Issues in Transportation Planning #3: Political Interference

In my next transportation planning story, The Gladstone Barrier, I have a couple of scenes that involve what some people would call political interference. They are relatively minor parts of the story.

One case in my story isn’t what I would call political interference. In that situation a person at a public meeting gets upset at a traffic engineer and complains to the mayor about him. The mayor then pushes upper management to pressure the traffic engineer to apologize to the citizen.

This is an example of one person’s political interference is another person’s democracy in action. To me it is clear that the situation in the story is democracy in action. The traffic engineer doesn’t like it and the person who complained really didn’t have a valid complaint. But, the politician made the decision about the merits and while you can disagree with the decision, you can see it as legitimate.

This situation can become much more complicated depending on who the person who complains. I’ve many stories of land developers who complain to politicians to get their way. In one sense this isn’t too different from anyone else, but because of the money involved it is usually seen as inappropriate.

The other case in my story involves a politician who tells a traffic engineer to include a project his constituents want built in a priority list. I would see this as political interference, but I don’t see this as a big issue. Like my other case, if the scale of the project is big enough, then it becomes a big issue.

How do transportation planners react to these situations? How should they react? I believe that often it is the politicians who are responsible, and a transportation planner can not know with certainty if the situation crosses the line. I do believe that there is a point where a professional has to draw the line and protest. It is very hard to know where that line is.

Some transportation planners do need to struggle with ethical dilemmas like this. It can be a period of extreme stress and conflict. I’m not ready to make political interference a central part of a story. I do see that it could be the basis for a strong story.

Update:

This post is a part of a series. The other posts are:

Issues in Transportation Planning #1: What I Want to Say

Issues in Transportation Planning #2: The Limitations of Models

Issues in Transportation Planning #4: It’s All Bad News

Issues in Transportation Planning #5: The Public and the Media

Issues in Transportation Planning #6: The Stick and The Map

I have several other posts that are closely related:

Transportation Planning Movies and Stories

Transportation Infrastructure as Status Symbol

Transportation Planning Humour

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