Optimism Amid Political Nihilism

During the American Public Transportation Association’s annual conference in Chicago, I got an opportunity to talk with Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff about the government shutdown, which started just a few hours after we were meeting.

A flustered Rogoff didn’t mince words when he came into a meeting room at the Chicago Hilton where I was waiting. It had been a tough year in federal politics, which made it harder for the FTA to do its job. When the sequester forced the agency to hack travel expenses in order to avoid furloughs, Rogoff decided to send staff to the APTA show to meet with agency leaders. But instead of taking care of business, the staff had to get back to O’Hare and fly back to their home cities due to the looming shutdown.

It’s easy to get frustrated with the political state surrounding mass transit in the U.S. given how much further along it seems peer systems across the globe are. November is our international issue where we highlight overseas projects.

But if you got to the APTA show, you may have noticed there’s reason to hold onto optimism. A record number of attendees and exhibitors were there and transit agencies are catching up to those overseas. CTA is the latest major transit system to realize the power of speed when completing capital projects and Mayor Rahm Emanuel touted how transit is improving economically stagnant Chicago neighborhoods and breathing new life into the city, much like European counterparts.

Maybe it’s the promise of rising ridership and millennial workforce repopulating urban areas and demanding more transit, or maybe it’s the realization it’s nearly impossible for the federal government to get more dysfunctional so it has to get better, but it looks as we head into the final stretch of 2013 transit leaders are feeling bullish on 2014 and what’s to come.

Speaking of excitement, some of you may be wondering why I’m writing this column this month. Well, I’m happy to announce that Leah and her husband Kevin welcomed Harris Kennedy Harnack into the world on Oct. 9. Harris was born 7 pounds, 9 ounces. Leah, Kevin and Harris are all doing well, as are the dogs.

They will be taking some time to adjust to their new life together and Leah will return Jan. 2.