If you're a transportation geek you're very familiar with AASHTO, which was originally the American Association of State Highway Officials, and only recently included "transportation" in their name. If you've been watching the news recently you may have also noticed the Governors Highway Safety Association (not to be confused with the other GHSA) and the New York State Association of Counties (not to be confused with the other NYSAC).
These organizations have a contradictory and misleading status. They are composed of appointed or elected officials, which may lead some to believe that they represent the public or are fighting for the public interest. In fact, they are private nonprofit organizations, and their agendas often differ from that of the public at large.
The biggest problem is the "Senate" problem: AASHTO and the GHSA give the same representation to Wyoming with its tiny population and tinier transit riding community as it does to Illinois, just like the United States Senate does. The 5,379 people in Hamilton County get the same representation in NYSAC as the 2,465,326 people in Kings County.
These organizations suffer from another "Senate" problem: who gets chosen to represent each state or county. What is the likelihood that Missouri will be represented in AASHTO or the GHSA by a pedestrian advocate from Saint Louis or Kansas City? State and county bureaucracies are often dominated by middle-class suburbanites, often wildly out of proportion to their populations.
When AASHTO argues against cycle tracks, or the GHSA blames the victim for walking, or NYSAC comes out against complete streets, it's important to point out that these are not representative government entities that follow the principle of one person, one vote. They are Senate-type nonprofits that are heavily skewed towards rural and suburban - and thus car-oriented - jurisdictions, and they represent middle-class suburban bureaucrats, not the population at large. They are special interest groups lobbying for money to be spent on their own agencies, and any recommendations they make should be taken with a grain of salt, considering the source.