(Unedited) Podcast Transcript 416: What Do Transportation Lobbyists Do?

January 18, 2023

This week we’re joined by Dr. Nadia Anderson, former Director of Federal Affairs at INRIX. Dr. Anderson joins us to talk about what lobbyists actually do, the one year anniversary of IIJA, and how it leads to Justice 40 and equity action.

To listen to this episode, visit Streetsblog USA or our hosting archives.

Below is a full unedited AI generated transcript.

Jeff Wood (1m 23s):
Well, Dr. Nadia Anderson, welcome to the Talking Headways podcast.

Dr. Nadia Anderson (1m 28s):
Hi, it’s great to be here. Thank you for having me.

Jeff Wood (1m 30s):
Well thanks for being here. Before we get started, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Dr. Nadia Anderson (1m 33s):
Yes, so I have a little bit of a interesting background. I’ve been working in the transportation mobility space for the last 15 years spanning public private nonprofit sectors. I’m a government affairs professional with a research background, so that makes me a nerdy form of a lobbyist in many ways and I worked at all levels of government, both domestic and international. So that’s me in a nutshell. Professionally,

Jeff Wood (1m 55s):
What does nerdy lobbyists mean? Like aren’t all lobbyists supposed to be nerdy?

Dr. Nadia Anderson (1m 58s):
All lobbyists are nerdy, but I think I may take it to the next level. Like I really love to read really long academic papers, learn about the data and also try to figure out how to make good substantive arguments focused on good policy and with the vision of like really good public policy is not saying that all lobbyists do that, but I don’t think many have, you know, PhDs and urban affairs and public policy. So I bring that qualitative researcher lens to everything that I do.

Jeff Wood (2m 21s):
Well I appreciate that. Well, what’s your job entail as the director of federal affairs? Like what is your kind of day-to-day, I guess, lobbyist action?

Dr. Nadia Anderson (2m 29s):
So it’s really fun and exciting working in the data space because there’s so much that you can do not only from a practitioner’s point of view, but also when it comes to putting together the next generation of public policy. So playing with the numbers and the way to figure out what’s happening, what’s being said, but then also asking some really interesting questions about, you know, what we don’t know and then what data sets are out there that could help either put a finer point on it or give those people who are working on the ground the tools that they need to be able to solve it. When it comes to actually advocating, it’s a lot of conversations of educating folks on what data can be used to do and the various sets of data that are out there, but also thinking about what’s missing when it comes to like data insights and analytics and doing a little bit of innovative thinking about trying to solve future problems but also figuring out if there are things that we may think are, I’m gonna say fact for lack of a better word, that should be interrogated and maybe you know, revisited based on what it is that we know today.

Jeff Wood (3m 19s):
I think a lot of people think of lobbyists in terms of like cigars and backrooms and and those types of things. What does that like visual mean to you versus like what you just told us?

Dr. Nadia Anderson (3m 28s):
I think it’s funny. So I had a very similar thought of what a lobbyist was based on movies like thank you for smoking and then also looking at like the West Wing and house cis and all the things that we see in tv. I will say in a comparison to that in real life it’s a lot of people who are really thoughtful sitting around the table and having conversations with the goal of figuring out, you know, what could should be done and then also figuring out, you know, what has been done in the past and what impacts have happened and then figuring out what is the spirit of what everybody’s trying to do and what needs to be changed. There is a level of, I’ll say healthy debate that happens in most, you know, circles when it comes to the advocacy community. But I think the, the misnomer is that, you know, lobbying and engaging in government affairs is a bad thing. I think it’s something that is a part of like democracy and it can be used as a tool to help make sure that we are all progressing towards, you know, the future society that we wanna see.

Dr. Nadia Anderson (4m 15s):
And I think it’s good to have different people with different ideas around the table sort of hashing things out and working on, you know, very pressing and important issues

Jeff Wood (4m 23s):
I guess as long as it’s an open table. The problem is when you know the backroom deals I guess are hashed out. I’ve known a number of lobbyists and and folks who are registered as lobbyists which do good work, so I appreciate that. So what, what kind of things are you working on these days? Like what kind of things are you sitting around a table and trying to discuss with folks and trying to maybe change some minds about?

Dr. Nadia Anderson (4m 40s):
So my day-to-day based on that question is likely a lot talking about the bipartisan infrastructure law, so landmark transportation legislation, you know, once in a generation, so supposedly sustainable injection of funding to address some of the toughest challenges we face. It is trying to figure out, you know, how to measure and understand safety by using data insights and analytics. How to actually understand the big question that’s out there today on transportation equity based on the administration’s focus when you look at Justice 40 and the equity action plans that are being put in place and trying to understand, you know, what research methodologies either can be leveraged or need to be recreated or created in order to be able to understand how to measure and get to the outcomes that are the spirit of the legislation and the intent behind the legislation and all the programs that are being put out on a day-to-day when it looks like that table is trying to figure out, you know, what guidance looks like, what the notice of funding opportunities and the rules for being able to apply for competitive grants look like.

Dr. Nadia Anderson (5m 32s):
But then also having conversations as you mentioned about like access to the table. You know, everyone is focused on equity, what does it mean to really focus on equity? What does it mean to bring new voices and perspectives to the table? And then what does it mean to have them at the table in a substantive manner? Not only when you’re talking about developing the rules but also when you’re looking at you analyzing impact grant or should be made based on how things are on the ground.

Jeff Wood (5m 58s):
What does the discussion about equity look like in those circles now as maybe compared to like before 2020?

Dr. Nadia Anderson (6m 3s):
That’s a a really good question. I would say before 2020 the word was not even being discussed in many of the circles. You know, I think there were people who’d been working for decades on transportation equity and they were having those conversations but it hasn’t hit the fever pitch that is hit now. You know, you have an all of government approach now focused on equity led by the administration and that’s the first time that I’ve seen such a thing happen in my career working in transportation. So I think it’s on the radar of everyone. I think the conversations are focused on understanding what that means. A lot of folks tend to use equity and equality as synonyms, so there’s a big push in making sure people understand the difference between equity work and then equal distribution of resources.

Dr. Nadia Anderson (6m 43s):
I think the other part of the conversation is making sure that the people who are, I would say legacy actors meeting the folks that have been working and the public policy space and transportation for decades know that they’re people who’ve been doing the work for decades as well and that they should be, you know, leading the efforts at the table and in the forefront of the conversation and then doing a little bit of pressure checking and testing. You know, government works one way and they get their inputs from various sources, but those are traditional sources, sources that they’re comfortable with. A lot of the conversations now are what new methods need to be brought to the table, what new ways of thinking about problems and questions that you’re gonna try to answer from a public policy perspective need to also be discussed. And I think people are really trying to figure out how do you do this both in a manner that is substantive reflective of the communities who are looking to be served in a different way, but also efficient meaning, you know, you have a five year bill but money’s going out the door already and how do you actually make sure that those funds are being put to use in a manner that aligns with that overall vision but done in a manner that you can actually have an impact on some of these very pressing issues that need to be addressed and you don’t have, you know, decades to get the solution.

Dr. Nadia Anderson (7m 46s):

Jeff Wood (7m 46s):
And what are some of those methods that folks should be looking at in order to change the conversation? I mean you mentioned Justice 40, there’s a number of other initiatives that are happening to try to, you know, weave through equity as well as climate change and other impactful topics that maybe weren’t included before. But what are some of those things that we’re trying to be included to make a difference?

Dr. Nadia Anderson (8m 4s):
You know, I’ll say one of the things that’s being included now that is making me very happy is the value of qualitative research. So in addition to looking at quantitative, which are like the straight numbers, making sure that you’re doing things that are focused on getting the voices of the people who are impacted at the table and being able to measure and assess both sentiment, understanding and impact from various angles. Another thing is looking at various data sets. So for example, when you look at road traffic safety, people rely very heavily on FARs and crash reports. But you know, there’s lots of conversations now, especially if you’re looking at understanding transportation through the lens of equity of hospital records, maybe having follow-up interviews with individuals who are involved in crashes and talk about their experience and what happened sort of like at the scene.

Dr. Nadia Anderson (8m 44s):
And then being able to blend those things together to get a comprehensive picture of everything that happened. So you get the numbers but you also get the experience a little bit of the why and the how and the what behind those numbers as well. Well and then you can design a policy or a program that addresses things in a more comprehensive and complete manner.

Jeff Wood (9m 0s):
That’s really interesting. I think that that focus on data is really important. It’s one part of the solution. There was an art article in Vox recently about the deadliest roads and the ones with the most impact in the United States and there was one road specifically I think in western Florida that you know, was just far and above one of the deadliest places for people and, and you know, looking at that data you could start to see these places that actually had a lot more impact And it’s really interesting to think about it that way and start to cull the information and start to put it out in a way that people can kind of, you know, have their light bulbs turned on, for lack of a better, better metaphor.

Dr. Nadia Anderson (9m 32s):
Yeah, no, I love it. That’s another part of the conversation that is happening as well. Like these are very nuanced and wonky and nerdy topics and subjects and each of them have their own respective disciplines behind them. And a part of the conversation that’s happening now, you know, in the public forum, in the private forum is how do you distill and communicate these things to the general public and how do you distill and communi these things to the average policymaker who is in addition to transportation, mobility issues, dealing with a suite of other things and they need to know and understand it in a method that allows them to be impactful and not, you know, inadvertently harmful but at the same time you have 30 seconds to explain something that is very, you know, very tough and where the words really, really matter which you use because it’s gonna have both legislative intent but also impact and making sure you get all those things right.

Jeff Wood (10m 18s):
What’s the best way to crunch something into 30 seconds from 10 years of research or even 50 years of research

Dr. Nadia Anderson (10m 23s):
Like you know, that’s the million dollar question. I think, you know, personally I think the way to hold the most promise for me is being able to have lots of work groups and workshops and you do a little bit by consensus. So you bring all the people who are closest to it who understand it, who’ve been working in it for a number of years in a period of time and you have them figure out how to craft together a message. But then you also tap into the people who know how to communicate with folks better. So I would say comms and marketing professionals and then meshing sure that you’re pressure checking it, that you’re not changing the meaning of it but you’re able to say it like the average person’s gonna understand what’s happening on the street but also know what to do to engage or help evoke positive change.

Jeff Wood (11m 0s):
The language and framing is really important and we try to talk about that on the show a fair amount and I think that the way that we talk about things is just as important almost as some of the research behind it. So I’m wondering from your end, getting together with those folks, communications folks, thinking about the ways that people actually frame an issue so that it gets traction. How does that impact how your work goes? And even when you go and talk to folks on the hill or other folks trying to get, you know, information into the NOFA and everything else that you’re involved in,

Dr. Nadia Anderson (11m 28s):
It plays a major role in how like my day-to-day goes, but also how my ability as like a public policy profession along somebody who cares about the topic can be impactful inside of the space. And it’s a lot of making sure that people understand simply at the most basic level what it is that’s happening and what they can do to change it. And not getting lost in some of the technical details or the technicalities words are extremely important. So my goal personally is making, making sure when people use equity they’re talking about equity and not equality. And my goal personally when it comes to road traffic safety is that people recognize the importance of using the word crash and not the a word as we say because it frames it in your mind in a different way. And then also making sure that people understand the inadvertent impact that the word you use or the framing can have on the people who you’re trying to reach.

Dr. Nadia Anderson (12m 15s):
So you know, we are all very cautious with the way that we frame things, but I personally know folks who have looked at police reports or crashes that they were involved in as a bicyclist or a pedestrian and the framing and the crash report said that they were essentially the one at fault. And that seems like a negative message and it’s a bad spiral and it’s not true but factually correct as to what happened. But that also changes the way that you can engage with that individual and that community. So being as precise as possible when it comes to those things or taking, you know, value judgments and things out like that out of the equation so you can actually address what’s happening and get to the root of the issue.

Jeff Wood (12m 49s):
Kelsey Ralph at Rutgers and and Kel think Pen and some other folks actually put out some research recently about how police reports are written related to crashes and I think had some fascinating findings about how you can actually educate the folks who are writing them or actually the, you know, people that are collecting the data to actually think about things a little bit differently before you actually put it into the record, the permanent record as it were. And so I think that’s fascinating too, that these things can be changed if you are intentional about

Dr. Nadia Anderson (13m 15s):
It. No, absolutely and I think the other side, the other piece of that is making sure that it’s a little bit of grassroots organizing and educating and building capacity. So if I am involved in a situation I know how to advocate for myself but also know who to reach out to and make sure that the things are being reflected in a manner that is factual but also in a manner that doesn’t, you know, skew the landscape one way or another.

Jeff Wood (13m 36s):
We’ve been asking people about the one year anniversary of the infrastructure build. Does anything stand out specifically to you?

Dr. Nadia Anderson (13m 42s):
I think a lot of things stand out. I think that I am extremely happy and impressed of the commitment of advocates of stakeholders or practitioners to engage in the process and then also of the administration and us D o t to make sure that they get the funds out the door. And I also love the fact that people are looking at this as a living piece of legislation, meaning understanding that they want feedback, meaning that they know that the people on the ground have different perspective points of views and insights and that there is a role for, you know, the private sector, academia and nonprofits to play in this conversation and people going above and out of their way to make sure that they’re bringing those voices to the table. And also having the mentality of this is our first cut at it, we will continue to tweak and make sure that we are doing the right thing and if we see unintended consequences or outcomes that we did not anticipate, we’re willing to change the programs or tweak the programs or to make sure that we continue to strive towards the goals that we’ve outlined.

Dr. Nadia Anderson (14m 35s):
As you mentioned that the onset of making transportation safe, sustainable but also making sure that we are addressing all road users and not being, you know, over-indexing to one mode of travel over the other but also giving some of the other modes that are being used, they’re due in their, their credit that they need to be able able to grow and thrive.

Jeff Wood (14m 53s):
There’s been a little bit of controversy over some of the notices that have been sent out by the Department of Transportation versus what the conservative block you know wants to happen, especially as related to climate change. I’d mentioned this in a couple of shows before, but you know, Stephanie Pollock wrote about how they would like dots to measure their greenhouse gas emissions and state dots pushing back on that and then senators are pushing back on that as well. I’m curious how that kind of rulemaking slash the documents that come out, you know, impact some of your work as well.

Dr. Nadia Anderson (15m 22s):
So I think it doesn’t impact it in the way that many people would, I guess like think about it or assume, I think historically it is the administration’s prerogative and role to sort of set the vision and I think that when it comes to how funding is allocated states, municipalities and localities sort of engage within that space. There’s always been political discourse and conversation. I think when those conversations come up in the spaces that I operate in, it’s making sure that people are taking the time to read what’s actually like put on paper but then also saying, you know, who doesn’t agree that transportation should be safe for everybody. Nobody wants a loved one to be impacted by a crash, who wants to breathe air that you need to wear a mask for? Like we wanna make sure that you know, the environment is there because we all exist in it.

Dr. Nadia Anderson (16m 2s):
And I think trying to figure out how to make sure that we align on the goals and the end goals and then figuring out, you know, how to actually get there is gonna be left of course of the prerogative, the states. But I think that there’s a lot of room and opportunity for advocates and people working to be able to, you know, make sure that the legislation is living up to us promised and that we’re not getting stuck in the the mere of, you know, I would say politics, small pe but also in misunderstandings and misinterpretations of what’s actually written.

Jeff Wood (16m 29s):
Is there anything the bill that you were involved in specifically or is there anything that you’re super excited to see in the bill?

Dr. Nadia Anderson (16m 35s):
Two programs that I’m super excited to see in the bill, the Safe Streets and Roads for All As a Road and Traffic Safety Professional, it is very encouraging to see that level of funding going towards essentially Vision Zero. So making sure that states are thinking about things the right way or thinking about things in a different way, but then also empowering the localities to actually be eligible for funding and being able to take advantage of that opportunity. And I think the fact that it is not prescriptive and it allows people to be innovative, to be a little bit experimental when it comes to how they pursue those goals, leveraging data, working with advocates, bringing in non-profit organizations, finding non-traditional partners to work with, I think it holds a ton of promise to actually, you know, make roads safer and reduce the number of crashes, especially the fatal crashes that we’re seeing.

Dr. Nadia Anderson (17m 19s):
The other program that I think is really exciting for me is the Reconnecting Communities program. So acknowledging the interval role that transportation plays and all aspects of our lives and figuring out how to actually not only not repeat the missteps of the past but to do things differently in a manner that do not adversely impact or put a burden on certain populations who are born the burn of prior and past decisions and acknowledging that you know, we did do something in the past that was not necessarily the best. Let’s figure out how to correct that and make sure that we don’t continue to do those things moving forward.

Jeff Wood (17m 48s):
That one’s really interesting because I think lately, and I had Stephanie Gaby Jenkins and Helen Chanon recently to talk about this, but one of the things that’s really interesting about that connecting community’s piece of legislation is that, you know, I think it has a certain intention of tearing down highways, reconnecting communities that were split by them. But I think some of the applications that have come in so far for it are less than, it’s not following the intention of the bill. I think I read somewhere where somebody was trying to widen an underpass rather than actually, you know, trying to figure out how to reconnect the neighborhood. The Clayborne Expressway in New Orleans is a famous example of a highway that they’ve wanted to tear down for years, but always it’s there’s not enough money or there’s not enough political will or you know, some small type of intervention is proposed like taking out the off-ramps or something along those lines.

Jeff Wood (18m 33s):
So I’m wondering how we get from the intention of that specific piece of legislation to the actual outcomes that I think advocates are looking for.

Dr. Nadia Anderson (18m 40s):
Yeah, I think that’s where the community of stakeholders comes in. So you have people who sit in my space as a government affairs lobbyist place, but you also have people who are grassroots activists, you have the practitioners on the ground. So I think this is a situation where all those folks engage in that conversation to make sure that it goes in the direction that reflects the needs of the people who it’s intending to serve. I think a lot of times when we look at these policies there can be sometimes daylight between the legislatives intent and what actually happens on the ground, but I think that’s where people come in and where it’s important for people to be engaged in the process to make sure their voices are heard but also to make sure that you know, everybody’s holding folks accountable if it’s not representing and reflective and if it’s having an adverse or negative impact that those corrections are made and that is not done silently.

Jeff Wood (19m 24s):
You’re also part of the UNC Highway Research Center’s Collaborative Science Center for Road Safety. What are you all working on?

Dr. Nadia Anderson (19m 31s):
So there are a number of things that are happening inside of U N C Cs C RS who’s a very long title and so it’s,

Jeff Wood (19m 37s):
It’s like an acronym soup

Dr. Nadia Anderson (19m 39s):
Acronym soup. And it took me a really long time to remember it first

Jeff Wood (19m 42s):
You said that really fast too, like you’ve been practicing lots,

Dr. Nadia Anderson (19m 45s):
Lots and lots more practice. So yeah, a lot of things coming out of that. You know Laura, the executive director is phenomenal and she has a great team that’s working with her and so being able to do things that are traditional in the road safety research bucket. So looking a little bit like human factors but also being able to be forward leaning, looking at ways to leverage data, looking at ways to look at new and emerging mobility options and the impact that they’re having and then also being able to engage in research that is, I will say cutting edge but also asking different questions and looking at things in different ways. One researcher that I’m a fan girl of who is completing her dissertation work there is looking at, you know, equity through tangentially related to the higher research center, but very closely like you know, in the mix as well.

Dr. Nadia Anderson (20m 27s):
So looking at different ways to not only highlight the issues that are present and disparate impacts that are present, but also trying to figure out, you know, how research can be done in a different way that is replicable so other places can do it as well and put a finer point on what it is that we’re seeing, figuring out how to reduce disparate impacts but also talking purely in the numbers, which is a good way to reach different parts of the population who may, who hearts and minds may not be moved by, you know, the compelling case but like the numbers don’t lie. And so that’s one of the things that like I love that’s coming outta that organization overall. But I think the thing that I like the most about being involved with them is that we ask the hard questions, we engage in the hard conversations and we’re trying to figure out how to make sure that the center not only lives up to its mission and vision, but it also remains relevant and it’s sort of like cutting edge and hopefully engaging and leading some of the conversations you know about the future of transportation and mobility, especially when it comes to road traffic safety.

Jeff Wood (21m 18s):
What are the hard questions?

Dr. Nadia Anderson (21m 19s):
The hard questions are how can we get to zero simply put and how can we actually execute a comprehensive approach in a comprehensive manner? And it is essentially the situation of, you know, you can’t tweak one thing, you have to tweak everything at the same time if the goal is there and how do you bring all those people together to start working in concert under this goal of getting to zero. So that’s the again, another million dollar question that people are trying to figure out. And then also how do you get the public bought in to what’s going on and aware and educated because it’s a public health issue but it’s something that is extremely like personal and it’s something that people can do, people can change their behaviors and they’ll have a immense and tremendous impact on what we’re seeing.

Dr. Nadia Anderson (22m 0s):
But how do you get a person to think about things differently, not only how they move but also their behaviors when they’re traveling.

Jeff Wood (22m 6s):
How much is it the responsibility of the industry though the traffic engineering industry, transportation planning industry overall? It feels like you said there’s hard questions, which I totally agree with. There’s also hard answers and there’s answers that we know are true but people don’t want to follow them. Let’s say making slower speed limits or reducing the size of vehicles, a lot of the autonomous vehicle stuff that would be beneficial. Now, automatic braking and things like that, not necessarily autonomous vehicles at large, but some of the technology that’s come outta that, I feel like we have answers but we don’t want to implement the solutions.

Dr. Nadia Anderson (22m 39s):
Yeah, I think it’s shared. I think responsibility is shared and it’s not the the best answer, but I think everybody sort of has a role to play. I think the other thing, and this is like the world that I exist in so I could be, you know, a little bit biased here, I think the politics and the perceptions also matter when it comes to things. You know, you mentioned speed and I remember being a part of many a conversation and many a locality about the data pointing to the necessity and need to lower the speed limits in certain places, but everything got stuck because they wasn’t necessarily aware of the political will and the issue, but also what needed to be done and changed legislatively for that to happen. And you have a lot of folks who like by attrition it takes a really long time and there’s another issue that’s gonna pop up that’s top of mind.

Dr. Nadia Anderson (23m 21s):
So kind of attention gets diverted there and I think that that’s why shared responsibility, I think that there are things that industry can do for sure. There are things that public policy makers can do for sure. There are things that engineers and planners can do for sure. And I think that the way that we get to the outcomes that we wanna see is by everybody figuring out how to align an active concert. And I think also by bringing some new thoughts to the table, for example, in a lot of the conversations when it comes to road traffic safety specifically, they’re not a lot of lobbyists in the mix and lobbyists and government affairs professionals are the people who know how to actually get things done and know the landscape that needs to be navigated in order to get to the end goal. And I think the more of us that engage in that space, we’ll see some different outcomes when it comes to being able to do some things.

Dr. Nadia Anderson (24m 3s):
I think it’s the same when it comes to looking at, you know, the types of vehicles that are produced when it comes to the types of roads that are being designed as well. I think it’s getting those different voices to the table. So not only having the community and the practitioners, but also having those people who know the policy and political landscape very well, being able to like spend some time in that space as well.

Jeff Wood (24m 22s):
I’ve seen a lot of people have been frustrated with that though. I mean generally because of the amount of collisions and deaths that keep happening because of political expediency. So here in San Francisco for example, you know we’ve redesigned a number of streets and Cesar Chavez is one of them that was completely redone, but it still has the same amount of crashes that it did before. Even though they put in bike lanes, they narrowed the lanes, they put in a median and they made some political trade-offs because of some of the opposition in the neighborhood that actually have not improved safety. And so I think there’s frustration with that and frustration with folks who know better from a design perspective. And I see where you’re coming from and I totally understand the political, you know, dance that happens everywhere and about this topic, but I think there’s a lot of folks who are starting to get super frustrated with it because of the way that you know, the outcomes that we all wanna see the raw numbers at the end of less crashes and getting to zero, but a lot of times there’s a lot of lip service towards zero, but then when it comes to act, it doesn’t happen.

Dr. Nadia Anderson (25m 19s):
Yeah, and I think that’s where the value of like those comprehensive strategies and approaches come. You can do a lot from design, you can do a lot when it comes to the policies and legislation space, but there’s also a lot that needs to be done when it comes to making sure that the hearts and minds of people who are traveling understand how their decisions impact others. But also getting to that, I’m gonna say behavior change, like avoiding for sure you’re not blaming necessarily like the victim, but also making sure that people understand the role that they play as well. So you know, internationally they do a really different job when it comes to highlighting how your decision to speed on a road will impact everybody else out there or how you know, your decision to get behind the wheel and pay attention to your phone at the same time has a ripple effect in impacting this more than just you.

Dr. Nadia Anderson (26m 1s):
And I think there’s a lot of value in being able to build that, you know, those social connections and understanding that I’m out here traveling, but I also want the people who are traveling on foot across the street to get to their destination safely. And I actually play a role in that in going and then when you combine the people, the, you know, crash response, you combine infrastructure, you combine vehicles and technology, that’s when you have the most potential to get to that goal of zero.

Jeff Wood (26m 25s):
You worked for both crews and Uber, two companies that have let’s say a little bit of a contentious history here in San Francisco specifically, but what did you take away from those experiences, maybe both positive and negative?

Dr. Nadia Anderson (26m 36s):
That’s a really good question. Companies I truly technology meaning that there are some really committed and dedicated people who are trying to figure out how to do things in a different way. The thing that I would take away that is not so good is I personally did not understand the complexity of any of the issues until I started working inside of the spaces. And when I say the complexity, I mean not only when it comes to the private sector side, but when it comes to the public sector side, when it comes to engaging with the general public and when it comes to where those things sit in the larger ecosystem of society, like there are a lot of layers and nuance there and that took a really long time to learn how to navigate, but also how to like compartmentalize in order to be able to do it.

Dr. Nadia Anderson (27m 21s):
And I would say that it was not the best because a lot of times those other externalities got in the way of good public policy and of good progress. To put a finer point on that, meaning the legacy reputations or the preconceived notions associated with the private sector specifically when it comes to tech kept me from being able to have really good public policy conversations. Meaning, you know, you don’t necessarily get the benefit of the doubt, you don’t get a chance to explain. And I think that they’re sometimes with a little bit of unreadiness and not only when speaking of like city, county, San Francisco, but any place that I’ve talked to internationally where it’s hard to highlight things that people don’t know, like the unknown unknowns that are out there.

Dr. Nadia Anderson (28m 0s):
And I think that in order to get to a place where you can get good public policy that comes from public private collaboration, there needs to be like mutual respect but also mutual understanding that there may be things on both sides that aren’t readily apparent. And the way that you get to those good answers is to have those true conversations with each other, but also coming to the table as peers and try to work together in earnest towards a common goal.

Jeff Wood (28m 21s):
Can you gimme an example of something like that that happened?

Dr. Nadia Anderson (28m 25s):
An example would say, I’m gonna give you a very vague example on purpose, I’m gonna apologize for that. So I was in a situation where you know, the public sector had an understanding of how the technology worked that was not necessarily reflective of how the technology actually worked. And so before we can actually have a conversation about what policy or legislation should be put in place that needed to be reconciled because you know, they’re asking to do a, and I’m working to explain that A is not possible because that’s not how the technology works, but there was no benefit of the doubt given that what I was saying could have been actually factual. And so we kept hitting like there was no impasse, so we want you to go do a, and I’m explaining A is not technologically feasible, let’s talk about all the other things they can do because I agree with the end goal that you’re trying to get to as well.

Dr. Nadia Anderson (29m 10s):
But they were like, no, no, we know you can do this. And I’m essentially like, how do you know I’m saying the same thing, I think it’s the same conversation that happens a lot engaging with data. Like a lot of folks are like, I know you have this data and we’re just like, we have data and the data can be used for X but it can’t do this on its own. And people are like, yes it can. And we’re like, well actually the methodologies don’t exist that allow you to be able to use data to get to the end goal that you’re trying to. And until you can at least like align on like that baseline, it’s hard to get to any type of public policy.

Jeff Wood (29m 40s):
That gets to another point I think is really interesting that like data doesn’t have an ideology necessarily, it’s how you use the data and I think that that’s kind of an important point to make as well.

Dr. Nadia Anderson (29m 50s):
Yeah, one of my favorite professors back in the day used to say lies, ding lies and statistics and data falls into that, you know, category as well. Like data can absolutely be a powerful tool for good, it can be leveraged, but I think people need to recognize that data will sit inside of the methodologies that are created. And I think that’s one of the other things too that, you know, going back to the conversation you mentioned before about like equity and transportation, you know, if you design a methodology that is having bad or not the right input, you’re gonna get a different type of output then you may be seeking or desiring. And so being able to look at the data that’s going in, but also being able to make sure that it’s aligned with the research question and the goal so that you get to the end point that you wanna get to.

Jeff Wood (30m 30s):
So I mentioned to you before the show that I had frustrations with Inrix and some of their data and I think that you just actually explained why I have a frustration with it. And I think it’s because of the methodology that was used to get to an end goal that specifically related to auto centricity. And I think there’s been many reports that use NEX data related to the Texas Transportation Institute is one of the famous one, the Urban Mobility report that comes out every year. I think the global traffic report is another one of them where, you know, you take this data that you have about traffic speeds and you, you know, basically impute that a number of cities have horrible traffic. And I actually, one time I was at the congress for the new urbanism and Tim Lomax, who was at the Texas Transportation Institute using enex data, was talking about how they create the scorecard and all this stuff and you know, how Bay Area traffic is and how people lose X amount of money.

Jeff Wood (31m 18s):
And then I say, you know, I got on BART for eight years and went from the mission to Oakland and it took me 18 minutes every day, but that’s not included in the congestion report. It’s not included in the discussion about these communities that are experiencing congestion. So I think that that maybe connects a point that I was thinking about when I saw in Ricks come up on my screen the first time, which is like, oh no, not in Ricks because, because of these reports that come out that take this data and construct a mechanism for telling people maybe what they wanna hear rather than having a discussion about something that is much more difficult to understand like access.

Dr. Nadia Anderson (31m 56s):
Yeah, and I think the, the point you mentioned is the space that we as a company are engaging in now. So being able to engage with folks at Transportation research board, engaging with the academics, engaging with other practitioners so we can contribute to the conversations when it comes to the development of methodologies that are more inclusive, but also being able to propose different types of research questions. You know, what I’ve learned and seen is that there is a body of knowledge that exists and people are very comfortable doing things a certain way. I think what’s exciting for me to see is that new methodologies, new approaches to new questions are now getting just as much attention and that there’s new research that’s coming out to be able to live in that same body of knowledge. So hopefully it’ll be at least a little more balanced. So you won’t be so, you know, vehicle centric or private owner, vehicle centric, it’ll begin to think about the complexities around that issue and also different modes of travel and different things that need to be considered and may be included into some of those traditional studies as well.

Dr. Nadia Anderson (32m 48s):
As you mentioned when it comes to access, when it comes to choice, when it comes to availability and how all those things play. And not only looking at, you know, congestion as the one metric, but also being able to think about other things and how these things live in an entire ecosystem and making sure that the system overall is healthy and not just this one part is addressed or fixed.

Jeff Wood (33m 6s):
I think the other thing that kind of plays into that too is the, the want for us to have a solution for everything that’s tied into a a model or something that tells us the answer, right? It’s like hitchhiker’s guided galaxy, you know, they go to the computers like, what’s the secret of life? And they’re like, I can’t remember, it’s like 42. And then everybody’s like, well what does that, what does that even mean 42? What does that have to do with anything? So everybody starts from from zero again after waiting thousands of years to hear what the meaning of life is is 42. And so I think that that’s another frustration too is is the want to have an answer from a black box full of data. And that’s something I think a lot of people see as well. And you know, sometimes a lot of preconceived notions of what the, the end result should be and you know, the tweaking, et cetera. So something that just popped in my head from that conversation, I don’t know if that’s relevant, but

Dr. Nadia Anderson (33m 50s):
No, I love it and I think hopefully we’re moving away from that and recognizing just like, you know, all politics is local, all solutions and you know, ways of putting something in place to help solve is also gonna be hyper local and there’s a lot of local context and nuance that needs to be taken into consideration. So you know, to repeat the prayer of making sure more qualitative methods are included is how you get to that place where you don’t get, you know, an answer out of a black box that’s being applied everywhere that doesn’t necessarily fit or match what’s going on on the ground.

Jeff Wood (34m 18s):
Another thing I think that’s frustrating me, and not from you or Inrix or anybody along those lines, but I think is the kind of the inertia of the autonomous vehicle as something that’s going to take over for, you know, it’s vehicles, it’s electric vehicles, and then it’s autonomous vehicles. It feels like this inertia that kind of brings us there instead of thinking about maybe another way to travel or another way to be. But I was watching the YouTube video from the partners for automated vehicle education that you were in and I thought something you said really resonated with me. And the questioner asked you, how do you get black Americans to adopt technology avs, they know little about and then you turned it around and reframed it as how do you make sure that the technology is serving the needs of black Americans? Right? And I’d like to maybe have you expand on that a little bit and maybe share whether you think avs are actually planned to actually serve people’s needs or maybe serve companies needs.

Dr. Nadia Anderson (35m 6s):
Ooh, that’s a good question. So to answer the latter part first what I see is that AVS are being planned for the market. They’re trying to serve the individual’s needs as opposed to the company’s needs. I think that there’s a lot of diversity in what that is. So people are gonna identify what the individual’s needs are in a different way when expanding on the question about what needs to be done when it comes to autonomous vehicles and black Americans, it’s the same thing that I said before, like making sure that you are serving a need, meaning very much from a point of view and perspective of do you understand the issues and challenges that black Americans face when it comes to transportation and travel, and is your product a solution for it?

Dr. Nadia Anderson (35m 47s):
And it very much aligns with the approaches when it comes to equity. Like there’s not a one size fits all. It’s not gonna be the solution for every single black American, but if you want to outreach this population, you need to understand where it is that they’re coming from and understand what hurdles they’re working to overcome. And if you can be a solution, then you are a solution. But it shouldn’t be a situation where it’s being forced upon any, any person, any community. And you know, I personally feel the same way about any type of technology or mobility option or travel choice that it needs to address an issue that that population is having. And you shouldn’t limit what’s available to me because of what you feel like I should get. And I think that’s true when it comes from not only industry, but sometimes also true when it comes from public policy and legislation.

Dr. Nadia Anderson (36m 30s):
An example would be, and this is a controversial one, is when we talk about car ownership and there’s a lot of movement in a lot of cities about reducing personal car ownership, however, that lives in the space of recognizing that if a person is looking to climb socioeconomically is looking for access, is looking for various things, car ownership is actually something that’s very helpful for being able to do those things. And in a lot of places, unfortunately, the options are limited, meaning, you know, public transportation may not be a viable option considering different constraints and limitations. And I think that it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t invest in public transportation or transit, it means that you need to be careful to not close off other options and opportunities for people based on the worldview that does not necessarily, or may not necessarily reflect the experience of the person on the ground.

Dr. Nadia Anderson (37m 16s):
To put a more finer point in that a situation that is very common, you know, for me, I was a car owner, I’m no longer a car owner, but the car was the way that I was able to connect from my community to other communities. And if it was a situation where people were saying it’s gonna be very expensive for you to own this car, I would’ve had limited access to not only educational opportunities, but also professional opportunities and volunteer opportunities and the ability to meet family obligations. And I think a lot of times things like that are not included in those conversations and I think they need to be a part, not that they would necessarily determine the way that things go one way or the other, but definitely needs to be, you know, considered when it comes to those things. And I think it’s the same thing when it comes to the proliferation of autonomous vehicles or any other alternative transportation technology out there.

Dr. Nadia Anderson (38m 0s):
There needs to be more than one person’s worldview coming towards the population needs to actually start with the population and see what it is that they need, what hurdles are trying to address, and then solutions should come from those things. That was a very long answer, so thank you for entertaining it.

Jeff Wood (38m 15s):
I’m more than happy to. Yeah, I, I do think that there’s a difference between individual choice and policy overall too though. You know, we’ve spent so much money over the last a hundred years on, on roads and and transportation that we force people into those choices. So there’s something to be said about maybe making some changes that move the needle back to the center rather than, you know, away from it.

Dr. Nadia Anderson (38m 35s):
Yeah, no, I agree. A choice needs to be an actual choice and not a forced choice. So I think addressing those things too is definitely very important for getting to those other goals as well.

Jeff Wood (38m 45s):
What’s your hope for the future of transportation in the United States?

Dr. Nadia Anderson (38m 48s):
My hope for the future is that transportation in the United States is more equitable and safer for all users. And when I say safer for all users, I not only mean people who are traveling on bike and on foot, but also in black and travel governments and communities that are disproportionately represented in the road. And traffic safety stats and more equitable meaning that a true choice exists for not only how to travel, but also where to live, how to move, and that it is not having the same type of impacts it’s having on the individual and the household socioeconomically that it currently has today. Big vision, big dream.

Jeff Wood (39m 23s):
Awesome. Well, if people wanna find out more about your big vision and your journey, where can they do so?

Dr. Nadia Anderson (39m 28s):
So I am working on being more active on LinkedIn, but I’m out and around, you know, doing the panel circuit. I engage in all nerdy conversations. I also have a great time, you know, representing NEX in many of these spaces as well and talking about the role that data insights and analytics can play. So I’m readily available, find me on LinkedIn despite being a millennial, I’m not really good on the Twitters. And yes, I said the Twitter is on a podcast.

Jeff Wood (39m 52s):
That is okay. That is. Okay. Well, Dr. Nadia Anderson, thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate your time.

Dr. Nadia Anderson (39m 58s):
Absolutely my pleasure. Happy to be here. Thank you for having me

Listen to the Talking Headways Podcast


…the first thing I read every morning is the newsletter to see what’s been out there. It’s great to have an aggregator that pulls everything together so nicely.

Joe Cortright, City Observatory

I think that the email newsletter that you do every morning is the best one that I get, and I get a lot of them.

Mary Newsom, The UNC Charlotte Urban Institute

Really is the best daily urban newsletter out there.

Eric Jaffe, Editorial Director Sidewalk Labs


To Receive The Overhead Wire in Your Inbox Daily

Premium Daily Subscription

The Premium Daily Subscription is our most information packed offering, chock full of over 30 pieces of news every single day. Included are popular features such as the quote of the day and the most read article from the previous day. Also included is our weekly roundup for times when you are strapped for time but need to know what’s going on.

Premium Weekly Subscription

The Premium Weekly Subscription is for professionals constantly under a time crunch. We take the most read items from the week before and share them with subscribers along with more in depth analysis of a single popular topic.

Learn More and Subscribe

Video of the Day

Friends of The Overhead Wire

Back To Top

Welcome to The Overhead Wire

What Can We Help You Find?

Try Our Newsletter For Free