Critical Conversations in Transportation Planning: Misty Klann and Cole Grisham

About This Episode

Every two years, the American Planning Association Transportation Planning Division publishes the State of Transportation Planning Report to highlight innovative ideas, cutting-edge research, and interesting experiments in transportation planning in the United States. As part of the 2022 edition of the report — titled "Intersections + Identities: A Radical Rethinking of Our Transportation Experiences" — we're bringing you a series of critical conversations with pioneers and industry leaders across the US who are offering their insights into some of the most challenging issues facing our field.

In this episode, we hear from Misty Klann and Cole Grisham, who are both closely involved in managing the Federal Highway Administration's Transportation Planning in Tribal Communities Research Study. This research seeks to align available planning analysis tools with Tribal community needs based on a range of contextual factors and to quantify the benefits of planning analysis in the project selection and delivery processes. The findings are intended to contribute to Tribal communities deciding how best to optimize the funding made available through the Tribal Transportation Program.

Episode Transcript

[00:00:04.330] - Em Hall

Every two years, APA publishes the State of Transportation Planning Report with the intention of highlighting innovative ideas, cutting edge research, and interesting experiments in transportation planning in the United States. As part of the 2022 edition of the report titled "Intersections and Identities: A Radical Rethinking of Our Transportation Experiences", we're bringing you a series of interviews with pioneers and industry leaders across the US. Who are offering their insights into some of the most challenging issues facing our field.


[00:00:35.050] - Divya Gandhi

Hello everyone. I'm Divya Gandhi.


[00:00:37.470] - Em Hall

And I'm Em Hall.


[00:00:38.930] - Divya Gandhi

And we are the co-managing editors of the 6th edition of the State of Transportation Planning Report.


[00:00:45.060] - Em Hall

And this is Critical Conversations in Transportation Planning.


[00:00:51.730] - Misty Klann

My name is Misty Klann and my title is Program Planning Specialist for Federal Highway Administration. Federal Lands Highway Office of Tribal Transportation.


[00:01:04.440] - Cole Grisham

So, my name is Cole Grisham. I'm a transportation systems planner with FHWA's Western Federal Lands office in Vancouver, Washington. And I'm also a member of the Assiniboine tribe out of the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana.


[00:01:17.690] - Em Hall

So Misty, tell us about your background, your journey, and how you came to be in your current role.


[00:01:23.630] - Misty Klann

Well, I'll start off by saying that I am an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation. I'm originally from the Four Corners area. For those who are not familiar with the Four Corners area here in the Southwest, that's where Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico come together. So I'm about, I'd say about 20 miles from the actual Four Corners area. So I live pretty far northeast in the Arizona and the State of Arizona. As I was growing up, I moved back and forth to Flagstaff, Arizona with my mom as she was completing her degree. So Flagstaff sort of became my second home, and eventually I ended up going to Flagstaff High School. I had my undergraduate studies at NAU, and then I later graduated, did my graduate studies at ASU. Then shortly after my college degree, I started my career in transportation at Arizona Department of Transportation. Initially I started as a management analyst doing IT work and project scheduling for the project management team. I also did some project management later myself. And then I came back actually I left ADOT in 2006, I believe. And then I came back in 2009 and began a focus in tribal transportation through planning.


[00:03:00.230] - Misty Klann

And then later I added the tribal liaison component. Then prior to joining Federal Highway, I worked briefly for a tribe as a tribal coordinator. And then I'm currently now in my program planning specialist role for the past two years.


[00:03:17.500] - Em Hall

Great, thank you. And Cole, tell us about your background, your journey.


[00:03:21.390] - Cole Grisham

Sure. So I grew up here in Portland, and after high school I was in the Navy for a number of years as a submarine nuclear missile technician, of all things. And after the Navy, I went on to the University of Michigan to get my undergrad in Political Science and Russian, but ended up staying for my master's in urban regional planning at Michigan focusing on more regional conflict and collaboration, more the urban regional policy aspect. About two, two and a half years ago I transferred over to FHWA Western Federal lands where I now do transportation planning and research management for federal land management agencies in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and the Yellowstone corner of Wyoming. And in that role is really how I met Misty and where she and I got started working with the Transportation Planning and Tribal Community Studies which is a national study, one of a few different national research studies that I manage.


[00:04:22.800] - Em Hall

The theme for the 2022 report is Intersections and Identities, a radical rethinking of our transportation experiences. What is a current transportation issue that you find is most in need of a radical rethinking?


[00:04:38.560] - Misty Klann

Well, when I think about the theme Intersections and Identities and thinking about really the word radical and saying our transportation experiences for me it's public engagement and involvement that needs a radical rethinking. I think a real commitment to inform people, not just at specified times in the planning process. Typically in your typical planning process you have a period in time whether that's regulated by law or regulations. There's a point in time in the planning process where those regulations say you must reach out to your stakeholders and your community and anybody who's affected by it and consult with stakeholders that are impacted by your planning process or your transportation improvement plans. But I think it needs to be a commitment to inform people not at those specified times in the planning process. But I think it needs to be ongoing and I think it needs to be integrated in how people go about their day. So I think it needs to be simple. I think it needs to be convenient. It needs to be quick, frequent and various methods. I think there's an opportunity to use social media to really inform people about what's going on as far as transportation improvements are, or the state of our transportation system in general.


[00:06:14.710] - Misty Klann

For example, I think people in communities want to know when the road they depend on will be improved. I think, for example, this new transportation law that is historic by many people and certainly by me and others which includes authorized funding for tribes and people want to know. People talk about so much money and it's historic. So what will that look like in my community? People are wondering and when will I start seeing improvements? And if there are no updates then simple facts about various topics and transportation sort of like a did you know type of thing. So I think it's important, like did you know that this such and such road belongs to the county? Oftentimes when people find out that I'm working in transportation they're like "when are you going to get to this road"? And people are not aware of the jurisdictional issues and the transportation project development process, how everything works out from an idea to really to maintenance. So I think people need to know, we need to go beyond what the planning regulations require or the funding that's attached to it, whatever they require, I think we need to have a consistent outreach and little spurts of information to people so that they know and they are involved in their communities.


[00:07:50.970] - Cole Grisham

So I think the big thing for me is managing conflict and disagreement in planning decisions, especially in regional and intergovernmental contexts. I think that in my experience that planning decisions often can end up being public. Processes can seem to be a winner take all. We've made this decision, therefore this group is now excluded from that process or their desire isn't moving forward. And that's a fundamental misunderstanding of the planning process and how consensus and conflict management should be addressed and typically is. I think managing conflict and disagreement in planning decisions as we move through planning processes does need a radical rethink and the necessary tools to inform that. So that as we start from areas of broad brainstorming, organizing ideas, moving from there to what we say yes, no, and not yet to in a final planning document, people still see themselves in that plan as they move forward. Even if perhaps their initial idea wasn't the one that made it all the way through, they still see themselves in there. And I think for me that's predicated on relationship and building relationships with your community and knowing that or understanding and believing that even those who disagree with you still have your best interests in mind.


[00:09:16.740] - Cole Grisham

And how you build that in my opinion, is relationship is a function of presence over time. You need to be there, you need to actually engage. And you have to do that over the long haul, not just around key decisions, but even in the minutiae and day to day and the unimportant aspects of planning. You need to be there on both sides in order for that relationship to build and actually build trust. So I see that as the primary tool for building new conflict and disagreement strategies.


[00:09:49.940] - Em Hall

Thank you. And that really gets to our next question, and I'll ask you to go first on this one, Cole. Maybe kind of building off what you just talked about is where do you find the biggest gap between how transportation planners view the world and then how non planners receive or perceive issues of mobility and accessibility in their everyday lives?


[00:10:10.130] - Cole Grisham

Yeah, I think the biggest aspect for me is the timeline for transportation planning for planners versus the timeline for non planners. Because transportation planning takes years. You may have planned typical plan horizon is what, 20 years, something like that. And so one group may have been involved early in the process, set goals, strategies, and so on. Five years later, when it comes to project selection, that group may have changed quite a bit and a new group may come along. And similarly, what the problems are in that community, the large scale big projects that take once in a generation to build, those aren't the same as the day to day challenges of potholes and incomplete sidewalks, things like that. There's different scales to that and different timelines. So being able to navigate that from the community perspective is incredibly difficult. It can be difficult for practitioners to navigate the different timelines and scales. So for planners, I think it's our job to be able to communicate and make what's otherwise an opaque field much more transparent and also be responsive to the fact that these timelines aren't on normal people's, normal humans timelines either. A 20 year timeline to do something doesn't make a lot of sense to most people.


[00:11:28.700] - Cole Grisham

And so I think that's the job for the planner. And on the community side, I think it's to be able to hopefully be able to sort out where can I, as just a resident here of the city of Portland, where can I engage the most effectively about the issues that are most important to me, what's mine to steward, what's mine to focus on? And that definitely goes back and forth. Does that answer your question?


[00:11:53.060] - Em Hall

Yeah, absolutely. And Misty, I'd ask you the same thing.


[00:11:56.540] - Misty Klann

Yeah, I'm so glad Cole went first on that question. I think it's a great set up too. My answer is that I had a tough time with this question. I have experience as a non planner and a planner. When I started in the transportation world, as you recall, I started out as a management analyst. More from an IT side. But I think we're all guilty of sort of staying in our lanes. We get into the groove of everyday things and thinking of the project lifecycle in sort of this linear fashion rather than an iterative or holistic way. And I think in that way we miss opportunities. Like, I'm a planner, my job is done, and you're next now to do your part of this transportation improvement discussion. So I think when we do that, I think we miss opportunities. And I think that's why engagement is so important. I think collectively there is a gap in weaving safe and practical transportation improvements that improve the quality of our lives. So in other words, we need to think of ways to create improvements in a path of least resistance. So I think that whenever we think of mobility and accessibility, I would like the challenge to be that we're not focused on trying to make the roadway work safely for everyone.


[00:13:42.220] - Misty Klann

Like, why do we have to put everyone on, have our mindset put on this, just making everything move and is accessible around the roadway. I'd like to see more planning that results in more options to connect people and places from their doorstep. So beyond the bubbles or islands of multi or mixed use development, for example, I live in Mesa, Arizona, and I live in one of many subdivisions in this area. Let me back up here. So my subdivision has empty state lands to the east and then I'm surrounded by subdivisions the rest of the directions. And then really close about 2 miles away, there's grocery stores and other amenities that are available to the communities in the area. And then my kids go to school just about a mile and a half down the road, probably 2 miles. I would love to be able to do more life things by walking and biking safely. So when I take my kids to school, I drive a car on a network of alternating 90 degrees because that's how the city is set up here in the Phoenix metro area. When I go get my groceries, I do the same thing and I think about how great it would be to drop off my kids or get my groceries with my kids on our bikes or by walking to have that safe option.


[00:15:11.890] - Misty Klann

I can do that now, but with great vulnerability and risk to my kids. Wouldn't it be great if individual development communities could find some way to work together? Or there are policies set by the community or the cities where there's maybe a multi use trail that connects these communities away like in a diagonal fashion to the schools and to the grocery stores. In my case that I could use that diagonal network and at the same time teach my five year old how to ride his bike. And if he falls over, I don't have to worry about a 50 mile an hour car zipping by next to our bike lane. I definitely see it's a difficult conversation to have because you're talking about safety, you're talking about privacy, you're talking about profits. And so it's not an easy thing to think about. But I would challenge both planners and non planners to cooperatively generate mobility options and innovate accessibility to cultivate communities. So it means continuous efforts to identify all that need to be part of planning conversation. But bottom line, it would be great when driving is not the first thought that comes to mind to get somewhere.


[00:16:33.780] - Em Hall

Great, thank you for that. Now I want to speak specifically about a big project that you and Cole are part of. Can you tell us more about the Transportation Planning in Tribal Communities Research Study? Specifically, what challenges is it responding to and how will the results be used by tribal staff? We know the main audiences for this study are tribal planning staff, the staff at your office, and other federal agencies and partners. But do you envision that findings might have a broader impact on transportation planning in the US. And if so, in what ways?


[00:17:09.240] - Cole Grisham

So the anecdotal challenge that frames this study to be thought of as this planners develop plans that then sit on a shelf and don't get used. Therefore, how do we develop plans that do get used. So this issue is in no way unique to tribal planning contexts, but instead, I think it's a recurring challenge in planning generally, not even just in transportation, but you see it in other forms of plans as well. And so what this study can hopefully inform this study can hopefully inform how plans get used by clarifying, one, what the post plan decisions are. So in transportation planning, think of project selection, design, construction, maintenance and operations, engagement with external stakeholders, and two, how those decisions can be prepared for by a plan. So a good plan rarely in my opinion, a good plan rarely solves anything. But what a good plan does do is it allows the community to respond to opportunities and challenges that come up after the plan rather than react to them. It gives them the foundation to respond from. And the third aspect is what tools are best suited for developing a plan that then can inform those decisions.


[00:18:20.850] - Cole Grisham

So it's basically working backwards from what the key decisions are post plan, how the plan can inform it, and then what tools you need to develop that plan. Many of the transportation challenges and opportunities we see in tribal communities also exist in small city and rural planning contexts especially. So I suspect that the findings from this study will help inform those, like those analog contexts as well. Especially if you think about those three areas of what the post plan decisions are, how this can be prepared for in a plan, and what tools are then best suited to build that plan.


[00:18:54.270] - Em Hall

Thank you. So we know that there'll be many planning students and early career planners who are contributing to and reading this report. What advice would the both of you give them as they advance their careers and contribute to their communities?


[00:19:09.110] - Cole Grisham

Yeah, I would say the three big things I always try and impart when I do informational interviews with graduate students and so on, is that there are kind of three areas that I tend to hire for and that I also have been on hiring panels and I look for in new staff. I think some of those can be built, can be developed in graduate school and in your program and some can't and way I go in this order. The first is basic transportation knowledge. So discipline knowledge, you should have a basic understanding of what the transportation field is, the major laws, that sort of thing. And you get that in graduate school. Having your degree in planning, you pretty well check that box. The second one you may not get and that's project management experience, the ability to develop a scope, schedule and budget, bring different people together, synthesize ideas into a plan that can actually move forward and bring stakeholders through, is essential to being a planner. And you may get that in your program, you may not, but you'll get some of that. The third, which is I think is hardest to develop and arguably the most important is emotional intelligence.


[00:20:13.130] - Cole Grisham

The ability to hear what different sides of an argument or challenge are saying, synthesize critically, respond to it and then put that into action and empathize. That's the hardest thing to develop, the hardest thing to hire for, but arguably the most important when it comes to being a successful planner. So if you look at those, those are the three things I always say that if I'm hiring a planner, those are the three things I'm generally looking for and those are the things I would focus on developing. As you look into becoming, entering the planning field and growing as a planner.


[00:20:45.880] - Misty Klann

I'd like to carry the message from the question about the gap between non planners and planners. And I challenge students to just because you trained as a planner doesn't mean you always have to think like a planner. And I think if there are opportunities within an organization, certainly federal highway does have opportunities for rotational assignments in other areas. I would challenge planners to take on maybe a construction assignment or something that involves a field and vice versa to gain experience about decisions and situations that they face on an everyday basis. And decision making on a wide spectrum of things that need to be determined long term or things that they need to decide on right now. Learn to distinguish those and appreciate them. And I think network think about partnerships and sharing of resources, collaborating for mutual benefit. That's what it's all about. I think it's critical to work with people to find solutions which then those solutions build on each other. And this is not just true for transportation improvement in general, but it's true for your career too. Building those partnerships, networking and finding ways to share resources with each other. And then I would say continue to be curious, read and listen and be a really good listener.


[00:22:30.450] - Misty Klann

And then on that information I would say collect, streamline and utilize that data to strengthen those partnerships. Find ways, like I mentioned, sharing of resources, find ways to make that collaboration of mutual benefit. And then lastly I'd say dare not to stay the same. Push it, really figure out how to get things done within the rules and the regulations.


[00:22:56.970] - Misty Klann

Stay curious,


[00:22:58.650] - Em Hall

Always a good one, that last part, so important. So, big question here, and I invite you to answer it anyway that makes sense. And if there's anything specific to tribal planning in particular, I would love to hear about that. But what according to each of you is the state of transportation planning in America today?


[00:23:21.730] - Misty Klann

I think there's constant change. And so I think transportation planning is evolving. And not only that, but it's adapting the principles, the topics we talk about, the people involved, the methodology for carrying out planning has changed and is changing. Even from the time I entered planning to now, things have changed. The topics like resiliency planning. I mean, all those are sort of newer, or if they weren't newer, they're kind of to the front line now. And I think certainly the pandemic has given us a forceful shove into thinking about our communities in a new way. For example, really thinking about open spaces. I think we're kind of forced the one way that we can connect is the pandemic has forced us to the outside. So we're finding more ways to connect in those open spaces. And it's not the last time I think, that it's going to happen, maybe not in my lifetime, but certainly it's something that we can't take for granted that it's not going to happen. So I think this growth, the growth in transportation planning is also true in tribal transportation planning. There's no discussion on when I read articles on the APA, there's topics on effects on AI, or conducting resiliency planning for retail spaces.


[00:24:44.550] - Divya Gandhi

I mean, I don't see that in tribal planning yet. But I do sense a shift beginning to take hold, like planning from what I was talking about before, planning as a requirement to planning as a valuable tool. And it might seem like a fundamental shift, but when the focus has been on surviving and fighting for existence, which is often a tribal community's battle, the concerns tend to be about the now, I would say tribal transportation planning is unique to each tribal government and its community. However, I have no doubt that we too will be talking about topics such as scenario planning, digitization and virtual simulation tools to help shape our own futures. Because doing so, being involved in that way protects the unique communities and cultures and the traditions of each of those tribal communities. And we need tools to help us achieve that in a proficient, effective and inclusive manner.


[00:25:47.560] - Cole Grisham

So a few things that come to mind, I would say kind of in reverse order here. The way I wrote it is the ongoing struggle between accessibility versus mobility. Transportation mobility is strictly movement of something, whereas accessibility is a combination of mobility plus proximity. And so we think of transportation as purpose, is a derived demand. We don't move around or drive or use our bikes generally just for the sake of it. We use it to get somewhere. And so I think the ongoing struggle of planning for accessibility, of planning for destination rather than simply movement and the volume of movement, is an ongoing struggle. And I think it's one that we're wrestling with, especially as we start to retrofit our cities from previous generations of highway uses to more multimodal and integrated, as well as looking at what accessibility looks like in rural context where mobility is a high greater need than perhaps proximity. That's something I think goes on in the background that isn't as prevalent as you see. The other aspect would be planning through governance. I think a lot of planning decisions tend to be viewed within a single government or within a single unit of government.


[00:27:05.780] - Cole Grisham

In reality, planning occurs across multiple governments as well as multiple sectors and nonprofits. So understanding and recognizing the planning occurs across a governance network. And what that looks like is a big challenge both for how planning decisions are made, but also communicating that decision making to those who are most impacted by it. That kind of leads me to my third point. That's the big one that every organization I've worked in or worked for is wrestling with now is the equity lens of planning and transportation. Equity is a big and important topic in public policy for good reason. But what that looks like within transportation is a much narrower area and very difficult to unpack. And so a lot of the agencies I work for and I'm working with now are wrestling with what does an equity lens look like in our context and for what we are responsible for right now? We're a long ways off from fully understanding what that is, but that it's growing somewhat spontaneously and independent of different organizations is a clear sign of just how prevalent the concept of equity and planning is right now, and that we're going to be wrestling with what that looks like in planning, I think, for some time, for a good reason.


[00:28:20.270] - Em Hall

Thank you. I really appreciate those comments on the equity lens which is thrown out there like this monolithic term, as if we all can just understand what that means. Right?


[00:28:29.160] - Em Hall

So it's very well taken. So we'd like to really thank you for your time today. And we know that the Tribal Communities Research study is ongoing for a while. How can folks get involved with that? Who are the right people to share the opportunity to take that study with? And is there any other way that folks can support your work that you have going on right now?


[00:28:53.440] - Cole Grisham

Contacting Misty and I is always the right way, the right place to start? Misty is the project champion because it's coming out of her office, the Office of Tribal Transportation, and I'm the project manager. So Misty and I are joined at the hip when it comes to working on this project. And we are always happy to talk to anybody who's interested in this project. Applications or connections to other work. That's always the right place to start. The other aspect is visiting our project website, which we can provide as well, which keeps an update on what the project is, a project overview, any of the recorded materials we've had up to this point, upcoming engagement opportunities. And also we're putting our deliverables up there as we go, as we work through, say, the existing conditions or data collection and all of that. That's all being posted on there long before the final report will ever come out. The last thing I would say is that we're moving into I should say, our tribal discussions now. So we're working with our research panel, which is composed of tribal planning practitioners, and so over the next few months, that's going to be the big focus is having much more of those in depth discussions with tribal transportation practitioners about what planning looks like in their community, areas of support and really comparison or cross tribes.


[00:30:00.680] - Cole Grisham

That's the big next big lift over the next few months.


[00:30:03.490] - Em Hall

Since the initial recording of this interview, the project team has met with over a dozen tribes from around the country to learn about their planning practices and has more discussion planned. The team will soon move from discussions with tribes to building a suite of identified tools and practices that can inform tribal planning practices. The team's goal is to improve access to valuable tools and resources for tribes and to inform tribal partners on strategies to support tribal planning. Thank you for joining us for this episode of Critical Conversations in Transportation Planning. To learn more and read the entire report, please visit the APA's Transportation Planning Division website at


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