Monday, June 14, 2010

Livability and Legislative Efforts for Rural Areas

Billy Altom, Executive Director of the Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living (APRIL) and Robin Phillips of the American Bus Association participated in Transportation for America’s Congressional lobby day for its rural and small town partners.

The issue for the participants is access, whether to jobs, grocery stores, or medical care. “Many felt their towns, tribes or counties were ready to move on innovative projects that improve access and quality of life, if only federal policy would give them a little nudge. Far from asking Washington to tell them what to do, they were asking for resources to make change for themselves possible.” At a panel to discuss these issues, Altom talked about the transportation challenges facing older Americans and people with disabilities.

He called on audience members to no longer see those with unique transportation needs – whether due to reliance on a wheelchair, inability to afford a car or age-related limitations– as an “us versus them” situation. Getting transportation right is not just about changing public policy, Altom said, but “changing public perception.”

The Lobbying Day effort is supportive of the continuing statements of Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. On May 6, 2010, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood testified before the Senate appropriations subcommittee about livable communities. He specifically addressed rural areas in terms of pedestrian friendliness, transportation options, and the threat to farmland of suburban sprawl. The Secretary gave the example of Bath, Maine.

Bath is a small town in southwest Maine whose historic downtown area is a model of a livable community. The town provides two trolley loops to transport residents and tourists through downtown, reducing the need for on-street parking. Bath’s street design encourages citizens to get out of their cars, which in turn supports local merchants through increased foot traffic.

The Secretary for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) also spoke and stated that HUD is “looking at creating a separate, special funding category for small towns and rural places." The testimony can be found at

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