In a special two-year anniversary episode, L’erin and Josh get updates from former guests, highlight some episodes that resonate with them, and celebrate the power of using one’s voice to advocate for an equitable, accessible, and verdant mobility future.
Cohen: Josh Cohen
Jensen: L’erin Jensen
Kids: The Cohen Kids
Lee: Nadine Lee
Parker: Sunday Parker
Franklin: Debra Franklin
Jaiyeoba: Taiwo Jaiyeoba
Ross: Lynn Ross
Lopez: Lynda Lopez
Cohen: Welcome to a special episode of The Movement podcast celebrating our second anniversary. We debuted on February, 26th 2019, and it’s been quite a run. L’erin, one thing you may not know is that my kids have been begging me to come on the podcast. And I thought maybe they had been practicing what they would say if I had them on, but I guess not. Do you think we should give them another shot?
Jensen: Absolutely, we should give them another shot.
Cohen: All right, kids. Give it one more time.
Kids: Happy two-year anniversary, dad—podcast. [LAUGHTER]
Cohen: And that is why we haven’t had the kids on before.
Kids: Yay! Woohoo! Oh, yeah!
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.
Jensen: So, here’s what we’re going to do this week. We reached out to all of our former guests and invited them to give us an update on what’s been going on since they appeared on the show or share some moments from the show that resonated with them. And of course, Josh and I will share a moment or two that resonated with us.
Cohen: So, one of the fun aspects of doing this episode was hearing from some of our earliest guests that we’ve had. Dan Winston, way back on “Episode 010” sent in this update.
When I was on the show, I was just beginning to scale the DC market for Spin; and I was early in my term as Commissioner in my DC neighborhood. Now, micromobility has proven resilient through a pandemic, a key part of transportation networks in cities around the world. And I’m leading the business across the East region, building on what we did in DC. Since my wife and I will be moving a few blocks outside of our current district, I decided not to run again for Commissioner. But I proudly endorsed my successor, who’s off to a great start. During my term, I co-chaired our task force on DC’s comprehensive plan. Our recommendations called on DC to make the changes needed to create an inclusive future.
Marlene Connor, who followed Dan Winston in “Episode 011,” wrote in to share. “As a member of the first dozen Movement-podcasts club…” which, I guess, she is—
…there certainly have been dynamics at play since we chatted. As we noted, the presence of technology has grown and, to some degree, overwhelmed the industry space. However, as we noted, and has been even more reinforced through COVID and racial justice mobility, not everyone is treated equally in many ways for many reasons.
What has been recognized though is that the mobility of people is the real core strength of public transportation. So communities still have to understand that not only do essential workers rely on public transit, but their families rely on it for school, health, recreation, and so forth. What still has to happen is for policy makers to understand that the improvements in those community mobility systems need standalone funding to establish and sustain the priority standing they deserve.
Jensen: In continuing that theme of equity and funding, “Episode 025’s” Monica Tibbits-Nutt, of the MBTA’s Fiscal Management and Control Board reports in.
A lot has happened since we last spoke in 2019. Before COVID-19, much of my focus was on pushing for more regional planning initiatives, transforming the MBTA bus and commuter rail system, and creating more equitable service planning. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, my work necessarily partially shifted to reimagining transit safety protocols in light of the need to keep our riders, drivers, and front-line employees safe. In this regard, the pandemic has necessitated a whole new kind thinking when it comes to equity concerns.
Equity has remained a significant part of my work. The pandemic has only widened disparities, and thus we have a continued responsibility to focus our services on the customers that need them the most. Transportation funding challenges make a lot of this work even harder as we respond to shifting demands on and for our system.
Cohen: Simon Berrebi, our guest from “Episode 033,” checks in with the following. “Congratulations on celebrating two years! I was really inspired by the episode with Tamika Butler and Destiny Thomas.” Just an aside—this is not Simon; this is Josh again—a lot of folks have shared they really appreciated that episode with Tamika, Dr. Destiny Thomas, and Sahra Sulaiman, which was “Episode 073.” So, if you haven’t listened to that one yet, please do. All right; back to Simon.
Since I was on the podcast, I have started timekeeper.io. This start-up develops open source software, leveraging big data to help transit agencies improve reliability. We have developed an adaptive algorithm to predict bus arrivals in real-time, which was selected by Metro Transit in the Twin Cities.
Jensen: That’s super cool. And obviously here at TransLoc, helping riders have better access to real-time transit arrivals is something that we support. Sometimes it’s the simple things that make all the difference, which is what Nadine Lee of LA Metro shared in “Episode 045” when she teased the Better Bus project. Now, you can get an update from Nadine in her own voice.
Lee: Hey, Josh. It’s Nadine Lee from LA Metro. I just wanted to congratulate you on reaching two years of The Movement. It’s been really great following you and all the guests you’ve had on the podcast. And thanks also for building on everyone’s repertoire and helping us find other folks who share our same philosophies.
So, since we last spoke, so much has happened. I would be remiss not to acknowledge both the pandemic and the movement and support for racial justice and equity. In transportation this has really manifested in more deliberate actions to highlight and discuss equity in our decision-making. And it’s not that we haven’t heard the same cries for justice before; but I think those of us in transportation are perhaps listening differently than we did before, and I’m seeing a lot of momentum for real, meaningful, and lasting change.
For Metro, both the pandemic and Black Lives Matter have changed how we talk about our service. For example, we’re now talking about what we can do for today’s riders, not just how we will bring riders back or how we will attract new riders. The riders on our system right now are our essential workers, the vast majority of whom are people of color with a median household income of less than $18,000 a year. These are our most important customers, and everything we do right now should be focused on them.
So, in the last year we’ve had some really exciting things happening. First, we’ve hired two amazing people. KeAndra Cylear Dodds is our Executive Officer for Equity and Race. KeAndra is making huge strides in helping us ensure that our investments result in equitable outcomes for the most disenfranchised communities in the county. She is leading conversations across the agency that are going to deepen staff’s understanding of systemic racism and really help us recognize how these biases unconsciously affect our activities and decisions. So I’m really looking forward to seeing how her work changes how we do business.
The other addition to our staff is Aaron Weinstein, our Executive Officer for Customer Experience. You might remember that we discussed the development of a customer experience plan. Well, Aaron completed Metro’s very first customer experience plan, and it was adopted by the board late last year. And he’s already implementing some of the recommendations to improve security on the system. He also finished the first customer-experience survey and gathered a lot of rich information that will help Metro prioritize improvements to the benefit of our customers.
The last thing I’ll mention is that Metro is launching our Better Bus program, and you might recall that the Vision 2028 strategic plan talks about developing a world-class bus system. Well, Better Bus is going to make that happen. Better Bus brings all the disparate activities across Metro that touch our bus system and puts them all under one umbrella. It’s a program that allows us to look at our bus system holistically and prioritize our improvements according to what today’s riders need right now. The customer experience results feed into this, and KeAndra’s equity work keeps our bus system at the forefront of all of our conversations, because today’s riders are the ones who should benefit directly from our equity focus.
Better Bus is our way to demonstrate that we’re hearing what people want, and we intend to deliver on what they need; and right now we’re working on a funding strategy for this program, and we’ll be bringing this to our board in March. So that’s it in a nutshell. Thanks so much for your interest in our progress. Congratulation again on your anniversary, and talk to you again soon.
Cohen: We talked with William Henderson, the CEO of Ride Report, back in the early days of the pandemic in the U.S., in “Episode 059” where he talked about surviving “micromobility winter on steroids.” William shares the following.
As we begin 2021, I am actually really optimistic that we are entering springtime for micromobility. We’re seeing a distinct shift in how cities are approaching micromobility. There’s a new urgency to making micromobility a serious and reliable transportation alternative. In particular, one of most interesting and exciting trends I’ve seen is cities subsidizing micromobility.
There is a growing recognition that in order for micromobility to be reliable, operators need to be able to provide service even when it is not profitable for them. This is particularly in historically underserved neighborhoods where utilization rates may be lower. Many of the cities we work with have been experimenting with subsidies and fee reductions, and we are constantly hearing about this as a topic of conversation.
Jensen: Josh, we’ve been in this pandemic for so long, and nearly half of our guests have appeared during this time, so that theme of the impact of the pandemic reappears. “Episode 091” guest Graham Stone of PublicInput.com shared that they are tackling what they think is the next big challenge, which is hybrid meetings.
As governments begin planning for a return to more traditional types of public participation, how do we avoid losing all of the access that the shift to virtual afforded underrepresented audiences? “Hybrid meeting” is the buzzword, or in other words, hosting a traditional public meeting that can be attended virtually, but no one has solved the problem of how to accomplish a lot of technical aspects of this, such as language translation, public comment capture, or even just meeting sign-ins.
And that’s a fascinating problem to solve, for sure. Graham also shared that a recent quote from Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg in his Senate Confirmation hearing caught his ear; “I believe good transportation policy can play no less a role than making possible the American Dream.”
Cohen: Well, speaking of Secretary Mayor Pete, as we’ve called him on our prior episodes, you may recall that we spoke to the Drucker Institute’s Lex Dennis back in “Episode 038” who discussed the major project that the Drucker Institute was launching in South Bend—and also that Secretary Mayor Pete helped to champion—called Bendable, a lifelong learning platform that takes the burden of navigating existing educational resources off of the end user. Lex checked back in with us to report that Bendable has now launched and has some great wins to show for it, from city employees doing customer-service training, to young people accessing job readiness and digital citizenship resources, to helping those who have overcome addictions to learn new job skills.
Speaking of learning new things, a recent episode that resonated with me and a friend I was actually talking to recently as well was with Sunday Parker in “Episode 101.” Here’s a brief snippet of that conversation.
Cohen: You said there was this kind of philosophy of this kind of separate-but-equal approach to accessibility. So you mentioned the kind of going around back to access the ramp, and so then I’m kind of picturing a building with some steps to kind of enter in a grand atrium into an office building or something like that that has from an interior-architecture standpoint obviously that wow factor—right—that you get when you walk into a very nice space.
Cohen: And kind of what I’m hearing or where I kind of took what you said—and maybe you can kind of verify that, but that separate but equal is like, “Yeah, we’ve got a ramp for you. Don’t worry,” but that ramp doesn’t give you that same experience that that person who just jogged up those front steps and walked into that main atrium would have, beyond the fact that you alluded to, the additional work it takes to get around the back of the building however long that might take and so forth. Is that kind of what you’re getting at there?
Parker: Yeah, and you actually touched on—there’s kind of two parts to that. You know, there is the logistical problems with separate but equal, which is, you know, okay, do you have proper signage to tell me that that ramp exists? Am I having to make a phone call to have someone unlock a door? Do I have to be escorted through that entrance because it’s not the main entrance? You know, and there’s all those—there’s examples of that all over in so many different, you know, whether it be hotels or bars or all over San Francisco.
And some of them are actually completely in compliance with the law because there is technically an access point, but obviously it’s a lot of trouble for me as the person trying to get in but also, you know, the staff and having to create all these, you know, the different signage and things like that. So it just doesn’t make sense from any standpoint to create those sort of environments. But, of course, you also touched on the more personal side of it, which is, yeah, I’m not getting that same experience as everyone else. And, you know, whether it’s, you know, entering into a hotel and kind of getting that wow factor or, you know, being able to go into a bar and kind of be able to meet someone from the logical point when you walk in—
Cohen: Right. Right.
Parker: —there’s just so many kind of emotions that can kind of evoke from that, and there’s definitely two sides to it, and both of them are important.
Cohen: I guess, because I appreciate architecture so much, this example that Sunday shared has just sat with me since, because I’ve taken that wow factor for granted and never really considered that even if that ramp at the back of the building is legal it still doesn’t provide that wow factor that Sunday and other people with disabilities deserve. Which is why “separate-but-equal” accessibility is not the same as truly integrated accessibility, a sad lesson that we still have to learn on the disability front almost 70 years after the Supreme Court ruled that separate-but-equal educational facilities for different races were in fact fundamentally unequal.
This theme of equity came up in another episode that sticks with me, “Episode 052: Building a Resilient City” about Charlotte, North Carolina. Now, you may recall, this was a different type of podcast. It was more of a narrative style that had interviews with a handful of guests but also featured my experience getting to and around Charlotte on train, bike, and walking. As cities like Charlotte grow, they face challenging questions as to where wealth and mobility are going. Here are a couple snippets from, first, Debra Franklin, a transit operator and cycling advocate and Taiwo Jaiyeoba, Charlotte’s Assistant City Manager and Head of Planning.
Franklin: We had a riot here, I think, in 2016. Now we’re supposed to call it something else, the uprising. And I don’t use the term uprising. We had a riot in Charlotte. And so it involved an individual that was shot, but during that riot you heard conversation about people that felt that we had two Charlottes and that Charlotte wasn’t for them; the bus way wasn’t for them; the bike lanes aren’t for them. And so to me that’s a communication problem.
Cohen: These two Charlottes are what local officials call the crescent and the wedge. The wedge refers to the affluent area of southeast Charlotte and Mecklenburg County that in a story familiar to many cities includes many of the better schools, shopping, and housing. In contrast the crescent surrounding the wedge is where you will find many of the areas minority and less-affluent residents. This distinction between these two Charlottes is critical, as a 2014 Harvard University study ranked Charlotte dead last out of the nation’s top-50 metropolitan areas as it relates to economic mobility.
Jaiyeoba: How can we use this comprehensive plan to shatter that whole thing of two cities in one city? That’s the goal behind the comprehensive plan; achieve equity, drive sustainability, create livability so that if I live whether in the crescent or in the wedge, I have access to basic things that make life worth living in an urban environment.
Cohen: And if we are to address these issues of inequity, it will require what Lynn Ross put so eloquently in “Episode 076,” which is not just engaging, but truly listening to the community.
Ross: The other thing, I think, we have learned—and, I think, this pertains to all these conversations about, like, to move quickly to open streets—the reality is when we’re thinking about public spaces or, frankly, anything that we are planning and designing, we can only move at the speed of trust. So if you are truly working hand in hand with community residents and other stakeholders, and they tell you, “This is moving too fast,” or, “This doesn’t feel right,” or, “We’ve heard this all before. What is different?” you need to really take that to heart and listen to it. And that principle has just really been core in all of our cities for civic comments. We move at the speed of trust with our residents because we trust them, and we want them to trust us in doing this work, because ultimately these spaces are theirs.
Cohen: You know, L’erin, we can only move at the speed of trust. That has certainly hung with me for the last few months. It’s a good rule for building community, and it’s a good rule for life. James Rojas, our guest from “Episode 080,” reported in to share a recent news article that profiles his use of art as a medium for community engagement and to let people share their stories through city planning, which is a great way to build that trust, which we’ll link to the in show notes.
Jensen: Mariia Zimmerman, our guest from “Episode 054,” was excited to help Elevated Chicago and the City of Chicago issuing its first Equitable Transit Oriented Development policy last summer. In addition, she contributed to the Housing Justice Playbook, which has her thinking a lot more about federal policy, especially at the nexus of housing, transportation, and racial justice. Mariia also had shout-outs for our episodes with Dr. Mariela Alfonzo and Lynda Lopez.
I always love listening to Dr. Mariela Alfonzo and have tracked her work over the years to bring data in a more meaningful way to smart growth in ways that allow us to see new and surprising patterns while providing metrics to other assumptions we have. I also think Lynda Lopez is amazing, and her work in Chicago to be a tireless advocate for real-world, equitable transportation has forced me to look at policy decision-makers in new ways.
Cohen: Speaking of Dr. Mariela Alfonzo, she’s been busy since she appeared on “Episode 086” a few months ago. She co-wrote a great piece in Slate on spatial equity and launched a partnership with Connect the Dots, a creative community engagement firm that they launched with a cool Citymaker Quiz. But I think the coolest update that Mariela shared was how data-driven, community-led citymaking can be used to ensure an equitable and accessible vaccine rollout by activating under-utilized community spaces to equitably deliver health services via a concept they are calling “Mobile Healthy Places.”
Jensen: In addition to appreciating Dr. Alfonzo’s work, Mariia Zimmerman also mentioned Lynda Lopez. That conversation with Lynda Lopez, advocacy manager for the Active Transportation Alliance in Chicago, also stuck with me.
Lopez: I think that something that works for me in doing the work is centering the people most affected and always being clear of the people in communities whose life you want to influence with your work, rather than the people in power you would like to stay in relationship with or don’t want to upset. I’m definitely not really afraid of being upfront of how I feel when decisions makers and people in influence are making choices that are marginalizing communities, partly because the people who matter to me are the people in my community and my family’s community.
And I think that’s something that I see often in the transportation advocacy space, that sometimes we silence ourselves because we don’t want to upset the people in power partly because there’s just so many nuances of government and other bureaucracies in doing this work, agencies. And, I think, once we start silencing ourselves for the fear of making people in power angry, I think that is when we lose sight of who we need to work for.
And I think this becomes easier if you are working alongside community partners in Black and Brown communities, which is an issue obviously in the transportation advocacy space, how to get more diverse leadership and also how to get involvement of more grassroots organizations that are more reflective of populations that need the most resources. So I think that’s something that I would definitely emphasize, always keeping in mind whose life you want to better rather than, like, which rooms and which tables you want to, like, stay in access with. So I think that’s something that I always think about as I’m doing the work.
I’m like, “Well, I’m not really afraid of saying this, because if I don’t say it, then that means that this issue might not be elevated.” And then I question why I don’t want to say something, and if it’s because of fear, I’m pretty quick with convincing myself that, you know, things need to be said. And I think that’s really important for people in this space to realize that. I think silence isn’t an option if you actually do want to do good work.
Cohen: And, L’erin, I think that’s as good a place as any to end this special anniversary episode, “Silence isn’t an option if you actually want to do good work.” Thank you to all of our guests, to our listeners, to our team at TransLoc who help this podcast happen every week. It’s been a great couple years, and we look forward to, as Lynda said, continuing to overcome our fears and use our voices to help build a more equitable, accessible, and verdant mobility future. Until next time, keep using your voice.
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 TransLoc.com or follow Josh Cohen on Twitter at @CohenJP. Be sure to join us next week for another episode of The Movement.