By Edward M. Bury, ARP (aka The PRDude)
What’s the hot topic of discussion around Chicago these days — besides the extreme heat this Father’s Day weekend?
Of course, it’s the recent announcement that billionaire entrepreneur and boundary-shattering businessman Elon Musk received approval from the City of Chicago to design, build and operate a high-speed underground transit network to shuttle people between O’Hare International Airport and the Loop.
The concept — small autonomous cars traveling at high speeds within a 17-mile tunnel — is revolutionary in the U.S. The project would be managed by Mr. Musk’s Boring Company and privately funded, tremendous news for cash-challenged Chicago and the entire region.
But, like any bold concept that’s new, daring and unproven, there are detractors –many detractors in fact — who cite engineering challenges, the need to focus transportation development in other areas and the prospect that Chicago taxpayers will eventually have to pay for the project.
So in a laudable effort to help my city, I offer these three suggestions for Mr. Musk and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on how to strategically communicate plans to build the proposed tunnel transit network.
Build a Coalition of Supporters. The still-to-be-named network will add another transportation option for people — primarily business travelers — to get to and from O’Hare. This new mode will have an impact on existing transit options — most notably the CTA Blue Line. Mr. Musk would be wise to engage the CTA and other transit agencies, taxi and limo services, the ride share companies, metropolitan planning, neighborhood and civic organizations and the hospitality industry. Enlist their input, listen to their concerns. Make the entire public and private community a partner of sorts, rather than an obstacle.
Regularly Share Results of California Project. The Boring Company already is building tunnels under Los Angeles to help alleviate the maddening and chronic auto congestion and even extend existing transit lines. Regularly communicate the status of this project taking place in another major U.S. metropolitan area — both its successes and stumbling blocks. Do not try to sidestep or hide mistakes because in this digital day and age results of a project of this caliber will get exposed.
Maintain Focus that Groundbreaking Projects Can Work. And, they’ve happened here — 125 years ago. What I’m referring to is the original Ferris Wheel, which debuted at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Yes, an underground pod carrying a dozen and moving at around 125 miles per hour is a much different transportation mode than a 264-foot wheel that carried more than 2,000 passengers fro a pleasure journey. Still, engineering experts in the late 19th century maintained that Mr. Ferris’ wheel was not feasible. (Wonder: How many ferris wheels are in operation today?) Given the success of Tesla and Space X, two other transportation conglomerates, Mr. Musk should continue to point out he and his team can conceive and build the once unthinkable.
Now it’s your turn. As this project moves forward, what communications advice and strategic direction would you offer to the builder and the city?
Chicago’s heat wave is forecast to end Tuesday. The O’Hare to the Loop tunnel will remain a hot topic for a much, much longer time.