What is the difference between a Think-Tank and a PR Firm? Most people would probably answer “Not Much.”
And what if that Think-Tank is government funded?
The Mineta Transportation Institute describes their ogranization as follows:
“It was established by Congress in 1991 as part of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) and was reauthorized under TEA-21 and again under SAFETEA-LU. The Institute is funded by Congress through the US Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Research and Innovative Technology Administration, by the California Legislature through the Department of Transportation (Caltrans), and by other public and private grants and donations, including grants from the US Department of Homeland Security.”
It’s Board includes Steve Heminger (Exec. Director of the MTC), Thomas E. Barron (President Parsons Transportation Group) and many other representatives of the transportation consulting complex. Like any other Think-Tank, its publications serve to promote the sponsors. But unlike a corporate Think-Tank, this one is government funded — and it promotes mega-projects that benefit the big construction firms.
Case in point, a report that hit the PR wires just today regarding the California High-Speed Rail project. The report is called Research finding: California high-speed rail can bring positive urban transformations; however, the title of the report is meaningless: there was no actual research. Instead, it is an opportunity for civic boosterism on the part of City Councilmembers and staff regarding the project.
The “study” covers several major stations for the project, but let’s focus on its coverage of San Jose. I selected San Jose not just because the “Institute” is headquartered there, and not just because Diridon Station is named for the Institute’s Exec. Director, but because the Diridon station exemplifies the fact that the HSR will actually bring no transformation whatsoever.
Here is the sales pitch from San Jose’s Transportation Policy Manager, Ben Tripousis (page 138):
As Tripousis reasoned, “With a fully builtout Diridon station, we will have more transit nodes than Transbay in San Francisco with HSR, BART, light rail, Amtrak, and Caltrain. We like to think that it sets us up to be in a position to have people take transit to transit.” Dennis Korbiak expects that the HSR will spur development around the Diridon station, adding a significant area that is currently underdeveloped to the downtown core. Station area design consultant, Frank Fuller, envisions the Diridon station as a dense urban center with mixed-use, office, and entertainment uses applications, “which is likely to appeal to a demographic of younger technology-based individuals employed in the area, and possibly encouraging many of them to live near the station.
And what about the pedestrian and bike environment? The Diridon area, like the rest of San Jose, is awful for bikes and peds. And the huge parking planned around the station won’t make it any better. But you wouldn’t know that from the Mineta Institute report:
This would really be a vibrant place, with a lot of attention given to place-making, and major attractions for urban dwellers and visitors…. There will be virtually no car traffic through that area; it will be entirely pedestrian and bike, with a few exceptions – maybe taxis and zip cars.
Whoever put that paragraph in the report ought to be, um, institutionalized.