probably that probably more important than the other two, to be honest with you.

So, I think, over time—I mean, I could tell you at the local level my involvement there started far before I became an elected official. It probably started when I was 12 or 13 years old growing up the wrong side of town, if you will, kind of the poverty stricken area of Charlotte and always kind of dreaming about what it could be, you know, going to other sides of town and looking at the new libraries and looking at the new grocery store, those new amenities that every other part of town seemed to have but the area that I grew up on. And that became kind of my thing. I wanted to be the guy to bring it back to the areas I grew up in. So that would be kind social equity, that urban thing at the state level.

And, I guess, I did it the reverse. I went to the federal level next. And at that level I had a chance to actually take a lot of those broad things that I had learned on the local level as a city councilmember and a member of the planning commission and be able to share kind of how I thought transportation and land use came together. So very quickly, because of Charlotte’s investment into public transit and mass transit with our light rail line and kind of planning for the future, I got thrown into conversations across the country about kind of how that all worked together. Then, again, social equity, you started thinking more broadly about kind of how the rural areas were different and how they needed things different from the urban areas.

I mean, if you think about it, urban areas are about congestion management, and rural areas are about mobility, two very different things. And, you know, then I had a chance to bring things that I found across the country back to my home state of North Carolina in the current role where, you know, it was very good to be able to use examples of what I learned around social equity and kind of what made communities work and what made things like affordable housing and what land use important. And then, again, social equity, because a lot of these areas, you know, are not just minority; they have different classes as well, so trying to figure out how to bring holistic solutions. I think what I’ve been able to do is in all three of those areas bring kind of the best of what I’ve seen to whatever project I’m working on.

Cohen: You know, in your role at the North Carolina Department of Transportation, which kind of groups do you oversee? Because I know you have a couple different areas that are kind of in your purview now.

Howard: I have everything except the roads, when it comes to transportation. And you know Julie White, who is our Deputy Secretary for Multimodal Transportation; she oversees under my direction our rail division, our aviation division, our ferry division, what we’re calling our IMD, Integrated Mobility Division. And then I’m responsible also for our Office of Civil Rights, which is where we make sure that we’re being compliant with all those things that we’re required to do from all of our financial partners and investors as well as making sure that we’re doing business with a variety of citizens across the country. Have our HBCU outreach office, which has just become a model, if you will, which is all about not just recruiting talent, but it’s also about more recently here kind of pulling out their R&D and their different things that they can contribute to the way that we are growing and what we’ll become as a state as it relates to transportation.

I’m in charge of freight and logistics as well as our transportation planning division, which is all about long-range planning. I used to have DMV and Global TransPark. And then—so I’m proud of the work we did there, and then more recently under Secretary Trogdon I was given the responsibility of kind of growing out our innovation efforts around the future of transportation, technology and where it’s going in the future. So that is autonomous vehicles, that’s drones, that’s working with our industry partners, that’s working internally to figure out how we operationalize those things and anything else that’s going to be coming in the way of innovation.

Cohen: So I want to dig in on that a little bit. You mentioned innovation earlier as well, and so I’d love to maybe tie this together. Because certainly, you know, there’s so much innovation that’s going on right now. I know the State of North Carolina is doing a test right now with an autonomous vehicle. I know you did a test, I think, last year with an autonomous drone as well. Both pretty cool, but I want to—

Howard: Both under my areas, by the way.

Cohen: Yeah, okay, good, good, good. Yeah, I certainly knew the testing the autonomous vehicle there at NC State was definitely a part of your purview. So, I guess, I want to, like, find this balance between innovation and kind of the stuff that’s not really the sexy stuff. Right? It’s not the innovation; it’s kind of the bread-and-butter transportation stuff that you and I both know is kind of, like, what most of the people when they think of transportation are going to deal with on a regular basis throughout the state or any other state for that matter. So how do you balance those two? Because certainly I would accept that both are important, but you kind of have to balance them. Right? How do you do that in a fair way, in a way that makes sense for what people in the state need today?

Howard: Well, I mean, a lot of it is just reacting, to be honest with you, to kind of what the industry brings us. And what my attempt was, was to try to pull a DOT into helping to shape kind of even where industry and academia is going with that. I think we should be as much in the driver seat as either one of those. But let’s walk through that. So, I mean, if you think about it, innovation actually and transportation has been going here kind of—we’ve seen a lot of new things in the last five years or so. If you think about the shared mobility services with Lyft and with Uber, what you saw in that situation was innovation from the standpoint of moving people around. I mean, all we really had until then was kind of, you know, taxis and loosely public transportation to deal with kind of moving people from point A to point B, and that’s changed. I mean, you know, those have kind of evolved kind of how we thought about, you know, how we move around and how people access doctors and how they access education and a million other things. And then you have something as new as kind of this whole idea of bikeshare and the scooter.

Cohen: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Howard: The whole e-scooter movement is actually changing things. And I’ll be honest with you, Josh. I knew it was kind of a—I was on city council when we got our bikeshare program, so, I mean, you know, I kind of thought that would be one of those things that people who could afford it could do it. I hadn’t really thought about it, to be honest with you, as it relates to being part of this mobility movement of moving people in the areas I grew up in. And the first time I came down West Boulevard where I grew up and I saw, you know, a couple of those—when they just kind of did that free bike thing there for a while, the orange and green bikes, they were all over the place.

Cohen: Yeah.

Howard: And I hadn’t thought about it. I mean, you know, people normally did the walk up to the bus stop, but, I mean, you know, if you could use a bike as opposed to going to a central location to come back because you were just going a couple of miles from your house but the bus was the only way you could do it or walking before, you had an intermediate instrument now that you could use that actually maybe changed the way that transportation patterns work for citizens. And then, even more importantly, just last night I was over at my mom’s and I saw an e-scooter in one of those neighborhoods.

So, I mean, you know, it just kind of explained to me that, you know, and it became clear to me that these different transportation ideas, these different transportation instruments, again, can change the way that, you know, even the poorest of us move around our communities. So, I mean, you know, that’s what I’m saying about I think transportation and some of these newer things can actually improve our quality of life.

Cohen: Oh, for sure. And I certainly feel like that’s part of the reason why people like you and I get into this business, is because of the transformative power of transportation and mobility—right—and what that can allow people to do. And I see your point in the sense that, you know, if you say that the way you got to the bus stop before, to follow that example before, it would have been walking—right—maybe hitching a ride with a friend. You know, now, you know, five years ago or so people were taking the free bikes or the cheap bikes, whatever they were at the time.

Howard: The free bikes, yeah.

Cohen: And now people are taking the scooters. And, you know, tomorrow it might be something else. Right? But—

Howard: I mean, if you think about it, Josh, a lot of times—I mean, going from, again, my mother’s house on West Boulevard to a grocery store, you know, there are no patterns that go across those areas; they went to a central point, and then they came back out. You either caught a ride, you did a taxi, but, you know, all of a sudden now you have this bike, you have this e-scooter, you know, this thing that allows you to move across your districts as well, so you’re not always just kind of doing it, you know, the mass transit way of going to a central point and coming back. I mean, something that may have taken, you know, a couple of hours because that was the way that you did it, now can be done, you know, a little quicker or maybe even take you over to a quicker bus route.

I mean, you know, when we really get good, all these things will be talking together. I mean, that’s one of the things that I’m—I mean, we’ll maybe talk about it a little bit more later is we created this Integrated Mobility Division which was all about kind of making sure that regardless of what you use outside of a car, you know, we were playing some role in taking you from point A to point B, your front door to wherever you were going. No matter what that technology ensued, we wanted to make sure that we were thinking about your plight as a citizen, not just kind of what all the funding sources say we should be doing.

Cohen: And that’s kind of foundationally different than how organizations like state level departments of transportation looked at this in the past, because traditionally you’ve had to look at that through the lens of where you’re getting the money and the federal government and the restrictions associated with that? Is that a fair—

Howard: I mean, you know, in this situation we’re talking about federal highways for bike and ped projects, and then we’re talking about FTA for transit projects. I mean, you know, and those are still challenges. Don’t let me pretend like we still don’t have those issues. But I needed our planners and the people that oversee our grants to think about it differently. I needed them to be doing kind of it from a citizen standpoint, not from the standpoint of whichever federal or state government was giving us money to do what we were doing.

Cohen: How did you do that? Take us into that a little bit, which is—and I know Julie was a key part of that, but how did you and Julie set up that division in such a way to really help your team understand and look at this from a citizen’s perspective, not from kind of what I call a transportation insider’s perspective? Because that’s what we are; right? You and I and Julie and everybody that probably works at the DOT are transportation insiders. And we probably look at things differently, rightly or wrongly because of that.

Howard: And even the three of us, if you think about it, we can get siloed into the areas that we know best.

Cohen: Sure, sure.

Howard: I mean, you know, so, you know, it’s incumbent upon us all to think about it. I mean, if you think about my background, I had this extremely unique thing of being, you know, former chair of the planning commission in an urban area that was growing while mass transit came on, so I got land use. You know, I was the chair of an organization, GTP, out in Eastern Carolina where we’re talking about jobs, which is mobility and land use and job creation. You know, so I mean, you know, I’ve dealt with federal highways and now every other mode. And, you know, I think my goal has been to use, again, those experiences to bring together. So when Julie and I started dealing with, Josh, the e-scooter thing that happened when we first got into office, you know, all of a sudden all those things started kind of coming together.

You know, you worry about the safety of the people using the scooters. At the same time, you want to make sure that, you know, that type of technology is uninhibited when it comes to kind of where it can be and where it can go. You start thinking about what it does for the first and the last mile. I mean, all those things kind of came together. We weren’t sure if it fit into bike and ped; we weren’t sure if it fit into highways and roads. You know, we kind of ran into some confusion about whether or not it should be one or the other. I mean, you know, and we know that there’s going to be transportation technology that continues to evolve. You know, where do they fit?

I mean, you know, CASSI. You talked about the autonomous shuttle that we had that until the pandemic was actually running over at NC State that we rolled out last January at the summit. You know, we ran into all kind of things. I mean, you know, it was DMV laws; it was the fact that it didn’t have rearview mirrors; it didn’t have side mirrors, the fact that it didn’t have the right type of windshield. I mean, you know, there are all kind of things that we’ve put in place to protect, you know, and to facilitate the transportation things that—instruments we have at our disposal right now, but we had to actually continue to figure out how do we deal with that in the future. To Julie’s point, what she brought into it was this idea that, “David, you know, all those things are correct, but the way that we actually direct them, the way the road that we have will be different between urban and rural areas.” So what we’ve been doing is trying to get the structure right.

So the first thing we did is we had a strategic plan done. We brought in experts in kind of all those fields to kind of give us their thoughts, to go look for best practices. And then what we did is we got the leadership structure, so we went from one deputy director, for instance, to having four unit heads, and one of which is actually all about innovation. So, I mean, you know, you can deal with kind of the traditional roles of kind of dealing with kind of the bike and ped needs and transportation needs, but, you know, you have somebody that was kind of overall as a unit looking at where the innovations were coming to make sure we were prepared for those.

And what we’re doing right now is doing some cross training to make sure that, for instance, the people that oversee the grants that go out to the different cities and communities across a state are cross trained about kind of the way all of it comes together so that when they’re talking to the MPOs and North Carolina RPOs, they’re talking about complete solutions, not just kind of one part like they’d been doing before.

Cohen: I want to dig into that a little bit. Because certainly you mentioned this urban and rural earlier as kind of this kind of important concept as it relates to social equity and how different they are, and their needs are different. And so I’m, you know, kind of building on what you just said there. You know, when you’re taking—you know, if you have this autonomous vehicle, it’s one thing when it’s at NC State. If you’re taking that out to a rural county that doesn’t have the same kind of use cases, how do you kind of sell that—or maybe sell that’s the wrong way, but, like, how do you kind of frame that out to them in a way that makes sense or can help meet their needs, I guess, from a mobility standpoint?

Howard: Well, the first thing you should think about, the way we thought about it, is that you want to do some pilots. So, I mean, I’m not sure it’s ready for prime time in those areas yet. I mean, you know, we have to deal with how it maneuvers in traffic; we have to deal with kind of those DMV laws. I mean, you know, we have to deal with speed, because, you know, the speed is not there yet. But, I think, what I was saying is that I want North Carolina DOT to be at the forefront of helping industry figure those things out.
In the situation with NC State, what you have is an opportunity to do it in a controlled environment, to, you know, do it with a population that would be more amenable to actually using it and then giving us the feedback so that we can make it better. You know, I think a lot of it is the way that obviously people felt when they went from horse and buggy to automobile. I’m sure there were a lot of people that were a little hesitant about how it all would come together. But, you know, where you can find use cases where you can actually work through the bugs, if you will, you get an opportunity to see what you need to improve and to give feedback to the manufacturer.

As a matter fact, I think I can share this, that coming out of the pandemic the next place that CASSI will be deployed will be in a rural area out on the coast. Now, it’ll still be a contained area, so it won’t be moving in public streets and all that, but, I mean, the point is to just get people used to it. Again, you know, the first people to press a gas peddle and a brake had to be petrified. [LAUGHTER] I mean, you know. So, you know, we’re going to go through some of those, but I want North Carolina to be known as a state that will, you know, accommodate those types of opportunities and be seen, you know, not, Josh, just from a standpoint of use but also from the standpoint—you know, I think a lot of times industry will go to places where people have embraced the fact that they are open to new technologies and new things, opportunity to grow jobs around those as well.

Cohen: Yeah. Well, and, you know, I think that the thing that I’m pulling out of this that I think is so important is really how you’re framing out this IMD around the use cases of the actual users, because, again, users don’t care at all about your funding sources. All they care about is the fact that they have a mobility need to go from point A to point B. Right? And I think that’s maybe kind of the hinge. If y’all as a state department of transportation are really changing the way you look at how you want to deliver service to your users and to the citizens of North Carolina, to me, that’s the foundational shift that I think is so powerful.

Howard: Under my leadership, that’s exactly what I was trying to do. I mean, I want us to get to the point where, you know, whether we were talking about—you know, we talked about some pretty innovative things over the last couple years. You know, we had conversations about Hyperloops; we had conversations about autonomous shuttles; he had truck platooning happening out on 540. You know, we flew a drone. I mean, I think—you know, an autonomous passenger drone from China. I mean, you know, the whole point was to convey that, you know, North Carolina is open for business as it relates to these things and that we are always looking for better ways to move industry and citizens forward. So, I mean, hopefully that is the message that we’ve been conveying.

Cohen: And as it relates to the rest of the work that you do, obviously that innovation is certainly a part of it, but then you’ve got all those public transit systems in the state that depend on the work that your team is doing and all of the bike and ped infrastructure and all that. That’s all going apace. Right? I mean, folks are having to do that today regardless of what autonomous vehicles are coming down the road.

Howard: Yeah, you have to get that stuff right; no two ways about it.

Cohen: What have you learned in your time in the public sector about those kind of brass-tax kind of projects? You know, it’s like, you know, walking down the street, it’s like having a sidewalk. Right? I live in Durham. There’s plenty of places that just don’t have sidewalks. Right? And this—you know, I was out doing some get-out-the-vote work last week, and I’m walking along some of these streets, like, trying to get out the vote, and, like, there’s no sidewalks; cars are zipping by at 35 miles, 40 miles an hour, and, you know, it doesn’t feel good. You know? How do you, like, get that, you know, recognizing some of the limitations you have as far as funding and so forth?

Howard: I think, in that situation it’s probably more leading by example. I think, when you start to show communities the value that having that type of infrastructure brings, they’re willing to make that. So, remember, I’m a former member of the planning commission in Charlotte as well as city councilmember. And I was an at-large member. So, I mean, you know, what you’re describing is almost every community, you know, across the country. Because there was a time probably, you know, 30, 40 years ago as communities developed, you know, sidewalks were seen as extra, not as a requirement, not even as a need. And a lot of that had to do with just the amount of traffic on the roads. I mean, it was easy for everybody to share the roads because you just didn’t have that amount of congestion.

When you see cities like Durham and Raleigh and even when you go out east and you start to see those urban cores that are redeveloping in Kinston and Goldsboro and some of those other communities, you know, you can see this same pattern across the country. As people start to move in and they go even to their downtowns for dining and other things, you know, they want to not have to move their car every time they move three blocks. So, I mean, I think what you’re seeing is a lot of communities understanding that that type of infrastructure is not just kind of an extra; it’s one of those things that actually makes communities grow and expand.

You know, even in those small areas where you’re starting to see young people move, you know, because of for whatever reason, you know, Durham, Chapel Hill, some of those areas, I mean, you know, where people traditionally want to get out and walk, you know, you see them reinvested in things like sidewalks and even bikeways and even more importantly greenways, because those become some of those quality-of-life amenities that people look for now almost as a plus. So, I think, what I’m saying is that, you know, you have those communities that were developed without that infrastructure, and as a state what we can do is lead by example where we can with funding, with sharing best practices, by explaining, you know, what it does from an economic development standpoint as well as from a safety standpoint. We can make sure that as a state when we’re going in and doing our long-range plans through our transportation planning division that, you know, when we’re doing our county-wide transportation plans for the next 20, 30 years, that we’re saying how important those types of investments are.

As a matter of fact, one of the first things that Secretary Trogdon—former Secretary Trogdon did when he came in is he kind of gave me the task of looking at our complete streets policy, which had been outdated for some time. And we actually went through a very onerous process of looking at, you know, why were we not doing a better job of putting in complete streets whenever the state was making investment in these areas, whether or not we were rebuilding or expanding a project. And a lot of it had to do with some misconceptions about the fact that we thought that in every case it should be every place. You know, context matters. You know, not every place needs one. But, you know, but where appropriate, we needed to make sure that cost was not a prohibitor to making sure that it was a part of it. We needed to make sure that we made it more thoughtful before those types of parts of a project were value-engineered out, because often that’s where you go first when you have to figure out how to bring a project into budget.

Cohen: Sure.

Howard: So, you know, we don’t know if we made it difficult, but we made it one of those things where, you know, a division engineer needs to come, you know, make it make sense to the powers that be why, you know, they saw the need to take those types of amenities out of a project. You know, so some of this is just kind of the way our society has evolved. And, as a state, we’re doing our part to say, you know, “When we’re building, we’re going to do it right, and here is why.”

Cohen: You know, it recalls to mind—and I’m paraphrasing President-elect Biden here, but, “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.” Right?

Howard: Sure. Sure.

Cohen: You know, and I think that’s a great example of what you say there, is, you know, “Hey, you value engineer these things, and the first thing that’s cut is the bike and ped, then it kind of shows you where the priorities are.” Right?

Howard: Hey, Josh. I’ll be honest with you. Before—I’m a German Marshall fellow, so I got to go to Europe for the first time in ’09. Prior to going, I’d been on the planning commission. And I’ll be honest with you; when I saw bike lanes going into Charlotte I kept thinking, you know, “That’s just one more thing from a safety standpoint I have to maneuver as a car driver.”

Cohen: Uh-huh?

Howard: That’s just—you know, I did not see it. I didn’t. My second trip on that fellowship was to Amsterdam, and it changed me. My five days in Amsterdam changed the way I thought about how all of it worked together. I mean, almost immediately there were just—I stayed in the urban area, the center city of Amsterdam, which is what you do when you go for something like that. And there were bikes everywhere.

Cohen: Everywhere, yeah.

Howard: I mean, you know, and they had the right of way on the sidewalks. I mean, you know, I don’t know if we’ll ever get to that standpoint, but the fundamental thing I took away from that trip was understanding that a bicycle could be a real form of transportation. I did not get that. You know, and I had a chance to go on to Berlin, and I got to go to some other places where I saw, you know, where it was cemented into my head how it could function, but none more evident than in Amsterdam. I mean, you know, really, families, I mean, you know, they got around. And it had everything to do with another favorite subject of both of ours, which is land use. I mean, you know, because you could ride to things, you know, it made your life better. I mean, there was real villages throughout the Netherlands because they are so dependent on bikes. In fact, the Netherlands was the first place on a train ride to The Hague I saw—I think we passed a university that had a parking deck, three stories for bicycles.

Cohen: Yeah.

Howard: I mean, there were bicycles everywhere. I mean, you know, it really does work. So, I mean, you know, a lot of us just need to be exposed. And, you know, I’m the guy now that, you know, goes against that argument about the fact that, “But the bike lanes don’t connect to any place yet.” Well, they won’t. The point is to keep putting them in until they do. I mean, you know, roads didn’t connect at some point, but we have to make a commitment to those things because what we’re developing are networks, and when the networks come together it’s going to work flawlessly.

Cohen: That’s right. That’s right. And, I think, for anybody who uses mobility, whether that’s roads or bike lanes or any mobility, that, you know, I think that network is key. Right? You know, it’s like you want to get to that network as quickly as possible.

Howard: The automobile. The automobile was no good. I mean, you know, the interstate system, the state highway system is what brought it together. I mean, you know, if you just did it in cities and didn’t connect the cities, then that wouldn’t make a lot of sense. So, I mean, you know, you have to think about that from the same standpoint.

Cohen: For sure. I want to wrap up with this, which is, you know, when you think about all of your time in the public sector, who have been some of the leaders that have inspired you either prior to your entrance into public sector service or even while you served in public service? And what made them so inspiration?

Howard: Early on that young man that I told you that was, you know, inspired because of where he grew up on the west side, I was inspired by former Mayor of Charlotte Harvey Gantt.

Cohen: Oh, yeah?

Howard: He’s an architect, and I very much wanted to be Harvey Gantt growing up. I wanted to be an architect, and I wanted to be mayor of Charlotte. So, you know, it’s funny. When I ran a couple years ago, I didn’t win, but he endorsed me. I was thinking, “Man, you know, I’ve arrived. I’ve done everything I set out to do.”

Cohen: Wow.

Howard: Including development and land use. I mean, I didn’t do architecture, but I did the rest of it.

Cohen: Yeah, for sure.

Howard: So Harvey Gantt would be one. I mean, you know, his influence on Charlotte, I think, is often shortsighted when people think about the fact that he was just the first Black mayor, and they forget that as an architect—you know, I remember the Tryon Street mall project and, you know, his push for Uptown amenities. A lot of the things that we’re starting to see now make Charlotte such a vibrant downtown can be traced back to some of what he did, because as a mayor and an architect he understood, you know, where those public investments would make the most sense. So him for sure.

Probably, more loosely statewide, Jim Hunt. Just watching his commitment to North Carolina as a former—as a governor, you know, the longest serving governor, serving out four terms, that he actually really brought some attention to this whole conversation about urban and rural and how as a state government we had to address both, not one of them, and even more so how the rural and urban come together around metropolitan areas and what that could be.

Two other people, real quick. Debra Campbell who used to be the planning director for the City of Charlotte, I just learned a lot from her about neighborhood fabric and how they all come together, how the roads, the neighborhoods, you know, the way development addressed streets and the way that they come together matter. And probably, you know, more so here recently is former Secretary, former Mayor of Charlotte Anthony Foxx.

Cohen: Sure.

Howard: His commitment to social equity as it relates to transportation’s effect on this nation in the past and more importantly how we correct it and do better in the future, whether it be public involvement, whether it be looking for innovative ways to address kind of the way that transportation has affected urban areas, through honoring the past with naming or honoring the past by making sure that we, you know, change the way projects address those areas in the future. You know, his ladders of opportunity reconnecting communities, which I had a chance to lead for federal highways, you know, will be impactful for generations. So all of them have influence kind of the way that I think about community development, economic development, and the way we progress as a country.

Cohen: Wow. And I certainly—you know, certainly one thing that kind of echoes back to the beginning of this conversation when you were talking about growing up in west Charlotte—and certainly I’ve heard Secretary Foxx do the same thing, talk about his childhood—

Howard: He grew up in a better part of west Charlotte than I did, by the way. [LAUGHTER]

Cohen: Well, anyway, I’ve heard him tell the story. Right?

Howard: Still bad. Still bad, but, you know, Beatties Ford Road was better than West Boulevard, but keep going. We both graduated from West Charlotte thought, so.

Cohen: All right. There we go. There we go. Well, you know, one of the things I think that I love about both of those connections though is how each of you have used that experience growing up there, and it’s really influenced how you’ve looked at and how you’ve served the public. And I just think that’s really valuable then, and I think it’s something that kind of that origin story, I think, is probably something that we don’t really—I think it gets brushed off sometimes. But I really do think that’s an important and critical part of leadership, and I appreciate you sharing your story with us today.

Howard: There’s not a lot of us that get out to do that, but when you get an opportunity and get to sit at the tables that we have, the one thing that you’re taught in Charlotte is that you have a responsibility to bring that to the conversation. So, I mean, you know, I think that was ingrained in all of us. In fact, if you came to Charlotte, you’d probably see it even in the schools today as more of a responsibility than in most other places that I’ve visited, to be honest with you.

Cohen: That’s great. Well, I am grateful for your service, and thank you so much for joining me on The Movement podcast.

Howard: Thank you for having me.

F: Thanks for listening. If you like what you hear, head to Apple Podcasts and subscribe, rate, and review this podcast. You can find out more at Be sure to join us next week for another episode of The Movement.


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