On February 1, 2017 our community of transportation policy reform lost a long-time advocate, who coached many of us in understanding the difference between “convinced” and “convincing”. He was not only at the front of the successful rails to trails movement, but he was also one of the founders of the Surface Transportation Policy Project – now Partnership. In his spare time, he worked to bring understanding and conviction to climate policy.
David Burwell was not just a well-meaning intellectual. He was a clear-headed optimist, who by amazing focus (decades) created the transportation reform movement from the embers of citizen protest over interstate freeway construction that crushed urban neighborhoods and rural beauty alike.
As James Coreless (Transportation for America) says, David’s book  The End of the Road, put the problem into human perspective; it is a work that continues to inspire younger generations. I will skip over his incredible accomplishments on masterminding the Rails to Trails movement and focus on how I know him best in the larger role of broad transportation reform and the creation of STPP.
Like many in the transportation field, I met David Burwell because he showed up in my office. I was at US DOT during the Carter Administration, when I was privileged to work for Mort Downey, Asst. Secretary of Budget and Programs and Anne Canby, Deputy ASBP. It was heady times and David was looking for sympathetic ears among people who just might be able to do something. Most of you won’t know that the Carter Administration had a really progressive urban policy AND also had a focused delivery system for rural communities. But David knew. And he asked for help in preserving what most Americans hold dear instinctively about their heritage: community, history, clean environment, economic opportunity, and human-scale neighborhoods .
Let’s be clear – David was not a stick-in-mud, status quo kind of person and his extreme optimism encouraged (and prodded) us all to do better.
Eleven or so years later, after occasional shared discussion in urban issues, he showed up on my doorstep with one of many great ideas David was to promote over more than 40 years of advocacy. He and Jessica Tuchman Matthews – then on the Washington Post editorial board and, most recently, head of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace – had been working with others concerned about the environmental on how to successfully implement the new Amendments to the Clean Air Act. David had come to ask me to work with them and a growing group of non-profits and public interest associations (cities, MPOs, architects, planners, bicyclists, landscape architects, transit interests and certain urban states) on the reauthorization of the highway and transit legislation due for expiration in 1991. David and the group believed they needed someone who knew the transportation law and protocols, so I got the nod. Whatever they thought, it was essential that a brilliant and dedicated person such as David was clearly in the leadership.
It was wonderful to be part of what this group of 130 organizations accomplished from June 1990 until the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) was enacted in December 1991. I still see this broad-based collaboration as a landmark event in Federal policy, and I know just how much of this result is a credit to the spirit and life of David Burwell. We need him now more than ever.
David was one of the very distinguished alumni of Directors of the STPP that came after me: Grace Crunican, Hank Dittmar, Roy Kienitz, (David), Anne Canby, and Bill Wilkinson. All have made their positive marks in this world of transportation reform, and David remains in our hearts as an inspirational force for STPP’s work.
May God bless his spirit—- and we follow his example.
Founding director and current board member of STPP
See the following for more information on David and his remarkable life: http://www.capenews.net/falmouth/obituaries/david-g-burwell/article_128aa4f0-8f2c-5ec8-bd6c-b98c5863265a.html
href=”https://www.amazon.com/END-ROAD-Citizens-Transportation-Problemsolving/dp/B000JVY1EG/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1486667249&sr=1-1″>THE END OF THE ROAD – A Citizen’s Guide to Transportation Problemsolving, 1977
Co-authors: David G. Burwell and Mary Ann Wilner; Foreword By Senator Henry M.[Scoop] Jackson