Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Upcoming Events

National Association of States United for Aging and Disabilities (NASUAD), formerly the National Association of State Units on Aging - Home and Community Based Services Conference in Atlanta, Ga. on Sept. 26-29. Transportation will be addressed in a session on whole health, recovery and transportation as well as a session about the vital link to services that transportation provides.

Easter Seals Project ACTION
- Mobility Management: The Paducah Approach, an audio conference, on Sept. 21. Part of Project ACTION’s Promising Practices and Solutions in Accessible Transportation series, this conference will discuss this mobility management model and the provision of coordinated mobility solutions in the Paducah area.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Zero and Low Emission Modes Get AASHTO's Attention

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) had two interesting articles in its weekly newsletter, both involving transit.

First is Boulder's new initiative: www.driventodriveless.com, which promotes commuting to work less, even just one day a week less, and instead biking, walking, using transit, carpooling or telecommuting. Similar to Idaho's I-Way program, the site encourages use of alternatives to the single occupancy vehicle and producing less pollution. There is also a link there that connects to a national trail site with walking routes in every state.

30/10 Plan Reaches Across Party Lines

Second is Los Angeles' 30/10 plan, which seeks to implement a 30-year transit plan within 10 years by using the long-term revenue from a half-cent sales tax, estimated to produce $13 billion for transit, as collateral for long-term bonds and a federal loan. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D. Calif.) was promoting the mayor's idea at LA's city hall. The LA Times reports:

"We are going to get it done and it's going to be a template for the nation," Boxer said during the hourlong forum. "Everything we do is job-focused, but everything we do has to be deficit-neutral, except emergencies …. We have to leverage every single penny that we can."

The newspaper story also stated that Boxer's Republican rival in the upcoming election also backs the ambitious transit plan.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Consortium Organizations Find Transit to Be a Vital Link

Each day, news of the importance of transportation options for specific populations and the general public comes across my computer screen. Sometimes it feels like I am only writing about the contours and depth of the need. Today this started before I got to the office. Signs for one of the local bus systems notified riders of reduced frequency of service and route eliminations. Some of those riders this morning - most of whom appeared to be commuting to jobs - were using crutches or walking with great difficulty. Others had small children along. Then my computer screen gave me more news, some of it bad, but accompanied by possible solutions.

The Children's Health Fund (CHF) finds insufficient services for children in the Gulf Coast region during the five years since Hurricane Katrina. Among the points made in Legacy of Katrina: The Impact of a Flawed Recovery on Vulnerable Children of the Gulf Coast: A Five-Year Status Report, the reasons for continuing emotional and behavioral problems include lack of transportation to care and lack of childcare that would enable parents to take one child to an appointment.

Old and Young Share Mobility Challenges

On the other end of the lifespan, the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (N4A) accesses the challenges that cities and counties confront as their populations age. N4A informs communities that transportation is among the critical services necessary for aging in place.

Like the majority of American adults, older Americans rely on private automobiles to meet their mobility needs. However, the physical limitations that come with age may over time restrict or eliminate an older person’s ability to drive. Many older adults who cannot drive can still live independently if they have access to available, adequate, affordable and accessible public transportation.

Recommendation: Communities should offer driving assessment and training to help older adults remain on the road as safely as possible for as long as possible. Communities should also consider improvements to roadway design such as large print road signs, grooved lane dividers, dedicated left turn lanes and extended walk times at pedestrian crosswalks to accommodate older drivers and pedestrians. Additionally, local governments should assess their existing public transportation systems to see if they address the needs of an aging population.

N4A also recommends that housing amenable to older adults be developed close to "transportation links," which would enable those who do not drive or who have cut back on driving to have transportation options.

Map to AAA and CIL Cooperation

The National Council on Independent Living
posted a report with suggestions for collaboration between centers for independent living (CILs) and area agencies on aging (AAAs) and the mechanics of the relevant federal statutes. Among the suggestions made were coordinating transportation, development of transportation service, and travel training for people who need mobility options.

Public Transit: Health Provider

Yes, a bus can take a person to the doctor, to work, to the supermarket, but, according to a study commissioned by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), just having rail or bus fixed-route transit in your town or neighborhood increases the chances that you are living a healthy lifestyle and reaping its benefits. Evaluating Public Transportation Health Benefits, prepared by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, shows that it is not so much the bus or the train itself that provides health benefits as the accouterments of places that have invested in transit and the lifestyle of walking to a stop or a station: walkable streets, less car use - whether a trip is part transit or not, fewer car crashes (injuries and fatalities), less pollution, more exercise, and fewer health problems associated with a sedentary lifestyle. What transit does accomplish for health is making possible healthier choices than those mobility options that disproportionately pollute, cause serious injury and death, and make it inconvenient to get in that all-important daily exercise.

APTA's website is filled stories of the benefits of transit. In addition to health, the annual savings average of transit over car use was pegged this year at $9,381, an average far exceeded in many major cities. If you live in Brooklyn, for example, you could save over $13,000 (of course your housing costs would be impossible, so you might want to consider a move carefully).

Planning Sustainable Communities

The Administration intends to encourage more communities to become healthier and more environmentally sustainable through the Department of Housing and Urban Development Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grants.

The Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations has posted advice for regions planning to apply for the grants. This includes a good explanation of what federal and other dollars may be used as matching funds. This planning grant program intends to "support metropolitan and multijurisdictional planning efforts that integrate housing, land use, economic and workforce development, transportation and infrastructure investments in a manner that empowers jurisdictions to consider the interdependent challenges of these issues specific to their region."

Another good source of information on this topic is the National Association of Regional Councils (NARC). It has a page devoted to the Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grants and how to apply.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

For information about recent legislative activities related human services programmatic and funding decisions, the American Public Human Services Association has a nice summary linked to its homepage. Information about TANF and SNAP (food stamps) is included.


American Bus Association - National Rural Public and Intercity Bus Transportation Conference, on October 24-27, 2010, in Burlington, Vt. Sponsored by the Transportation Research Board, the conference will feature accessibility, rural transit policy and planning, alternative fuels, intelligent transportation systems and rural transit, regional systems, networks and coalitions, operations, safety, and security, and tribal transportation.

New online classes at the American Public Works Association include emergency preparedness and designing complete streets for all users.

Spontaneity = Accessibility 2.0

Spontaneity is becoming the new buzzword for people with disabilities, a kind of Accessibility 2.0. I have heard Mary Leary, Senior Director of Easter Seals Project ACTION, use the term before and she employs it now as the guest writer on the Disability Blog. She writes about the next 20 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). What Ms. Leary is seeking for people with disabilities is "a world of spontaneous living" and she is working with the inter-agency Partnership for Sustainable Communities and its livability program to help her vision become a reality.
This interagency effort joins programs and policy areas in transportation, housing and the environment to create a synergistic approach to increase access and mobility. Accessible transportation is more than just getting to doctor’s appointments, the grocery store, to work or to school. It is also about seeing friends and family, going to a park, going out to dinner, enjoying the fireworks on the 4th of July or traveling across the country.

Making Lemonade in Hard Times

If these were normal times, I would agree not only with Ms. Leary's vision, but also with the prospect of it becoming a reality. These are hard times, so my skepticism is tempted to take over. Metro Magazine's article about paratransit providers discusses strategies for dealing with lean budgets and the growing demand for paratransit service. Unfortunately, one of the strategies for already lean operations is cutting service.

People are working hard locally to make sure that others do not lose the transit service they already have. Two examples struck me today as demonstrating the challenges of financial hardships for transit systems and what individuals can do to retain the spontaneity that existing service provides them.

Local Stories

A rural New Hampshire woman who uses a walker convinced bus buddies to help her persuade local authorities to retain her bus service. However, an article in the Union Leader explains the dilemmas that transit systems are confronting, especially on routes with low ridership and very little help from the fare box.

I cannot resist a good Brooklyn story, especially one about a neighborhood I have lived in. The B71 (B for Brooklyn) transported people through Park Slope, Prospect Heights and Carroll Gardens before it was discontinued and budget cuts prompted driver layoffs. Now, according to a Wall Street Journal piece (likely written by a Slope resident, perhaps a Paul Auster neighbor), a new service is starting that will feature laid off drivers, TLC (New York's Taxi and Limousine Commission)-approved van service on discontinued routes ($1 fare, initially) and driver pay equal to their old jobs. In true Brooklyn fashion, the union that represents the new service's drivers is also involved in litigation to shut it down.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Food Access: Tip of the Iceberg

I read a recent blog post from the Farmers Market Coalition about barriers preventing many SNAP participants from buying fresh and healthy food at farmers markets. Impediments listed mostly concerned financial issues of the SNAP customer and the farmer as well as cultural issues. Technical assistance for farmers markets was recommended.

Curious, I went to the report on which the blog post was based, REAL FOOD, REAL CHOICE Connecting SNAP Recipients with Farmers Markets. The report identified other impediments to buying at a farmers market, such as lack of transportation and lack of time to do multiple shopping trips.

An additional barrier highlighted by those individuals contacted was transportation. This not only includes the distance from a home to the market, but also concerns regarding transporting children/families to the market or finding childcare for children in order to complete shopping needs. Some organizations and markets, such as Hunger Action LA and the Lents Market in Portland, OR, have attempted to address transportation concerns by providing van or bus services from lower income neighborhoods to the market, but those organizations do not have the resources to provide transportation over the long-term.

In fact, lack of transportation was identified as a barrier in both urban and rural communities. In suburbia, 10 blocks that are dangerous to cross are as much an obstacle as life without a car in a rural area with 20 miles to a store or market that has food. These obstacles are practical for the consumer, but are complex for state and local agencies that have not previously had relationships. For example, in Michigan:

Many statewide farmers market organizations do not presently have the connections with transportation authorities to address transportation barriers. Additionally, many transportation decisions are made locally and it is difficult to coordinate advocacy on transportation barriers at a statewide level.

A December 2009, a brief about obesity prevention and health promotion prepared by the National Association of Counties (NACo) acknowledged the dire transportation challenges to reach supermarkets in rural communities for those without cars. These suggestions were offered.

Enhancements to public transportation systems can also help improve residents’ access to healthy and affordable foods. Local officials or community organizations can partner with the local public transportation system to improve routes that link lower-income areas with supermarkets or offer businesses financial incentives to develop projects near public transportation routes.

Good News

The good news is that transit funding ballot measures are being embraced. The homepage of the Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA)tells the story of service boosts and an 80 percent ballot initiative pass rate.

ADA Guidance for Getting Around

The Department of Justice has issued a fact sheet that highlights the Department of Justice's ADA design standards. Specific to transportation, there is guidance about service animals - specifically, dogs trained to perform certain tasks. Those animals that provide solely emotional support, do not, for ADA purposes, constitute service animals. There are nuances to the rule, so careful reading is recommended.

Another area where transportation is affected is use of wheelchairs and mobility devices. Wheelchairs are permitted wherever pedestrians are allowed. However, Segways, "which are often used by individuals with disabilities as their mobility device of choice," are Justice's prime focus in this guidance. To ban "power-driven mobility devices," the rule requires a "covered entity [to] demonstrate that such use would fundamentally alter its programs, services, or activities, create a direct threat, or create a safety hazard."

Burden of Proof

Note that the fact sheet clearly places the burden of proof on the covered entity to prove that the "power-driven mobility device" falls within the threat, safety or other allowances for banning the devices from certain places. The user of the device is not required to show anything to trigger the right to use a particular device.

Topic Guides

Easter Seals Project ACTION is featuring the ADA Topic Guides in its newsletter. The topic guides are very detailed instructions about what the ADA requires in terms of paratransit eligibility, equipment maintenance, no shows and other operational issues. The Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund and TranSystem Corporation prepared the topic guides with funding from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).

Though not transportation-related, the Department of Justice released a guide to providing accessible medical care for people with disabilities. Access To Medical Care For Individuals With Mobility Disabilities provides straight-forward and simple advice about what accessibility means and details related to medical offices, such as transfer techniques and accessible exam tables.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Winning Senior Transportation Programs

I woke up today needing some inspiration and received it when I read the Beverly Foundation's recent Star Search & Star Awards Program 2010 Report.The report includes truly amazing stories of organizations providing lifelines of transportation to medical care, shopping and other destinations that the majority of us take for granted.

Described were meeting needs for door-through-door assistance and transportation, providing free services, and helping older people whose children work full time. Though not written in flowery prose, in sound bites or with sentimentality, the persistent and effective efforts of the winning organizations brought a few tears to my eyes. This snippet from New Jersey paints a picture of frail clients and caring staff and drivers.

Supportive services include: free rides for escorts/family; ride reminders; assistance with personal belonging and groceries; accompaniment through the door at destination; prompt and reliable return pick-ups; a payment system that involves no money exchange in the vehicle; trained drivers that are patient and friendly; accommodation of the needs and changing schedules of older riders with dementia.

Another winning program in the category of winners addressing the needs of people with dementia spoke of its promise not to have its clients wait more than 20 minutes for a ride, noting the confusion and anxiety that waiting causes to people with dementia. Knowing people who have those issues and knowing how difficult it is for an organization to meet a 20-minute goal, I am moved by the evident determination.

Rural winners

One category of winners put the spotlight on rural programs. A Minnesota transportation service started in 1905 with a sleigh and wagon operation and continues to serve folks who would remain isolated without its neighborly assistance.
This area is 100% rural, spans four counties, and has no formal public transportation services available aside from two, short-corridor fixed routes offered by county public transit systems. However, these two public transit routes will not cross county lines and provide only curb-to-curb service, leaving behind many seniors who need door-through-door assistance, especially during the harsh Minnesota winters.

The Beverly Foundation uses its STAR search survey to find and celebrate excellence (STAR Awards for Excellence) and to recognize special efforts (STAR Special Recognition Awards) in the field of transportation options for seniors.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

News from State Public Transportation Partnerships Conference

Okay, I will try to write about the conference and not keep dreaming about living in Seattle so that I can spend more time in a beautiful city where you see seagulls and you can walk to the ballpark. I personally recommend the Ebbets Field Flannels store. (Yes, the owner and the salesperson are from Brooklyn, Park Slope in this case.)

What partnerships are everyone talking about? Every type of coordination has been mentioned, from collaboration with states Department of Justice to students from local colleges. Creative use of facebook, twitter, and bus roadeos are being discussed. Recommended for roadeo success were a barbecue at the roadeo and local radio station participation.

Tidbits of Useful Practices

1. Use of college students to advocate and campaign for transit funding and ballot measures. They use facebook in a viral way, which exponentially garners support.
2. Partnering at the local, state and federal way. These partnerships can mirror the federal sustainability partnership, work on traditional connections to human service agencies, and can involve everyone else.
3. Focus on how transit and mobility services help every constituency and agency. One example was coordination with a state Department of Corrections, which was motivated to sit at the proverbial table by the message that parolees are required to work, which necessitates transportation to work.
4. Work with business, people with disabilities, cyclists, environmentalists, and others on messages and service needs.

Who Is Here?

On hand at the conference are staff from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), the Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA), the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), Easter Seals Project ACTION, National RTAP, and the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

No offense to the above entities, I do not think that anyone here would dispute that the most interesting information, comments and ideas have come from state players, people with local stories and advocates who have worked locally to support transit.

There is no question that despite the current economic and funding (or lack thereof) climate, ordinary people are looking for and want public dollars to pay for more transit service, whether for older adults, low-wage earners who work for and with those we care about, students, people with disabilities or those who wish to transition from a gas-guzzler lifestyle. Food for thought.

With that, I am getting hungry for that salmon dinner in the not-too-distant future, though my family's breakfast at Tea and Crumpet (complete with smoked salmon good enough for Zabars lovers) is also on my mind. Hope my stomach rumblings are not distracting my fellow conference attendees.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

HUD Money Available for Community-Based Initiatives

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in its Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant program has funds available for communities with stakeholder involvement in equity-based projects, such as transportation services and infrastructure. According to a PolicyLink guide to the funding, the applications, due Aug. 23, must address the Administration's livability principles and HUD's priorities.

The goal of the HUD program is to transform low-income areas into "communities of opportunity," which I presume means communities that have more income than they had before. Some of the funding will go to rural communities, with grants of between $100,000 and $1 million.

Community and Regional Partners

One of the key priorities is to fund projects with coordination among equity advocates, community-based organizations representing people of color and/or low-income residents, local government and regional planning organizations. Examples of the type of projects HUD is looking for are given and they include transit and infrastructure improvements. Health equity is another permissible goal for applicants.

The guide includes advice about how to fill out the application.