Saturday, February 4, 2012

Nathan Koren Dismisses Meaningful Public Participation in Transportation Planning

Nathan Koren, according to his Twitter page is "Making the world safe for Personal Rapid Transit". On the "Transport Innovators" forum, Nathan Koren explains how he goes about seeking converts to the pod-transport cult:

I've actually found that educating the public is relatively easy: you tell them that PRT is like a robotic taxi on an overhead guideway, show them some videos of Heathrow etc., and they say "oh, cool!" and are thereafter more or less on board with the concept.

Wow, talk about condescending! Mr. Koren goes on to dismiss the importance of public involvement in decision-making:

But that honestly doesn't matter very much, because -- to put it bluntly -- the public is not involved in the decision-making or implementation process for PRT systems. Since "the public" doesn't buy, design, build, operate, or regulate PRT systems, what they think has virtually no bearing on what actually happens.

Mr. Koren, as is often the case with PRT promoters ignores the process by which, in the U.S. transportation planning is supposed to work. From the USDOT's "The Transportation Planning Process: Key Issues":

Public involvement is integral to good transportation planning. Without meaningful public participation, there is a risk of making poor decisions, or decisions that have unintended negative consequences. With it, it is possible to make a lasting contribution to an area's quality of life. Public involvement is more than an agency requirement and more than a means of fulfilling a statutory obligation. Meaningful public participation is central to good decisionmaking.

The fundamental objective of public involvement programs is to ensure that the concerns and issues of everyone with a stake in transportation decisions are identified and addressed in the development of the policies, programs, and projects being proposed in their communities.

By "meaningful public participation", the USDOT doesn't mean talking down to citizens and showing a few videos as Nathan Koren and his PRT evangelists often do. Mr. Koren goes on to say the real roadblock isn't citizens, but "professionals - developers, transport planners, land-use planners, regulatory bodies, etc." That is utterly bogus - all those professionals are working for the public and have to follow a process that includes meaningful public participation.

Nathan Koren isn't the only PRT promoter with a dismissive attitude toward the public - this is from a January 29, 2010 post titled "PRT "Consultant" Advises Public Officials to Manipulate Public Process":

PRT "consultant" Peter Muller, who was at the MnDOT Rochester PRT symposium recently posted this advice to public officials on his website:

Any proposed PRT system that could suffer from adverse public comment, should have a well thought-out public outreach program. Public education and input should commence before there is any chance of members of the public learning about the project and becoming upset, because there are aspects of it they do not understand or that get misrepresented in the press. There are many instances of good public projects being stopped in their tracks by a vociferous minority.

Muller then goes on to describe a sham public process - the sort of manipulative process described by Sherry Arnstein in The Ladder of Citizen Participation:

In the name of citizen participation, people are placed on rubberstamp advisory committees or advisory boards for the express purpose of "educating" them or engineering their support. Instead of genuine citizen participation, the bottom rung of the ladder signifies the distortion of participation into a public relations vehicle by powerholders.

The PRT guys have always avoided a genuine public process... what are they afraid of?

In a 2010 letter I wrote to the Winona Daily News, I wrote the following:

According to a Jan. 20 article in the Winona Daily News, a meeting where the public could have asked questions was for Winona City Council members only, “While there was little discussion of PRT during the meeting, the vote came after council members examined the system during a pre-council informational session that lasted more than one hour.”
I recall a similar PRT “informational session” for Minneapolis city officials only on March 26, 2005. When a proposal for a PRT project later came up for a vote in committee, the PRT promoters failed to show up and the matter was tabled. More recently, public officials in Daventry, England, complained that PRT promoters would not show up at public forums to answer questions. The Minnesota Department of Transportation held a “PRT workshop” Aug. 18, which cost $50 to attend and was not a public meeting. Why are PRT promoters avoiding the public?

When the city of Winona revisits the issue of PRT, as it has recently indicated it would, I would suggest they hold a free, public forum and invite critics as well as promoters. I would also suggest inviting experts in the field; transit engineers, transit advocacy groups and environmental groups. But most of all, I urge Winona city officials to invite the public.
Grassroots support for any big public project is essential. For it is the citizens who will end up paying for it— and if built, living with it.

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