by Jennifer Kephart
Last month I joined 74 other transportation advocates who had been selected to participate in the USDOT’s Every Place Counts Leadership Academy in Washington, D.C. The purpose was to help us understand how transportation decisions are made and how we could become more involved in the process. We also had the opportunity to see the first version of their transportation toolkit and provide feedback.
We were given a copy of the initial version of the toolkit so it could serve as a reference during several workshops throughout the day and provide feedback. The workshops focused on how transportation affects our lives, transportation decisions are made, and understanding the diverse perspectives that go into the transportation decision making process.
What surprised me about the Academy?
A lot. It was eye opening to see how many people feel like they are alone advocating for smarter transportation solutions in their community. Transportation is something that affects everyone, yet hardly anyone knows anything about it and even fewer people know how to advocate for better systems. It really made me appreciate the smart, passionate, dedicated people at Mode Shift and the community they have built.
Transparency is a huge problem everywhere. The most frequent question I heard in the workshops was “how do I find out about projects before they are basically decided?” While the toolkit was designed to help answer this question, at the end of the day, participants still has trouble finding this answer. This is an opportunity for the DOT to fix in the final version.
The toolkit was designed for a person that has no knowledge of transportation systems or the decision making process, but the workshops asked us to process the information at a level above that information. The plan is to make the toolkit available and train people to host leadership academies across the country. It will be interesting to see how this turns out in the final version.
My favorite part of the Academy?
The open discussion with Secretary Foxx and the approachability of the rest of the DOT staff. The bottom line: they seemed committed to getting this right and understand the importance of mobilizing the community to advocate for smarter transportation options that are fair, equitable, and sustainable. I’m sad this toolkit is coming together at the end of Secretary Foxx’s position. I hope the attitude and work will continue with the next administration.
What I learned?
It’s easy to get discouraged about the slow progress we are making, but the Leadership Academy helped me to be thankful about what we have in Omaha. Mode Shift has created a community of people talking about transportation issues through Monthly Coffee Chats and member meetings. Mode Shift’s transparency campaign is working to get people to understand the transportation decision making process and where and how the money is being spent in Omaha.
Last week we were all asked to provide detailed feedback on the workshops, the toolkit, and our overall impression of the day. We’ll have to watch to see what comes next.
Jennifer Kephart is a board member of Mode Shift Omaha. She received her Bachelors in Education from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, is an alumni of the Citizen’s Academy for Omaha’s Future, and is finishing up her Masters of Public Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.