Leadership is an interesting concept and if I was an expert, I'd be writing management books. This is one take on the subject.
This post is inspired by JobRot following a debate on Twitter (yes, that) on why don't professionals simply refuse to build crap (cycling) infrastructure which itself (as best I can remember) stemmed from a discussion on why professional institutions don't show leadership. The point was made that despite knowing about concepts such as induced demand and the health impact from non-active travel modes, why do professionals still push road-building schemes? Perhaps it's a touch of cognitive dissonance, perhaps they really don't care, perhaps they disagree. Is it any different to health professionals who smoke?
With this in mind, I also read the Chartered Institution of Highway's & Transportation's "Transportation Professional" magazine this week which featured its usual monthly poll called the "CIHT 100"; that is 100 institution members who answer a question to give a snapshot of members' position on a subject which is also linked to an article where one person supports the "yes" answer and one person supports the "no" position. This month, it was East London river crossings;
Now to be clear, this is a poll of member's views and not a reflection of Institution policy (I'll come back to that later). I did find the result interesting as I thought the "no's" would be higher and so 42% is a win as far as I am concerned!
Let's take a step back. We often see politicians and professionals being accused of lacking leadership, but often, this is because the person making the comment disagrees with the position being taken. Take a local authority seen as anti-walking and cycling by pro-walking and cycling campaigners. The accusation will be levelled that for active travel, the councillors and senior officers running the authority show no leadership on active travel.
They are right of course, but this is often tempered by the fact that the "leaders" may actually be disregarding active travel in favour of private car journeys and car parking. I have heard politicians state that they have been elected by people who want the freedom to use their cars and so they have a mandate to facilitate this freedom. There will be many of my peers who completely agree with the position and in their work, enabling this freedom will be at the forefront. I know that local authorities have policies promoting active travel, but even those with really strong policies can end up ignoring them in the face of pressure or the at the behest of the decision-makers.
For those working in such an environment, you may have high principles in favour of active travel and this will be supported in policy terms, but your job is to facilitate the political direction and position (up until the point it is illegal a very sage boss once said to me). For consultants, life can be more difficult as they are there to do the client's bidding. Good consultants will show what things could be, but ultimately, you get paid for doing what the client wants. Principles are a great thing to have, until they hit you in the pocket. Unless you are financially self-sufficient, I'm afraid that the reality of life ends up with compromise. We therefore should not confuse principles with leadership.
Returning to the CIHT poll. I don't know, but I would expect most members responding to have a fair grasp of the arguments, it is just that some completely agree with the idea that such roads should be built for private car journeys and accommodating active travel is a nice to have, but not really important. Many transport professionals will be driving to work, getting free parking, getting mileage for business trips and they simply don't know any different. Yes, their design guides will talk about "vulnerable road users" and "non-motorised users", but consideration of walking and especially cycling will be bolt-on at best.
Organisations such as CIHT are member-led. They have full-time staff, but policy comes from the council and the technical panels, with trustees dealing with the charitable side of things. This is no different to countless member-led organisations. Bodies such as the council are elected by the membership and as with any election, we choose people who reflect our views and therefore we give a mandate for leadership of the institution. This is the same as local authorities and the government of the day and we essentially get the representation we deserve. Ultimately, the leaders will be the ones who step up for election, rather than staying at home muttering.
Back to the river crossings. On the recent Transport for London consultation for crossings at Gallions Reach and Belvedere, TfL is reporting 90% support (full report here). There were 4,450 respondents and so TfL will be emboldened to proceed as they are with the Silvertown Tunnel which will start to go through the formal procedures this year.
The current Mayor supports these schemes as do some of the candidates for the May election. The Mayor feels he has a mandate from the electorate, there is a positive response to the initial consultation. TfL staff and their consultants working on the projects will know full well what the implications might be in terms of induced demand, pollution, severance and so on. Some might agree with the schemes, some might not. A pragmatic position could be that some will do their damnedest to make sure that active travel is included knowing full well that the politicians want the crossings built anyway.
I might fundamentally disagree with these schemes, but I have to recognise that leadership has been given to ensure their progress. Of course, the same Mayor and organisation has shown leadership (belatedly) in building some of the World-class cycling infrastructure we can see in London now - it's not simple is it?