2 Responses to My engineering epiphany: Communications is not the plan, it is the data

  1. I think the author has left out many important players in the transportation planning process – starting with transportation planners who are rarely engineers but who are expected to work with them in devising investment proposals that are intended to be approved and made part of local and regional long-range plans, which are eventually adopted to satisfy federal requirements. It’s the planners who present their proposals to the elected officials that they work for, sometimes aided by engineers, sometimes not.
    Communication specialists should be working closely with the transportation planners who often have no technical training and who rely heavily on consultant teams when generating their proposals.

    The planners also have to be very sensitive to the wishes of the elected officials (their bosses) who often get involved in the formulation of the investment proposals, who are in turn often heavily influenced by various stakeholders from the private and public sectors and sometimes public interest advocacy groups.

    It’s a far more complicated process than is presented in this brief article. There is no doubt that engineers and planners have a very difficult time communicating with each other. They are very different kinds of people with very different backgrounds and training. The author has gotten that part exactly right. But it’s just a small part of the overall planning process as it has evolved in the US.

  2. Bill James says:

    Hi Lloyd

    I think you are on the right path and would like you to push it one step further; the Plan versus the Customer.

    The book “The Wisdom of Crowds” does an excellent job of illustrating that the aggregated wisdom of all of us is wiser than the wisest of us.

    In a free market, companies create choices and customers aggregate their desires by purchasing what pleases them. Many niches are created to fill the vast variety of what people wish. Most of these companies will fail depending on some combination of their skills, the sights of the customers that create their niche and ambient conditions. This tinkering process is messy and richly informative.

    When government controls the means of production, when communications was centrally planned, we had a century of rotary telephones. Vendors competing for the government monopoly’s business complied to the desire for consistency. Customers had no choice in which black rotary telephone they were going to be rented.

    In 1984 communications infrastructure was restored to a free market. Vendors now had to attract customers instead of issue them what was planned; a century of learning was suddenly applied in the messy scramble to find and fill customers desires. Long dormant technologies, Internet 1969 and radio telephones 1946, found niches that could scale based on pleasing customers. The PLAN became subordinate to the customer.

    On Aug 1, 1918 the Federal government monopolized communications and socialized power and transportation as “natural monopolies.” Over the next century the PLAN would become ever more institutionalized over the customer.

    In 1935 there were 600,000 water and electrical windmills in US operation. The customers and manufacturers of these had deployed them against the headwinds of WWI and the Depression. Then the PLAN was implemented. The Rural Electrification Administration subsidized the central grid. Over the next 20 years the manufacturers were bankrupt, the customers abandoned the self-reliance of renewable energy for subsidized coal fired power plants. Consider that had the plan been different, if every subsidized utility poll had been erected with the offer than anyone could put a wind mill on it. We would be complaining that the coal mines have no customers.

    The Federal-Aid to Highways Act of 1956 unconstitutionally changed the transportation PLAN by funding the Interstates as “national defense.” As about 1.4% of American roads carrying about 25% of car-miles, Interstates shaped our cities into sprawl. In 1950 you could hold a job without owning a car in America. In most US cities today a family must own one or two cars to be at all economically competitive. (Explanation of why this is unconstitutional: http://www.jpods.com/ConstitutionMandatesUsufruct.html). Worse, pollution from powering the PLAN with oil is tilting the balance of nature. Worse, US Peak Oil was at 9.6 mb/d in 1970, we now consume 18.5 mb/d. To buy that foreign oil, national debt has increased by 4300% since 1970 Peak Oil. To secure that foreign oil, American troops have been trading blood for oil (counting “no-fly”) since 1990.

    Because of the PLAN, Americans face Oil Famine; monolithic dependence on a single source of energy 50% outside our control that we must borrow against the liberty and labor of our children to consume.

    The PLAN focuses on consistency. Excellence and innovation are consistency failures.

    We know Morgantown’s Personal Rapid Transit network has delivered 110 million oil-free, injury-free passenger-miles since being built as a solution to the 1973 Oil Embargo. We know that in the same period of time the PLAN, the government highway monopoly killed about 1.3 million Americans. We know that the 140,000 miles of freight-rail that survived the PLAN, average 480 ton-miles per gallon efficiency.

    There is no doubt that we have learned enough in the last century to accomplish what Thomas Edison noted as practical in 1910: “Sunshine is spread out thin and so is electricity. Perhaps they are the same, Sunshine is a form of energy, and the winds and the tides are manifestations of energy…. Do we use them? Oh, no! We burn up wood and coal, as renters burn up the front fence for fuel. We live like squatters, not as if we owned the property…. There must surely come a time when heat and power will be stored in unlimited quantities in every community, all gathered by natural forces. Electricity ought to be as cheap as oxygen….”

    By restoring liberty to choose transportation networks to the people, the value of safety, self-reliance, efficiency and other desires of people will radically transform the PLAN into a sustainable America.

    So today Americans face Oil Famine; the Mo

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