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Episode 130 Guest L'Erin Jensen

 L’erin reflects on her time as co-host of The Movement Podcast and highlights some things she’s learned and episodes that will stick with her. 

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Cohen: Josh Cohen

Jensen: L’erin Jensen

F: Female Speaker

Cohen: All right.  We’ve got a special episode of The Movement podcast today.  No guests, but we’ll chat about the potential infrastructure deal, and L’erin has a big announcement.

Jensen: 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: Welcome to The Movement podcast.  This is Josh Cohen.

Jensen: This is L’erin Jensen.

Cohen: This is a special episode.  L’erin joined us on Episode 083.  L’erin, do you remember that?  I mean, that was like—that was our first introduction.  That was like—

Jensen: I do.  I was super nervous.  I didn’t know what I was doing then.  I only sometimes know what I’m doing now, but it is super fun.  [LAUGHS]  It’s been a blast.

Cohen: Yeah, yeah.  So that was Episode 083.  And we are now up to Episode—I think it’s like 129, maybe?

Jensen: 130 or 131—

Cohen: 130.  Yeah, 130.

Jensen: —depending when we release this.

Cohen: Yeah, 130.

Jensen: 130, yeah.

Cohen: So—and so this is, unfortunately, L’erin’s last episode, which she joined us almost a year ago, about 11 months ago.  And this is her final episode.  So we are super, super bummed, but also super grateful that L’erin joined us here in the last year behind the mic.  She had been kind of behind the scenes prior to that but behind the mic for the last year.  So, thank you, thank you, thank you, L’erin.  Maybe give us a little bit more context here.

Jensen: Yeah.  So I have accepted a position at another company.  So I’ll be moving on next week.  You guys don’t know when next week is.  It’ll be already for you by the time you hear this.  But, you know, the past two years at TransLoc have been such a phenomenal opportunity, and there has been no bigger highlight than doing The Movement podcast.  This has been an absolute joy.  Met—had the opportunity to talk with so many really, really, really smart and just all around fantastic people, and the chance to work with you, week in and week out.  This has really been the highlight of my job.  I’m sad to no longer be able to do this anymore.

Cohen: First of all, thank you, and, you know, I think me and the podcast undoubtedly benefited from your voice and your perspective that you gave us each week, and so I’m grateful for that.  And, you know, I think we don’t really know exactly what we’re going to do going forward.  I mean, I think we’re still kind of, like, thinking through different angles.  Again, L’erin will be a big hole to plug, and I don’t think we can just stick somebody in that immediately.  I think we’re going to have to play around with some things.  So expect that over the course of the next little while as we evaluate different options, maybe test some things.

Again, if you have any ideas or things that you would recommend, certainly let me know.  You can reach me at Twitter, @CohenJP, or  Certainly would love to hear any ideas you have on ways we can continue to make The Movement podcast as impactful as possible, even if we don’t have L’erin joining us and giving her perspective on a weekly basis.  So, we will miss you tremendously, L’erin.  But I’m so excited about the next steps, and, you know, hopefully there will still be opportunities for you to contribute to the larger kind of movement that we’re trying to build here.

Jensen: Yeah.  Certainly.  I—and like I said, I’ll miss doing podcasts, and I’ll miss the audience as well.  I learned a lot.  We’ll talk about that a little bit later, I think, some of those things that I’ve learned and what I’ll take with me, and—but certainly, it has already—I’ll still be volunteering.  I’ll still be on the board of directors for Bike Durham.  So I can carry on some of these lessons that I’ve learned in that way.

Cohen: Yeah.  I mean, I think that opportunity to apply some of these lessons kind of in the arena, I think, is a valuable thing.  So I’m grateful that you’re doing that, and obviously, many of our audience members do that as well.

Well, before we get to maybe, you know, kind of reflection on some of your experience while you’ve been here, I think we probably need to acknowledge that there may be an infrastructure deal.  I mean, there’s still—it’s still a little bit unclear.  There’s a lot of news going around that perhaps there’s an infrastructure deal, certainly from the Senate, even if the final wording is not complete, and maybe some of the final numbers.

We’re recording this on Friday, July 30th.  So, you know, let that be some context.  But, you know, certainly, I think what we can say at this point is that the final amount will be a far cry from the amount that President Biden proposed originally.  So, L’erin, what are some of the things that you’re thinking about as it relates to that?

Jensen: When this administration first came in, we were super excited to hear like, “Oh, okay, we’re talking about infrastructure now.  It’s important.  Finally, finally.”  Those of us in this world, we talk about this every single day.  You know, this is people’s lives, their life’s work.  And so it was really exciting to finally have this on the table.  But, as you said, it just kind of—it seems like it’s falling short, falling kind of flat.  And just, for me, it’s just a reminder of why we have these conversations every single week with people who are out there, you know, trying to make these things happen.  Because if there’s something that we come back to—I think not just you and I, but numerous guests have said the same thing—what’s holding us back is lacking the political will to really transform transit and mobility in a way that actually serves everyone.

And yes, this is just kind of evidence of that, like why we need to continue to have these conversations, because when we don’t have people out there advocating and demonstrating just how important this is, we end up with something like this.  And I think, you know, you mentioned to me offline that it’s—what is it?  Like $7 to $8 billion more annually right now?

Cohen: Yeah, I think the data that I saw from Yonah Freemark, who was a guest on the podcast as well last year, he said the infrastructure bill would expand transit funding by $7 to $9 billion a year over current levels, to a total of 17 to 19 billion a year.  But it would expand highway funding by $20 to $25 billion a year, per year, over current level.  So, while there’s definitely some upside to the transit funding, it still pales in comparison to the highway funding.

Jensen: All of this, like, when we know that highways are, in many ways, like, overfunded and transit is underfunded.  So—and also in the face of climate change.  You know, we’ve got like insane fires happening on the West Coast.  We had the huge freeze in the South.  That was insane, this past winter.  And that was, like, in February, like not even in—maybe February is always the coldest month, who knows.

But yeah, and one of my favorite things that we’ve discussed in the time that I’ve been here—we’ve mentioned it, I feel like, on a couple of episodes—TransitCenter did a blog last year, and in it they mentioned that it would only cost $17 billion annually to expand transit access in every urban area of 100,000 or more residents so they could have as much transit service per capita as the Chicago region.  So that’s not a big number.  So this is—it just—this is the importance of having these conversations, because we lack the political will to do what needs to be done to give everyone access.

Cohen: Yeah.  And I mean, look, I think—I’m sure there’s people in Chicago that would not be happy about the amount of transit service they have, and, you know, that’s fine.  I will tell you that where we are in North Carolina, we would love to have that level of transit service, and many communities around the country would love to have that level of transit service that Chicago enjoys today.  So I do think that that’s a good affirmation of the importance of this infrastructure bill and the need for it.  And also, whatever it turns out, I think we can go ahead and assume it’s just—it’s not going to be enough.  Right?  We needed more.  And, you know, I think everyone’s going to rally behind it, and they’re going to be happy that they got what they got.  But, you know, I’m on the record saying we need a heck of a lot more, so.

Jensen: Ditto, ditto.

Cohen: All right.  Well, let’s maybe—you know, now that we covered that pressing news going on, let’s maybe kind of think about, you know, some of the people that we’ve had on the podcast or maybe some of the episodes that jumped out to you, L’erin, as you reflect on your time as cohost here, that really kind of jumped out to you or really resonated with you in various ways.

Jensen: So, for sure, Lynda Lopez, speaking of Chicago.  She’s an advocate in the Chicago area, and she said, you know, one—for her, one of the most important lessons or things that she keeps in mind is just centering her advocacy around the people that she’s doing it for.  That resonates with me tremendously, because when I think about this stuff, I think about transit is about people.  I’ve said it a few times; when I first came to TransLoc, I really didn’t know much about transit, certainly not about TransLoc.  And as I started to kind of unpack those things, it was easy for me to get behind, because transit affects—you know, the people who use transit are marginalized people.  I come from a marginalized group.  I’m a Black woman.  It affects my group and also just people in general.  Like, I believe that as a society we have to, like, help each other out.  And the people who need help most are marginalized communities and the people who need the most access to transit.  So that one super resonated with me.

Cohen: So that was Episode 094.  So go back and listen to that one.  It was—I believe that the title of it was “One Voice to Elevate Other Voices.”  And that section that, you know, I think kind of maybe hits at what L’erin was getting at there was Lynda was talking about her experience as a writer for Streetsblog.  And she was talking about some of her favorite stories that she wrote, and one of them was about the people that rode their bikes in Chicago, and that they’re not necessarily this spandex warrior that, you know, might be the person that’s going really fast for exercise, but it’s these folks that are all different types of bikes, riding everywhere, and trying to get places that they need to go.

Maybe some of them are also doing it for recreation as well, but also just trying to move around.  And again, I think what resonated with Lynda was that it was really about the people.  It highlighted the people that were similar to her and her background, and I think just centering those experiences, I think, really, really jumped out to me from that episode as well.

Jensen: Another episode that really resonated with me—one of our—my favorite guests, Episode 119 with Mitchell Silver.

Cohen: Oh yes.

Jensen: We’ve gotten a lot of good feedback on this episode.  He was—this was a good one.  And it’s almost kind of hard to pinpoint, like, what was it about it, because like, I think in part it’s Mitchell’s personality, like he’s just super easy to talk to.

Cohen: Yes, yes.

Jensen: But there were some good nuggets in there as well.  You know, the title of the episode, I think, is “Planning Isn’t Just About Space.”  And again, this goes back to transit is about people.  He—Mitchell just came off being the director of the Department of Parks and Recreation for New York City.

Cohen: Right.  Or commissioner, yeah.

Jensen: Yeah, park commissioner.  So, you know, he talks about these public spaces, parks not just being, like, spaces where people can—I don’t know—kick a ball or go for a walk, but like they’re places for mental and physical health, and we learned this during COVID when we were all stuck inside and parks were one of the few places people could go outside to be a part of their community.  So that was one of it.

And again, it just goes back to, like, this planet and it being for all of us.  And mobility, transit, all of these things, it’s for all of us, instead of hoarding things, resources.  We’re all in this together, and all of these things are just one of the many ways that we’re connected.  And we’ve got to be careful about taking care of them, about remembering that these are for us, they’re what keep us connected, what keep us as part of communities.  I think, a lot of times, it’s so easy to get caught up, like, in this individualistic society, but then we want to, at the same time, utilize public goods.  But we want to—like, we want to hoard them.  We want to use them; and we don’t want other people to use them.  But like, that’s not beneficial.

Cohen: Yeah.

Jensen: I don’t even know if I’m making sense at this point.  I might just be rambling.  [LAUGHS]

Cohen: No, no, you’re just sharing from the heart.  I love it.  That’s the best part.  You know, the thing about that Mitchell Silver conversation that really resonated with me, I don’t know if you remember this, but there’s a lot that we talked about with him that was off-air.  It was maybe either before or after, you know, we recorded it.  And what I just loved about that was, you know, he was moving to our area and, you know, he was trying to, like, get acclimated into—back into our world, you know, and like where do people go for runs together and—because he’s a big runner and so forth.  That—I don’t know.  It was just—it was a very almost like humble and real kind of side that we got to see that I think a lot of that comes through in the recorded part of the podcast as well.  But that was an element of that that just kind of stuck with me as well.

Jensen: Yeah, for sure.  Another episode that has stuck with me, Episode 089 with David Fields.  He said one of the lessons that he’s learned, the biggest lessons, is never let a consultant tell your community its needs.  And this is probably, like, one of my favorite quotes, not just from this podcast, but like in general, of all time, period.  I feel like no matter what we’re doing in life, if we’re ever, ever, ever in a position of power or not in a position of power, this is something that, like, we need to remember; it is the people closest to the problem who have the solutions, but also, like, who know what the problem is.

It’s so easy to come in as a planner or an advocate or activist or politician and think that you know all of the solutions and you know what the issues are.  Like this is what, like, social scientists fight about—right—like, who’s got the right answer, whose discipline will fix the world.  But, like, it’s none of them.  Like, it’s the people there.  They know what’s going on in their community.  Like, you can’t just come in and start writing about a community, like as a journalist.  You can’t just come in as a planner thinking like, “Oh, this is—they need this, and this will make it better.”  No, like, you’re a consultant; you’re there to help them, like, unpack those things.  And, like, when you come up with a solution, like how do we implement that solution?  How do we go about doing that?  But not to dictate to people what they need in their life.

And I think that for the most part that’s how we’ve gone about solving problems and planning, like, our entire country.  [LAUGHS]  And that’s probably why we’re like constantly trying to fix it.  I don’t know that, like, we’re even, like, trying to make improvements as much as we’re, like, going like, “Oh, well, we totally screwed this up.  Like, how do we fix it?”  And if we would just start with the people, it might be easier.

Cohen: Yeah.  David is now the chief transportation planner for the City of Houston, after previously being a consultant with Nelson/Nygaard and several other firms.  And, you know, I think that experience of being the person from out of town as the consultant who comes in that the elected officials look to as the person that can hand them a report that has all the answers, right?  And that’s a theme that, you know, I think when—I think this was before you were behind the mic, but very similar to that theme that I talked about with Charles Brown.  I think, episode—it’s probably Episode 074, perhaps.  But, you know, which he’s like, look, as a street-level researcher, his goal is to—you know, he’s like, “Look, I don’t have the answers.  Right?  I’m going to the people.  They have the answers.  So, you know, don’t put me up on the pedestal.  Let’s put them up on the pedestal.”

Jensen: Yeah.

Cohen: So I think that’s very consistent.  I think David is just kind of approaching that from a different perspective but saying a very similar thing.  So, yeah, those are certainly some very key things.  And I think it’s fair to say that this experience on The Movement podcast has probably impacted how you probably think about transportation or mobility.  Right?

Jensen: Absolutely.  I think that when I started I probably didn’t think about transit or mobility or transportation, aside from the fact that, like, I needed it.  And I probably thought of transit as a burden.  And it is, for many people.  But it doesn’t have to be a burden.  It’s a burden because we’ve chosen to ignore it.  And so, now, I feel like this is something that I care about, and something that I want to help make better.  It’s another piece of the puzzle that will transform this world, and it’s—transit is not just a tool.  Mobility isn’t just a tool.  It’s a lifeline for so many people, and one that, frankly, we are—what is it like when you, like, wrap a cord or something?  Like you kind of, like, cut people off?  [LAUGHS]

Cohen: Yeah, yeah.

Jensen: It’s a lifeline we’re really not doing a good job of extending to people.

Cohen: Yeah.

Jensen: And so when I’m out now, I’m looking at sidewalks, and I’m looking at outdoor dining, and I’m looking—

Cohen: Right.

Jensen: —at streets and speed limits and stop signs and thinking about, “Okay, how is this going to affect how we all move?”  And I have to say, like as someone who—I’ve said before, like I grew up taking public transportation, at a point that I never wanted to do it again, minus the subway, because for some reason I feel like the subway is cool.

Cohen: Most people just like trains.

Jensen: [LAUGHS]

Cohen: They also like the fact that it’s not usually delayed compared to the buses because of the traffic.  But yeah, so the—you’re in line with most people, that they prefer subways over buses.

Jensen: Yeah.  So I don’t feel that way about it anymore.

Cohen: Yeah.

Jensen: And I think, as you said, like, buses tend to be delayed because of traffic or whatever.  So it’s not that, like, I hated transit, it’s just that, like, we don’t have good public transit in this country.

Cohen: Yeah.

Jensen: And so I would love to see it get to a point where mobility was just really easily accessible for everyone.  Like I said, this is just part of a larger picture.  I really am passionate about making the world a better place for us all.  I don’t know how much I’d go out and do it.  But, like, in my heart, it’s there.  And now transit lives there as well.  It’s no longer just about, you know, racial justice or economic justice; it’s about mobility justice as well.  They all play a part.  And let’s be clear, mobility justice is racial justice as well.

But—so yeah, there’s—you know, I look at—I’ve been in New York for the past couple weeks, and when I’m outside now, I—every single time I’m at a corner, every single time I’m looking at the curb cuts.  Are they bidirectional?  And I think that they all are.

Cohen: Yeah.

Jensen: And I don’t think that I have as robust of an understanding of, like, what would make them the best.  But, you know, when this episode airs, you know, both of our disability episodes will have—you guys should have heard those by now.  And that’s what we heard over and over again from our guests on that episode, was that was like the most important thing or one of the biggest impediments for all four of the people that we spoke to, were curb cuts, how they work.  So that stuck in my mind.

I was reading a proposal for something else, and someone was proposing roundabouts, and I thought, “Gosh.  But Zack was talking about, like, how difficult roundabouts for him.  Like, is this good?”  So it’s really been a phenomenal experience.  I’ve learned so much.  I have so much more to learn.  But it’s certainly changing the way that I view things, like every single day.  It’s not just like in the back of my mind, like, I’m looking at it now when I’m outside.

Cohen: That’s maybe the best gift of all, that you’ve thoroughly integrated this into how you look at the world.  So, well, L’erin, bon voyage.  Congratulations.  We’re going to miss you.  And it’s been a heck of a ride with you, both behind the scenes and behind the mic with The Movement podcast, and you’re a big part of our success, and we’ll miss you tremendously.

Jensen: I’m going to miss you all as well.  And if—you can follow me on Twitter, @LerinJensen.  I mostly tweet about gymnastics.  The Olympics are about to be over, though, so there’ll be a little less gymnastics for a while.  I retweet some mobility stuff.  And then, you know, rail on the government occasionally.  So—now that gymnastics is winding down, there’ll be a lot more of that stuff.  But I’ve been consumed with gymnastics for the past few months, so—

Cohen: Yeah.

Jensen: It comes once every four years, so—[LAUGHS]

Cohen: Rightfully so, rightfully so.  All right.  Well, congratulations again.  And, you know, hopefully we’ll get to talk to you again soon.  Thanks, L’erin.

Jensen: Thanks.

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, or follow Josh Cohen on Twitter, @CohenJP.  Be sure to join us next week for another episode of The Movement.


Read this blog post to learn more about how improving access for persons with disabilities improves access for everyone