The Dan Burden Page
Vignette on Power
by Dan Burden
There are five forms of power. One of the most powerful of all, is punishment, or the threat of punishment. It is reserved for rare occasions....but it must be used, when appropriate.
I used that power when I started my position in Florida. About 60 days after taking the position as Florida State Bike Coordinator (July,1980) the following issue came up. As background, I had been given assurance by the Secretary of Transportation that he had an open door policy, and wanted my program to work. The Governor himself had to approve my appointment because he and his staff knew his folks were heels dug in asphalt guys (no gals back then). The Secretary had taken me across the street to meet the Governor, and I felt that I had solid backing for change. The Governor's staff, in creating my position said that the person hired to fill the bicycle coordinator position would be "creative, aggressive and serve as an agent for change".
One day I came across a letter written by our state highway design engineer. The letter was a response to AASHTO on a survey of how each state was addressing bicycling issues.
The letter the chief engineer wrote back was quite negative, making it clear that Florida had no time for such nonsense. I had met the official earlier and knew that he was pure old guard.
I drafted a letter for this engineer's response. In the letter I had him point out my new position, explain that Florida was taking bicycling seriously, apologized for the earlier remarks, stated that this earlier letter was sent as a mistake, and that times had changed.
I went to the Secretary of Transportation with my draft, presented it to him with the earlier letter, said "I came all the way from Montana, moved my family here under the assurances that you made a personal commitment to me that times have changed. Do I have your personal commitment to back me on this letter.....I want the chief engineer to send it out this draft response under his signature with an apology. He said "yes".
I went upstairs to the chief engineers office, started a conversation with he and two of his chief lieutenants, mentioned to him that I had received a copy of his AASHTO letter and that it must have been sent out as a mistake.
He said "that is not a mistake", that is how we do business here". I assured him that, as stated in my appointment letter and as further stated in the department newsletter announcing my new position, that times had changed. "I have been hired to put Florida on a proper course for accommodating bicycles, and your letter suggests that we are to do things in a manner that overlooks bicycling".
He said, "I am in charge here, the letter stands". He was firm. I took out my draft letter. I presented it to him. I gave copies to his staff. I said, this letter will go out under your signature. The Secretary has already given his approval. He turned beet red.
I went on, "From now on I look forward to working with you and your staff to build roads for all people". I asked him that if he had any questions to call the Secretary for a confirmation. "Times have changed", I assured him. The letter was sent. He retired six months later. Everyone throughout the design section, as well as planning, and many people throughout the districts heard this story from the key staff. Times had changed. I walked the halls proudly that day. The giant FDOT ship began shifting its course. The rest, they say, is history.
Teddy Roosevelt was right, "speak softly, but carry a big stick".
Mid-summer Part Deux
Today is the day to enjoy a chance to laugh, savor, and feel the victory of winning an important change for a town. It's a small moment in a town's history, but a nice win ever the same. It is worthy of sharing with friends who often work to bring change, but don't know when the next or final victory will come.
This is a story that ought to be saved for the year-end Walkable Communities Christmas letter....but I cannot wait. A funny, delightful, adrenilin pumped thing happened two nights ago worth re-telling. Friends, especially regional Walkable Communities organizer Paul Hamilton and other Central Michigan folks were in the audience and can validate that this really happened. It was videotaped. It's real. So, here goes.
This is a story that every Jim Kunstler, every Margaret Mead, every Robert Frost, diplomat, statesman or other person wishing to change mush making into something sustainable, durable and enduring in their town or nation seeks to one day tell.
Tonight, in Grand Ledge, the room was not overly full, a comfortable size and a pleasant assembly of folks. It was a quality audience, made up mostly of senior staff, the entire city council, the planning board, other interested citizens and some serious advocates. Folks at the lead for this town had taken me to dinner. People from the township and others in the region were in attendance. The Michigan DOT was paying for this and sixteen other presentations in a 2.5 week period. We were on the home stretch of setting this region in motion. I knew the battles, the issues of Central Michigan well.
The town of Grand Ledge is preparing to do its new Master Plan, the first time in 33 years. It has envisioned a comprehensive system of bike and ped facilties which most people in this town of 5,000 want. Yet, there are many NIMRBY's (Not in My Rural Back Yard) ready to stop the action. There are the usual flaws in the urban fabric. Fences blocking children from going places. Schools and other vital places in tough to impossible locations. Missing bridges for people.
Perhaps 30 people were there in this Opera House ready for a play that they did not know they were coming to. At least two of these NIRMBY's had wandered in to ready themselves for their eventual battle with the city. The two I had noticed were sitting in the front row, arms crossed staunchly. I watched their daunting body language out of the corner of my eye in a nearly darkened room. I would learn later they carried with them numbers. They had many arguments that rattled in their minds. They had a full chest of fears to unload about people walking down the proposed 7-foot sidewalks to steal their refrigerators, trample their flowers, step on their cat. They did not know that they would be actors in my greatest drama to date. In a sense they were innocent.
Several times as he spoke I reassured him that I was pleased to hear his words....but then I said with poigancy "the words you use are doomed as I will soon....once you relent to listening... fall, crumble even, to a fuller explanation of town and street making principles"....the world will not end if your fire truck (he was a volunteer fireman) cannot race down a particular neighborhood street at 60 miles an hour.
His fury increased. My goading set the stage for what was about to happen....it increased his tempo. I was entering a high -- something I have waited for long and hard. Only two people in the room knew fully what was about to happen, and I could see them smirking.
My double shotguns of two reels of carefully assembled slides to come were at the ready for the battle. My months of working with audiences of every size and composition, of knowing how to defend my concepts, knowing the science of my message and the fluidity of my art of years of communication training and preparation, knowing how to pick powerful, reverberating words, deliver them with emotion, timing and force were strong soldiers, properly flanked and ready for battle. These soldiers were lined and at the ready. The cause was just. The General patient and relaxed. The troops were fed, the charge was set with care.
He went on, setting the stage for me even further. I could see it....this would be the greatest, best performed moment in the history of my career. It would be recorded for history, on videotape.
He went on...... charged me with lying to the audience. "Fire trucks are bigger than you say, I design them." "You do not care what happens to a child that runs out into the street in front of my truck responding to a fire" You don't know anything about firemen, how we are trained, what we do. We are trained to crash into the BMX cars you show on this street, so that we can protect the life of an innocent child". It was a Dan Akroyd Saturday Night, "Jane you ignorant slut, you" kinda delivery.
His pleas of anger went further. He was glowing in the dark. Meanwhile, I was watching the fully darkened shape of the not fully visible audience, hearing light smirking, and knowing the audience was now fully on my side. I was growing stronger by the instant as he defamed me. I knew he had fully set the stage for the next act. I was ready. Finally, as there was a pause, I moved in.
"Are you ready for the rest of the story", I said. He had a few more rounds of angry words in his now depleting arsonal. In tme the words grew to mush, quieter, more sedate, his cannons were nearly empty, hot from battle but cooling quickly. There was nothing behind them. There were no further troops, no second wave to back him in this room this night. Not even a pistol. He had launched his beer influenced argument months too early. He had spoiled his victory, set his troops in an early defeat. Defamed his cause before he knew it.
Finally, it was time. I now thoughtfully, methodically, reeled my team into position. Relaxed, and with energy from deep, deep within my soul I set in motion the delivery of the year. Silence in this room had now erupted. It was the moment before battle...birds and crickets could be heard in the silence. I listened momentarily to the gentle glide of the Grand River outside the windows. Gandhi, Tolstoy, Thoreau, all of my mentors of life had readied me for this, they had taught me patience, how to meditate before a battle...it was time to gently move a cannon or two for the firing of the big guns. I thought about all the people I represented. How each one of you would cheer. How all of you would want to be here this night, this moment to savor, forever. Only Paul was here, but that was enough.
This battle would be strong and lopsided. Everything now would be launched from one side and one side only. It would be the launching of the Gulf War bombing, with no cessation until there was nothing but rubble of dead arguments smoldering in ruin on the ground.
At the very back of the room, knowing exactly what slides and message were at the ready, Paul Hamilton's smirk was as wide as the room. No, wider still. It was as wide as the Grand River itself.
I stepped forward, almost in front of the silhouetted image, a man who only knew how to attack in daylight, backed by a room full of angry citizens on his side, ready to pounce on defenseless, outnumbered town leaders.
I knew he had never met a strong opponent, alone. I stood giant like, building my physique to full size so that my words had more range, brillancy and depth.
I clicked the slides forward. Two images slid into position. This was my front line. I listened to the mechanics of the machine. I readied my voice....and then.......
"This street in front of you is where the firemen make their time....."the Avenue is carefully crafted, moving the trucks ever closer to the life- threatentin fire that you speak of that occurs in a neighborhood every 27 years (actual fact), cars flee quickly into the bike lane (reason 25 for bike lanes) and let the fireman speed by, readying for their life-saving work."
Each slide as it reeled into position further set an image, allowed my voice, my words to attest to the brilliance of new thinking by smart people not stuck in a 50 year deep planning and engineering groove.
Paul's smirk grew wider still. He knew the big guns were still hidden. Over 40 more images came up, setting the eventual stage for the final volly. Eventually the full sized fire trucks came on the scene.... those in the snow, those meandering through cones as firemen practied racing down 8 foot wide spaces, and then putting their fire truck into reverse gear and backing through them, . I flaunted my experience working with firemen being trained, told the story of the Santa Monica fire chief who hired us and in front of his town meeting came to tears expressing his passion for public safety, and finding a way to traffic calm in a sensible way that would save lives.
And then finally the two strongest slides......the two I took while home in Ohio this Fourth of July with my parents, brothers and sister. It's a story I've been meaning to tell for a year now. Somehow the slides had slid into the reels an hour and a half earlier, almost in hope that something like this might happen some day.
The first image, two people standing in a narrow 20 foot wide street with on- street parking, a dead end street with no hammerhead or other place for a fire truck to turn around in the end of the street. The street, tree lined. The other image, the same two men, and a curbed 20 foot wide street, on-street parking, and again no place to turn a fire truck.
I said "These two men on these two streets live here. They know that a fire truck cannot get down this street fast. They are not worried. If they were they would not live here. They have homes worth protecting, their children visit or live in these houses, as do their possessions. They know that their insurance is secure. This small college town, now grown large is still narrowing and rebuilding its brick streets, its tight corners. These two men choose to live in the historic neighborhoods where they get the lowest traffic volume speed and noise. They do this because they know this is the absolute safest places to live."
"There is more to this story. These two men are firemen.....two in tandem spanning two generations, father and son. They have built their life protecting the lives of people. The older gentleman, learned to fight fires in WWII, came back safe, started his family and career.....helped build a fire department in a large city as a Battalion Fire Chief, retired, then started a fire department from nearly scratch in this now big suburban city, training fire fighters how to drive these rigs down these very narrow streets and choosing himself to live at the very end of one. The other fireman, his son, is a Lietenant in the same fire department. For the safety of his children he too chooses to live on a narrow, historic street.
But there is more.....another son in this family has gone on to build a career of now over 25 years in public safety. This second son is not a fireman....but he is a person who knows how to get fire trucks to a fire through the proper design of a street system. You are looking at him. This is my father, my brother.
The audience smiled. Paul kicked back his heels with a click that I could have heard from New Jersey. I went home that night on an incredible high.
Subject: Reason #24 for Bike Lanes - Prostitution
Date: 98-07-12 07:43:32 EDT
Here in Toronto this week in a workshop Jeff Olson (NY State Bike Coordinator) was leading, and after having mentioned to the audience that there are 22 reasons for bike lanes.....and only the 23rd is for bikes....a member of the audience said, "Here is #24.......
In Toronto police were stymied in not being able to give out politically correct tickets to curtail prostitution. So, after bike lanes were put on the road in the neighborhood, the police solved their problem. As the Johns pulled their cars into the bike lanes to talk with the prostitutes, the police came up and issued them tickets for stopping illegally in the bike lanes. The prostitutes left the neighborhood, the problem was solved."
Subject: Re: The dark middle ages of cars and traffic calming
Date: Sun, 6 Sep 1998
I am in Boise. I just heard the funniest fire department/traffic calming story when I arrived in Boise last night. This one is a keeper. I have to share it with you. Boise, Idaho is in the second stage of Shopenhauer's three stages of change....... (for introducing traffic calming). You may remember that the German philospher, Shopenhauer, tells us that any time there is change we have to go through three stages. This is true no matter what the change. The first stage of change is ridicule, the second is violent opposition, the third is wide-spread acceptance.
Earlier this summer when David Engwicht (author of "Traffic Calming -- SR 20", and "Reclaiming our Towns and Villages") (Brisbane, Australia) was in town he did a van tour. The mayor was rude and nasty to David. He challenged David's credentials, being an evangelist and not a traffic engineer. Later the mayor and other top officials were on the van tour, and the group was being followed around by TV crews. The fire department found out about this tour and set up the following. The firemen placed a spotter who knew when the team was to arrive and could call in the arrival and stage the event they planned in front of a roundabout (four in a series on one road).
The firemen faked an emergency run, came down the street full throttle, sirens and lights blaring and purposefully ran over the roundabout, to emphasize that they could not get around it. They made quite a show of it, appearing to not be able to steer around it at high speed. Needless to say the firemen are opposed to traffic calming in any respect.
David got a good laugh over this childish behavior. Those of you that may not have heard, we had a citizen (Terry) in University Place, Washington hire a semi-tractor trailer operator to plow into the Grandview Blvd roundabout to prove that a semi could not get around one. By circumstance the city was video taping the roundabout on a hillside at the time, and was able to show the Terry sitting in the cab of the semi directing the driver what to do. End of that showdown. Today the University Place roundabout is well loved, celebrated in the local press, and heralded in national journals as a "best example" of a safety and civility improvement. The town just sent a signed by the town beautiful poster size photo to Walkable Communities to celebrate our organization's role in creating a model and improving their town.
More on hostility. I will be doing a similar Boise, Idaho van tour on Monday, and the mayor will be with me. I am told people in the neighborhood with the experimental roundabouts are brandishing guns, others are leaving nasty notes on the doors of property owners where traffic calming exists, and there is a daily parade of "horn honkers". The devices have been on the ground for a little over two months. Public hearings are scheduled.
The public notice message I saw on the roundabouts last night refers to an upcoming public hearing about the devices. The session will be on Wednesday, the day after I leave. The notice states that there will be written comments only at the public hearing, no public speaking. The reason for this is that the last session on this topic was violent. People who want to go fast on this 25 mph posted road are angry that they are being slowed. The residents who live here are angry with the speeders.
The sponsors of my trip here are worried about their personal safety. Fear is widespread. This is a tough time for our nation......a minor skirmish in the end, but a mucky, muddy road to traverse.
I am reminded that when I was 14 I lived in the neighborhood in the midwest where the first cross burning occurred in our nation when a black family moved into the street. I remember how hard and violently board members of my popular church (Westgate Park Methodist) fought my minister to keep a black out of the congregation. I stopped going to organized churches that year, and formed my own, more personal, less hypocritic religion.
I am happy to see and feel the both sides of the emotions of Americans as they go through this difficult change. Once again, Shopenhauer teaches each of us that change is predictable, inevitable, and a sign that acceptance is not too far away. In a decade or two we will all act a bit more civil, adult, mature and maybe even more accepting toward one another. In the end we will realize that all people, not just high speed motorists have a right to public safety, access, mobility and fairness. At that time people will realize that traffic calming is one small step toward giving back what was taken by speeding motorists from property owners, children, seniors, pedestrians, bicyclists and merchants. The car is undergoing its long, last gulp of uncivil behavior toward the people it serves.
Copy of a letter from Dan Burden to Gary Richardson, Boise (Idaho) City Commissioner, who has been working hard to turn the city around from car dominated sprawl to more liveable community...
"Gary -- On this election eve, I wish you well. To help you through the process I offer you this little story to help get beyond whatever Boise and you as an elected official are experiencing this election. Please keep me informed as to the election results.
There is a time for everything. If this is not Boise's time, well, then......there will be a time in the future. I have been to so many places where, once we won the battle, the people who had made the same attempt 3, 6 or 12 years earlier came up to me and told me they knew that a time would come, but they were surprised by how soon. ......Dan.
As evidence, two weeks ago Michael Ronkin and I were finishing up a set of courses for Pennsylvania. We had been invited to address the PennDOT senior executives. The Chief Engineer for the state was in the room. We did a hot, crisp, relaxed presentation and discussed, among many things, traffic calming. We had been told that the Chief engineer had proclaimed one year earlier "Traffic Calming?.....we have been working for 40 years in this country to speed cars up....the last thing we are going to do is slow them down". Shortly after our presentation he came up to us privately, handed me his card and said, "Can you come to my community this afternoon, I have an intersection that needs a roundabout." We did; he is now going to actively campaign for it and has the clout to "make it so." When built, it will be the first modern roundabout in Pennsylvania. True story.
Remember Shopenhauer describes that for change to occur we must go through three stages. First there is ridicule, then violent opposition, then, acceptance. Nobody knows how or why acceptance comes so slow or so fast, it just does. But when it does, it is self-evident to everybody. Our role is to accept our task as change agents, and be patient. God speed to all of us."
> Just wanted to drop you a note to tell you
I would be surprised if the NIMBY's had not come out to oppose your trail. To my knowledge it is impossible to have a trail without opposition. Remember the three stages of changes? First there is ridicule, then violent opposition, then acceptance. Shopenhauer taught this to us in the 1700's, and it has never been different. Keep up the good work.
You may wish to call Robert Seider, Seidler Productions at 850-925-6331 and ask to purchase a copy of the tape that he shot on trail opposition. He has some very good stories of opponents being transformed within a few weeks after opening to become the strongest supporters. Some folks put up soda machines with a note "come to the house if you need change."
The funniest story I heard to date came to me just a few weeks ago. It is the story of an older man that was violently opposed to the trail running through "his backyard", who lost his battle, then put up a tall wood fence. About six months after the trail was opened the area trail planner was going by this house, saw the fence was down and the man had a beer in his hand, sitting in a lawn chair facing the trail. The planner walked up, re-introduced himself, and said "I am curious, I remember you were against the trail and built a big fence. What happened to your fence?" The man replied.....I got smart real fast......I could either be inside watching a bunch of sweaty guys all padded up knock one another around......or, I could be out here watching all these healthy folks go by in lycra. I'm not stupid."
Gainesville Cycling Club Web Site