Here's a very worthwhile three minutes of Washington DC Planning Director Harriet Tregoning on risk-taking and failure. Her discussion of Capital Bikeshare, which failed in its first incarnation and succeeded in its second, is an incisive challenge to the bureaucratic mind, and it's directly related to transit improvements.
Whenever we try to improve transit systems, we often find -- especially in network redesign -- that a whole lot of big changes have to be made at once. What's more, they're irreversible. Network redesigns are so big and impactful that you can't just "try" them and undo them if they don't work. By the time you've done them, the previous status quo is irrecoverable.
So they're big risks. And most people -- especially most groups of people working together such as Boards and committees -- don't like to take risks. The deliberation process in government often seems designed to shrink every initiative, so that all strong transformative moves shrivel into hesitant "demonstration projects," if they survive at all.
Tregoning's story here is basically that the first bikeshare system failed because it was too small, too hesitant, while the second one succeeded because it was far bigger, bolder, riskier. Many of the government cultures I've known would have decided, based on the first round, never to try bikeshare again. It took courage to say that maybe the lesson was that some things just can't be done as tiny demonstration projects. You have to build the courage to actually do them, at the natural scale at which they start to work.
Transit network redesign is exactly like that. It's hard to do in hesitant, reversible phases, because it's all so interconnected, and because a network doesn't start to work until it's all there.
Thanks to Melanie Starkey of the esteemed Urban Land Institute for pointing me to this!