What We’re Reading: Placemaking for Mobility

Author: Andrew Carpenter

Published: April 12, 2018

Though it may not fall directly under mobility managers’ mandates, placemaking – designing and engineering spaces to encourage their use – gives people a place to go that both influences and is influenced by people’s mobility options. Placemaking also serves as a lens to understand people’s travel choices, how giving them a sense of control contributes to their perception of their choices’ value.

The idea of giving all types of people – older adults, teens, those with disabilities – places where they feel welcome and over which they have ownership, can provide a useful perspective in designing mobility networks and public services for everybody.

A growing body of research suggests that for walkable and healthy communities  to be truly successful, they need green spaces. While urban neighborhoods require planning to achieve this, rural areas have an advantage by already being generally surrounded by nature. Instead of worrying about how to create green spaces, they can to focus on creating walkable areas within existing spaces to encourage activity among their residents.

In contrast, planning without pedestrian accessibility invariably leads to tragic consequences – the number of pedestrian deaths nationwide was 45 percent higher in 2017 than in 2009. The State Smart Transportation Initiative digs into what causes these deaths and why they appear to be a systemic problem in the United States. Though distracted driving and driving under the influence appear to be factors, the foundational problem is that car-centric designs lead to more vehicle miles traveled, which directly correlate with more pedestrian deaths.

The recent collapse of a pedestrian bridge in Florida and the first pedestrian killed by a self-driving car highlight the gravity of the issue beyond specific engineering failures. Though both incidents were noteworthy, they occurred in spaces that are notoriously threatening to pedestrians. The design of these spaces, focus on moving cars instead of moving people, which regularly results in vehicle crashes and pedestrian injuries. These examples reinforce the need to reframe these tragedies and rethink the broader policies or priorities that enable them.

Failing to prioritize safe, low-stress, and appealing space for pedestrians undermines just about any effort at mobility management. Many principles of walkability and placemaking contribute directly to creating healthy communities, and mobility managers can play important roles in planning efforts to ensure these principals are implemented to create spaces that serve their residents.

Using improvisation and design helps places and mobility feel accessible people at all socioeconomic levels. Consider this nonprofit rideshare app which serves as a strong example of adapting technology to achieve mobility management goals, in this case from an ordinary citizen. Based off of transportation network company technology, this service hopes to give various populations with mobility limitations, especially as teens who can’t drive and low-income adults without cars, the option to get where they need to go in today’s current transportation landscape. Though the long-term goal should be better transit and less car-centricity, approaches like this could help to fill the gap in the meantime.

Image Credit: La Citta Vitta, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

We’d love to hear from you!

Have more mobility news that we should be reading and sharing? Let us know! Reach out to Andrew Carpenter (carpenter@ctaa.org).