The U.S. Department of Transportation has made reducing traffic congestion a new priority – and there’s a chance their efforts may involve applying lean principles to do so.
I say “a chance” because the announcement of the new initiative earlier this year did not include the word “lean.” And most of the aspects of the plan have nothing to do with lean. But a few offer some slight hope that intelligent use of lean principles could be involved.
The Department issued a 16-page plan called the “National Strategy to Reduce Congestion on
The document notes that congestion is not just an inconvenience, but that
The heart of the strategy is a six-point plan – or more precisely, six areas of emphasis. They are:
Relieve urban congestion. In this area, concepts include congestion pricing (you pay tolls to get in the fast lane) and expediting completion of significant highway capacity projects. Market pricing is not a bad idea, though not a lean one. Adding capacity may help but it doesn’t address the factors that contribute to congestion. This area also includes creating or expanding express bus services, which could be helpful.
From a lean standpoint, the most interesting suggestion in this area is securing agreements from major area employers to establish or expand telecommuting and flex scheduling programs. Flex scheduling, at least, could be considered lean, as it helps to level demand.
Unleash private sector investment resources. The ideas in this area are aimed at encouraging – and pushing states to allow – private companies to build, own and operate transportation infrastructure. Would market-driven organizations operate more efficiently than the government? Maybe, if the companies are well-run – and understand how lean principles can improve transportation flow.
Promote operational and technological improvements. The suggestions here talk about use of technology and “best practices,” although the best-practice examples cited have nothing to do with lean. (They include roving response teams, enacting quick clearance and “move it” laws, and so-called “adaptive intersections,” whatever that means.) However, the technological emphasis does talk about providing better real-time traffic information to all system users. We can certainly support the idea of better monitoring.
Establish a “Corridors of the Future” competition. This has to do with selecting 3-5 major growth corridors in need of long-term investment, then fast-tracking project development. OK, but what will the projects be?
Target major freight bottlenecks and expand freight policy outreach. These are mostly planning suggestions. Let’s hope the planning process includes obtaining input from lean experts.
Accelerate major aviation capacity projects and provide a future funding framework. That’s self-explanatory. One suggestion is for “a redesign of the region’s airspace,” which sound intriguing.
I think it’s good that the government recognizes congestion as a real problem and intends to address it. My fear is that those who lead the initiative may not have any real understanding of lean principles or the fact that this is precisely the kind of problem where applying those principles could be of tremendous value.
Let’s hope I’m wrong.
And for more information about lean and transportation, read a book we publish, Lean Logistics by Michel Baudin. Maybe someone will send a copy to the secretary of transportation.
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