Summary of "Citizen Involvement in Transportation Planning"

Summary of

Citizen Involvement in Transportation Planning

By John Forester

This Article Summary written by: Tanya Glaser, Conflict Research Consortium 

John Forester. "Citizen Involvement in Transportation Planning." Deborah Kolb, ed., When Talk Works, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1994), pp. 317-320.

Lawrence Suskind chaired the regional Citizen Advisory Committee considering a proposed extension of the Boston subway system. While the Committee was successful in reaching a consensus recommendation, their proposal was overruled by the state. Susskind felt that the Committee's main goal needed to be reaching a consensus recommendation. Without consensus, any settlement was likely to unravel due to later political infighting.

Susskind found that when the various options were discussed abstractly there was a lot of disagreement. But when options were presented in fairly concrete images, agreement came much more easily. Initially the engineers called for a ten thousand car parking garage at the site. Citizen groups opposed any parking. When the Committee reviewed slides of actual parking garages of various sizes, the engineers realized that their plan was unrealistic and the citizens' position softened. The Committee succeeded in developing a win-win option, supported by everyone on the Committee. Susskind notes that "the option included a set of trade-offs that no one had envisioned in the first place, which was, you could improve the environment in exchange for allowing this development to go ahead."[p. 319]

Unfortunately, the Committee had only advisory power. The state chose to implement an option without the environmental compensations. When the Committee challenged the state, they were dismissed and the task force dissolved. This angered the members of the Committee, who had agreed not to block the subway extension in exchange for a voice in the planning process. However, the state's decision stood and the subway extension was built without environmental protections and without court challenge.