During this week of travel and overeating, here’s some food for thought to keep the conversation flowing for your Thursday feasts. Much like a Thanksgiving dinner and the people who gather for it, this week we present a hodgepodge of articles that touch on various realms of mobility, from community-based planning to intercity services, the breadth of which still represent just a portion of what mobility managers have to work with, and hopefully provide some new ideas to chew over with your pie.
As we have emphasized before, mobility goes far beyond putting people on buses and trains; it is also about how communities access resources. When designing local systems, officials need to make bona fide efforts to engage their vulnerable residents in the process to understand their perspective and make sure the outcome allows all residents to thrive. Officials in Cortez, Colorado, have created a promising outreach plan to involve typically overlooked local groups in the planning process to ensure the city is actually addressing resident needs. This step is critical as it directly addresses people’s most pressing needs, of which mobility is frequently a factor, and in turn it ensures that communities will accept and use the programs that they help develop.
Another approach to improving access to resources is to bring them to the people who need them instead of the other way around. One such area where this solution can be incredibly helpful is in the case of food deserts, which are a common problem even in large, dense cities. Areas designated as food deserts, often coincide with similarly located transit deserts. Despite the high need in these locations, the effort, cost, and timeframe of building out transit services to these areas can be onerous to impossible. However, programs like a veggie bus in Los Angeles, which parks in underserved areas to provide fresh produce, show that moving food to the people is just as viable a solution as moving people to the food.
While density can assist in mobility, a large portion of the U.S. consists of rural, suburban, and low-density communities. The long distances required for basic services in these areas can be a challenging part of daily life for people with disabilities or those without reliable access or ownership of a vehicle. Chicago’s suburban enclaves are beginning to address this issue through a series of transit-oriented development (TOD) projects near Metra commuter rail lines. In areas previously considered “bedroom communities” that required a car to reach any destination, there are now mini-downtowns forming through mixed-use developments. Though the projects raise issues around potential housing displacement, they show that even suburban communities can make themselves more mobility-friendly.
By providing spaces and opportunities for people to travel without driving alone, rural and urban communities improve their residents’ overall mobility. A backbone of this effort is a focus on traffic calming in road design to promote walkability and pedestrian safety. Unfortunately, many officials still blame vulnerable pedestrians rather than often-distracted drivers for collisions that occur. This practice, is, without question, a bad approach to improving safety and accessibility for communities.
Stepping into a more speculative realm, there are active attempts to convince more “choice riders” – travelers who have the means to choose their transportation mode – to take transit. Through improved services and more accessible payment options, these programs can also benefit community members with limited or no choices when it comes to transit. Observers hope this will be the case with New York City’s new fare system that will cap fares on cards that have spent as much as the cost of a monthly pass.
Though most mobility work focuses on movement within a community, it is important to note, especially during the travel-heavy holiday season, that intercity mobility is also a pressing issue for a large number of Americans. Especially in more remote areas, even infrequent services like Amtrak’s long-haul trains can be a lifeline for these otherwise car-dependent areas. As a result, news of a European intercity bus company, Flixbus, coming to the U.S. has fueled hopes of reviving the now-skeletal bus network to connect far-flung areas to key locations.
Though buses are the workhorses of mobility networks, they also tend to be viewed in a negative light, only used by those who have no other choice, while trains or light rail can be flashier and more exciting options for well-heeled commuters. Enter China’s “rail bus,” a new vehicle that looks like a modern streetcar but runs on wheels just like a normal bus. By combining the feel of trains with the practicality of buses, commuters will hopefully be more enticed to use public transit services rather than driver alone. Also, it’s set up to be driverless.
Have any thoughts or comments? Did you talk about these at your Thanksgiving table? Please reach out! We’d love to hear your thoughts or suggestions about future topics you’d like to see covered.
Image Credit: Jerry Edmunson, Flickr, CC