Approaching Work at the Regional Level
In my first blog post, I indicated the Greater Washington, DC area regional network brought the unique challenge of encompassing two states and a federal district. Multi-jurisdictional work always brings challenges but different states and DC laws add an additional layer. I often reiterate to partners that pedestrians and bicyclists do not care whose jurisdiction they are traveling in, only that they arrive at their destination safely. But is that the message that will push people toward change?
Everyone likes to point to things that they do well, and there are certainly good stories to tell in the Greater Washington, DC area. The challenge is for people to think about the transportation system we could have, striving for the next level even when progress is being made. I recently went to Iceland and in a conversation with our guide for the day he said children walk to school starting at six years old, no questions asked. They are expected to make the trip by themselves in all weather with book bags.
Maybe that thought excites you or jolts you out of your seat. Either way, for a minute you should think differently. You hopefully are thinking about what a community and transportation system would look like for a six year old to walk to school alone.
It is my job to communicate the vision of a six year old walking to school in a way that is exciting and makes people want to act as a region. A recent “aha” moment came when a few people told me in the span of a week that my message was not bold enough. I should have a stronger “ask.” This was a really valuable lesson for my work. I felt that going to people with goals and having everyone be part of crafting the “ask” was the appropriate approach and would create “buy in.” It turns out I should be more demanding…or maybe I should say proactive.
While that is an important lesson, I have still have had a lot of meetings. I have targeted transportation, planning, health and school professionals as well as community advocates in all of the counties in the Greater Washington, DC area. I am working to meet all the persons on the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) board and the staff since the MPO brings everyone together as a region. I have attended countywide health coalition meetings and the MPO citizen advisory committee. So what happened with those meetings?
I recently received a call from a local school inquiring about starting a Safe Routes to School program in a county that does not currently have Safe Routes to School programs. Their elected official had contacted them about starting a program and referred the school principal to me. I met with that elected official a few months ago. Because I introduced myself to another person at the MPO, I learned people in the region are starting to ask about Safe Routes to School activities and are interested in having a regional status report. And in a recent meeting, my conversation about the regional Complete Streets policy reminded a local elected official he needs to continue the conversation towards a policy in his community.
I will take the advice of having a stronger “ask” seriously. And I am still trying to find the exact language that unites the region. But I also will not completely abandon my approach of talking to people about a vision of a six year old walking to school and brainstorming together about how to make that possible in the Greater Washington, DC area.
Regional work requires a multi-faceted approach and adaptability. The Greater Washington, DC area network will demand change, or is happy to brainstorm with you, whichever you prefer.
More information about the Greater Washington, DC area regional network is on the regional website.