It was refreshing to see another panelist, State Rep. David McCluskey, a member of the transportation committee, call Commissioner Marie out on the parking issue. Rep. McCluskey was enthusiastic about the prospects of expanding rail service in the state, but encouraged the new DOT commissioner to realize that its not only up to the DOT to solve the parking "problem." He suggested that the state had a role to challenge local governments to meet the goal of bringing commuters to the station. Rather than build new lots, the DOT could leverage the existing privately-owned lots near stations, coordinate bus transportation better, and encourage biking and walking to the stations. Rep. McCluskey said he sees the current economic crisis as an opportunity to demand more from local government at all levels and to change the complicated structures of government that makes it difficult to reform our transportation infrastructure.
Finally, Prof. Sara Bronin discussed how legal regulations have shaped the placement and preservation of our rail infrastructure and the current legal challenges facing railroads today.
Given his enthusiasm for transportation alternatives to the highways, the audience seemed focused on testing whether Commissioner Marie would live up to these committments during his tenure. One audience member asked whether Marie intended to reform the State Traffic Commission, whose mission works against "placemaking" by focusing on auto capacity rather than inclusion of pedestrians or byclists. Marie said that the mixed transit model which characterizes our state's DOT is actually the goal of most state transit agencies because it allow for flexibility in planning transportation. He said that the CT DOT was getting "better balance" in planning roadways. Another audience member said that Marie was "a world class jockey riding a hippopatomous," and said that the DOT was constantly sabotaging bike and pedestrian friendly projects. Marie defended his agency by saying that there were lots of capable people working at the DOT, that he had brought in some fresh perspectives, and that the agency was evolving in its attitude. He said that the DOT does not ask "why not" enough. But he added that the DOT was doing its "core mission" of maintenance well.
UPDATE: Connecticut News Junkie covered the conference, too.