From year to year it’s difficult to determine when shifts in data can finally indicate lasting change. However, by examining trends that occur over a decade can help mobility managers understand how people are changing their habits, and how certain investments are influencing that change. As planners and managers better understand what influences behavior, they can get more creative and explore unique ways to make sure their transportation networks improve mobility over the long run.
For background, new data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey show that the nature of commuting has changed on a national level since 2005. It is critical to note that this data is collected over a 12-year time frame, which illustrates how slowly these trends emerge. Using data like this also sheds light on factors that may go unnoticed. In this case, one of the biggest changes among American commuting patterns isn’t that more people use active transportation (though that’s also true), but that more aren’t commuting at all, and instead working from home, an important phenomenon for mobility managers to take into account.
Meanwhile, other studies indicate possible reasons that active commuting choices such as walking and biking haven’t grown as much as one might expect. A coalition of health care experts has given the United States an “F” in walkability. Their report card calls out shortcomings in funding, safety, and transit options that remove walking as an option for many Americans.
Better walkability and transit could play a big role in rural areas where more older adults are aging in place and become increasingly unable to drive themselves around. CityLab highlights a recent report from the American Public Transportation Association that shows how this is issue is becoming more pressing over time. As people become more dependent on alternative modes, mobility managers will need to get creative to account for this growing population that can’t drive alone, however far-flung they may be.
Though urban-focused organizations are only more recently coming to this realization, rural communities have been dealing with these growing challenges for years. Due to the lower access to resources, these areas have learned to get creative with their solutions, and are developing promising models for others to learn from. For example, Cantua Creek in California town that has formed its own version of a ridehailing service with a Tesla SUV, and has made life easier for the hamlet’s residents.
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These various threads reflect an important undercurrent: insightful planning and targeted investment makes a big difference in residents’ mobility options.
In order to address current needs and future trends, mobility managers need to consider what solution or service would best fit their communities. Some larger cities have missed this point, which shows in the recent growth of streetcar projects around the country. It turns out that these services tend to focus more on property value than filling mobility gaps for residents in need, and have ultimately contributed too little to their cities for the money poured into them. Instead, if managers consider the design and character of their jurisdiction, they can better focus on what the “right kind of transit” is for their them.
Local efforts in walkability can complement and benefit transit use, while also building out more options for people to get around. Though the U.S. as a whole has a dismal grade in providing walkable places, there are promising endeavors to change that. Groups in Cincinnati, Ohio, are developing a region-wide network of walking and biking trails with the explicit goal of providing another mobility option for residents that can serve as a model for both urban and rural areas.
Cantua Creek’s Tesla service shows the importance of creativity in addressing mobility needs in unique places. The general suggestions in this Curbed article provide interesting suggestions that creative mobility managers could harness to benefit their communities. Even though the post talks about cities, many of their suggestions could be equally or even more impactful for rural areas as well.
By pursuing nontraditional ideas, it could even serve mobility managers to explore ideas that may seem counterintuitive, or even absurd, like a controversial experiment in Amsterdam where engineers turned off the traffic lights at a busy and chaotic intersection. Over a few weeks, rather than promote collisions, the intersection became safer and freer-flowing for everybody using it.
Image Credit: Oregon Department of Transportation, Flickr, CC