Digging Holes

Once upon a time there was a transportation planner driving thru the sunbelt.  He pulled into a truck stop and while fueling his vehicle he noticed a couple of workers working on the shoulder down the road.  One man appeared to be digging holes about three feet across and three feet deep along the side of the road. 

2 minute read

December 21, 2010, 5:43 PM PST

By Steven Polzin


Once upon a time there was a transportation planner driving thru the sunbelt.  He pulled into a truck stop and while fueling his vehicle he noticed a couple of workers working on the shoulder down the road.  One man appeared to be digging holes about three feet across and three feet deep along the side of the road. 

A few hundred yards down the road the other fellow appeared to be filling the holes back in.  As visions of soil testing, cable installation and utility mapping danced through his head the planner became curious.  He decided to have a burger and fries. 

He sat by the window and watched as the work men continued down the road, one digging holes and the other filling them in about thirty minutes later. 

His curiosity increased. 

As he pulled away from the truck stop he couldn't help himself and decided to pull over to ask what the men were working on.  As he approached, the first man politely greeting him, introducing himself as Joe.  As the planner asked what he was doing, Joe proudly explained it was his job to dig holes every 50 feet to a specification of three feet in diameter and three feet deep. 

The second man had now walked over and similarly introduced himself as Butch and boasted, "My job is to fill in the holes and make sure the soil is compacted." 

The planner paused in puzzlement while Joe interjected, "Too bad you couldn't meet Chuck, its his job to put trees in the holes, but he's out sick today." 

Transportation planning can be a lot like Joe and Butch working with Chuck out sick.  If we just go through the motions and don't offer honest, objective and relevant substance for the decision makers there is no value in the planning.  Sometimes Joe and Chuck show up and Butch doesn't and the plans die.  Sometimes we just dig holes and neither Chuck nor Butch show up.  Sometimes everything is done right and no one appreciates the trees.

Season's greetings and may all your 2011 holes have trees and backfill and be appreciated by the policy makers and public. 


Steven Polzin

Dr. Polzin is a research professor at TOMNET University Transportation Center School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. Dr. Polzin carries out research in mobility analysis, public transportation, travel behavior, planning process development, and transportation decision-making. Dr. Polzin is on the editorial board of the Journal of Public Transportation and serves on several Transportation Research Board and APTA Committees.

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