Friday, June 12, 2009

Amongst our objectives...

The folks at Transportation for America seem like they're really good people, and I don't want to give them a hard time. But they seem to be striving for clarity, and they're failing, so here's some constructive criticism. They recently released their Blueprint for America, which says "T4 America calls on Congress to clearly define the national interest and purpose of the federal transportation program by adopting and implementing the following set of National Transportation Objectives." To reach each of those Objectives it gives a number of federal-level strategies.

The Executive Summary (PDF) says, "The next federal surface transportation bill should articulate a clear and compelling national vision with specific goals for implementation that will build and maintain a comprehensive National Transportation System." I wholeheartedly agree, but you can't get Congress to articulate a clear and compelling vision if you don't articulate one yourself, and I regret to say that the vision they articulate is a mess.

The problem is that there aren't actually six objectives. Most of the ones on the list are actually multiple objectives conjoined. If you have to put "and" in your objective you're failing at simplicity. If we pull them apart, it actually comes out to thirteen or fourteen Objectives. That's just bad PR, and it may get people thinking that the objectives aren't the real reason, but actually post hoc justifications for their federal funding priorities.

For example, Objective 2 is "Improve Transportation System Conditions and Connectivity." Did you ever wake up and say to yourself, "Gee, I wish my transportation system conditions and connectivity were better"? Not unless you work in transportation. Transportation systems are a means to an end. Their conditions and connectivity are not the objective. Same thing for Objective 1(b), "Improve ... Transportation System Efficiency."

Because I think these people are really trying to do what they think is best for the country, and because their Performance Targets fit with my own goals, I'll try to "normalize" their Objectives (as the database people say) and see if I can pare them down.

The first thing is simply to get rid of Objectives 1(b) and 2, because they're not ultimate goals that any sane person should have. Okay, that brings us down to ten or elven Objectives. Now let's try to combine some of them.

Objectives 1(a) and 1(c), "Improve Economic Competitiveness ... and Workforce Development Opportunities" are in fact pretty much the same goal, and it boils down to money. We can call it "Increase prosperity."

Objective 3(a), "Promote Energy Efficiency," can contribute to Prosperity, but it can also fit with Objectives 4(a) and (b), "Ensure Environmental Protection, Restore Climate Stability." Those all basically mean keeping the earth functioning as a nice place to live, so let's pack them all into Objective 4(a).

Objective 3(b), "Achieve Energy Security," really stands on its own.

Objective 4(c), "Resolve Persistent Environmental Justice Issues," fits better with Objective 6. We can just say, "Make things fairer."

Finally, Objective 5(a) and (b), "Ensure Safety for All Transportation Users and Improve Public Health Outcomes," pretty much means to keep everyone alive and healthy. We can say, "Maintain safety and health," and if you don't like that conjunction in there we can bundle health in with Prosperity.

Ladies and gentlemen, I now present five suggested revised objectives for transportation policy (they don't just work at the federal level):

1. Safety
2. Sustainability
3. Fairness
4. Independence
5. Prosperity

In keeping with our new Objective 3, the Blueprint does articulate some of these more clearly, but they're not in the list of Objectives, and they're not the organizing principle of the Breaking down the Blueprint series of blog posts. Wouldn't it be simpler if the targets were linked to "Prosperity," rather than to "Economic Competitiveness, Efficiency, and Opportunity"?

I'm sure it's too late for this Blueprint. The funders have already spent their money, the thing has been printed and distributed to Congress, and by now they've incorporated these Objectives into many Powerpoint presentations and blog posts. But those of us who don't work for the campaign can use these objectives in promoting our short-term goals.

I'll go first: here's how my list of goals (up in the header) fit into these Objectives:

a. Reducing pollution -> Safety, Sustainability, Prosperity
b. Increasing efficiency -> Sustainability, Independence, Prosperity
c. Reducing carnage -> Safety
d. Improving society -> Fairness, Prosperity
e. Transportation for all -> Fairness, Prosperity

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