Friday, July 30, 2010

Coordinating for Vibrant Communites

A bus system alone does not transform a community. And unless there is an accessible sidewalk and perhaps a bench, the bus will not be a solution for even those who live and work close by. However, I have seen plenty of smart growth material that does not even mention transit or long-distance transportation services. (And at least one court has ruled that poor public transit for an employee with a disability requires a reasonable accommodation. Read about the decision and resources in the NRC Technical Assistance News.)

What are the transportation issues that rural areas are paying attention to? Are transit access and connectivity among them?

Transportation Opinions from Rural Areas
Read the Four Corners Rural Transportation Forum report, recently prepared by the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO). The Four Corners rural communities of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah are working on coordination of public transit and human services transportation, translating livability and the land-use/transportation connection for rural areas, incorporating transit into long-range transportation planning, and dealing with emerging rural growth areas.

One concern expressed about coordination was the perceived barrier of insurance/liability potential. Developments in rural coordination include establishment of one call services, statewide coordinated planning, and integration of transit and alternative modes into transportation planning. In terms of livability, these states are examining rural connectivity to cities and reinvigoration of downtowns.

A recent Government Accountability Office report, Rural Homelessness: Better Collaboration by HHS and HUD Could Improve Delivery of Services in Rural Areas suggests, though does not explicitly state, that smart growth and livability would greatly help poor and homeless rural populations. They not only have limited housing choices, but they lack transportation to connect to services and jobs. While this is not the only problem, the lack of connectivity over the long distances involved needlessly complicates life for struggling populations.

Smart Growth Geared for Rural America

The following new resources present ideas for coordination in terms of enhancing transit accessibility and use:

Putting Smart Growth to Work in Rural Communities examines different types of rural areas and the specific challenges they confront in loss of farmland, dispersed development, long distances to jobs, and rapid growth as well as long-term declines. This report promotes the benefits of transportation options, walkable main streets and downtowns, reuse of existing land, and preservation of open space.

The parts I found useful concerned redevelopment readiness (including community visioning)and transportation options. One caveat: Though the report provides ideas for economic development and preservation of open spaces, farmland and rural communities, transportation, generally, and mobility options, specifically, (including transit) are given short shrift.

Pedestrian Access to the Bus and the Community

A Blueprint America video (eight minutes) demonstrates the unsafe conditions for pedestrians on many American roads, with particular footage of inadequate bus stop access. The images and interviews are thoughtfully presented, providing a stark comparison between the priority of car travel, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the lack of official focus on pedestrian safety and transit accessibility.

Federal Highway Administration
(FHWA) has webinars and newsletters related to the ins and outs of pedestrian safety. A new webinar series is starting on Aug. 13. The seventh of eight in the series focuses on transit and pedestrians. Previous webinars are archived on the same site.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has released pedestrian safety materials for people whose first language is not English. Coming soon is a beginner level ESL course for learners who are not advanced, but still need to be educated on pedestrian and bicycle safety. NHSA has additional pedestrian and bike safety materials for Hispanics.

Next Steps for Pedestrian Safety and Mobility

The National Complete Streets Coalition 2010 Progress Report points to the amazing success that the coalition has achieved in helping states, regions and communities institute complete streets policies. Members of the National Consortium on the Coordination of Human Services Transportation have been instrumental to this success, particularly AARP (which has produced amazing livability and safe roads products), the American Council for the Blind, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), and the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (N4A), which all serve on the coalition's steering committee.

The coalition is looking forward to implementation, specifically at what elements complete streets policies include, whether these policies result in training, project development processes, design standards, and project selection criteria. The coalition will be analyzing performance measures to see whether they reflect the adopted complete streets policies and whether the outcomes are projects with improved travel for bicyclists, pedestrians, transit, and people with disabilities. The coalition "emphasizes a system-wide look at improvements, rather than measurement of individual projects against a standardized ideal."

As a lifelong pedestrian and transit user, I see safe and welcoming streets from the ground level and without expert eyes. I see the challenges from the perspective of a walker - of nonexistent, broken and inaccessible sidewalks, intersections where laws and signals allow both left and right turns during the same intervals allotted for pedestrians to cross, and streets with pedestrians running across six fast-moving lanes of cars because traffic signals are several blocks or more apart. I will throw out an ideal: places that have no right on red, scramble intersections, and traffic signal and other calming measures at walkable intervals, all to invite users other than cars, whether people are going to a train station, a bus stop or a library.

Watch a Video at Work

And in case we need any more incentives to promote transit and the streets that provide access to it, a new study shows that these symbiotic infrastructure systems lead to weight loss. Read about the Charlotte, N.C. weight-loss experience with light rail. A cute car-free diet video shows two young professional guys giving up their cars for a month in transit-friendly Arlington, Va.

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