Originally published in the January 2021 edition of Streetsmart News (Vol 32).
The concept of accessibility (aka access to destinations) has been discussed for decades as an alternative paradigm to conventional transportation planning practice. Proponents argue that accessibility better reflects the accepted notion of transportation as a derived demand; that is, people do not travel for its own sake, for the most part, but as a means to reach goods and services. Accessibility necessarily incorporates land use patterns and decision-making, which may account for its slow uptake in transportation, as land use processes may be foreign to transportation professionals. Furthermore, transportation professionals may even fail to understand how intertwined land use and transportation are.
So here is some food for thought. The international Transport Forum has released a collection of discussion papers, produced from a transportation workshop, exploring the opportunities and challenges with adopting accessibility as a mainstream planning practice: The Accessibility Shift, A People-Centred Approach to Accessibility, and Accessibility and Transport Appraisal: Summary and Conclusions.
In The Accessibility Shift, Jonathan Levine argues that one problem with accessibility is that is framed as a means to accomplish other objectives—such as VMT reduction—rather than it standing on its own as inherently valuable. Accessibility is not the strategy but the outcome, which is consistent with the idea that the goal of transportation is to provide access.
Another problematic way to conceptualize accessibility, Levine suggests, is as a proxy for urbanism. Accessibility is often promoted alongside walkable neighborhoods and transit-oriented development, and certainly, urban areas usually offer higher levels of accessibility. But accessibility applies to rural areas as well—it is simply the ability to reach more destinations rather than emphasizing speed.
Levine asserts that accessibility-based planning can’t take hold until they incorporate accessibility based performance measures rather than the mobility-based measures more commonly employed. However, in A People-Centred Approach to Accessibility, Karel Martens argues that replacing key performance indicators without changing the transportation planning process will not ultimately shift transportation practice and outcomes. Instead, Martens calls for an overhaul of transportation processes in favor of a people-centered approach to transportation planning.
While still emergent in the field as a whole, accessibility is being incorporated into transportation planning documents. Access to destinations is frequently included goal statements in city transportation plans. It may be framed as a goal for economic development (e.g., access to jobs), livability (e.g., walking distance to parks), or equity concerns (e.g., access to transit). In some cases, indicators have been developed as well. More research is needed to understand if these indicators are helping translate policy into practice (the dissertation subject of Streetsmart's Executive Director :).
Originally published in the July 2019 edition of Streetsmart News (Vol 15).
Increasingly, transportation professionals are recognizing the health effects of transportation policies, plans, and projects. However, it’s also important to recognize that disadvantaged communities bear the burden of transportation’s adverse effects—indeed, there is a long history of damage to disadvantaged communities as a result of transportation plans and projects. Policies, plans, and projects that do not specifically address these health inequities are likely to continue to leave these groups behind. In public policy, the National Academies' report Communities in action: Pathways to health equity concluded that health equity is crucial and health inequity is costly.
So, how do you talk about improving health equity to decision-makers and stakeholders? An excellent National Academy of Medicine webinar provides some guidance. The Metropolitan Group, with support from researchers at Portland State University, developed and tested health equity messages that work across a political spectrum. One key take-away for conversation is that values always override facts. That is, people filter facts through the values they hold, so it important to build narratives based on shared values.
The health equity messages were built upon two shared values: 1) everyone deserves the opportunity to reach their full potential and 2) foster strong and connected communities. The concept of targeted universalism informs the approach to the work, which means that we begin where the need is greatest. With the information contained in the webinar and messaging guide, you can begin a conversation with an elected official about building health equity into transportation policy. Below are some key ideas to communicate:
Listen to the webinar for more details about how these messages were developed and how they have employed in the field. Get the health equity in public policy messaging guide from Voices for Healthy Kids, a joint initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the American Heart Association.
Originally published in the May 2020 edition of Streetsmart News (Vol 25) and updated here.
As the data show that communities of color are disproportionately bearing the burden of COVID-19 impacts—due in large part to the structural inequities they face—transportation professionals, public health professionals, and elected officials are calling for an economic recovery that addresses these inequities.
To do so, we need to re-examine our notion of healthy and sustainable communities to ensure that we aren’t inadvertently exacerbating disparities. Critically evaluate your best practices in the context of your community’s most vulnerable residents. Is COVID-19 a great “opportunity” to expand bicycle networks and open streets to restaurant seating? Perhaps. However, this article challenges our tendency to promote our pre-COVID agendas without thinking through the consequences on the most vulnerable. In this example, that includes considering the commute needs of low-income essential workers and the harassment faced by people of color in public spaces.
Many are speculating on the future of the commute and its impact on greenhouse gas emissions. Is the current reduction in vehicle traffic a great “opportunity” to demonstrate how we can fight climate change? Again, let’s be careful about how we conceptualize this, lest we gloss over the real damage that this travel reduction represents.
Streetsmart centers climate, health, and equity in our transportation work, with the understanding that these urgent needs must be addressed together. While there are co-benefits to be realized in their joint pursuit, siloed implementation of these strategies may fail to produce them. We need to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, so we implement strategies that discourage car use. But if anything, low-income individuals need better access to cars. Consider the travel behavior of many low-income women, who are more likely to commute during off-peak travel hours and incorporate household errands into their commute, making transit infeasible. How do we advance policy for developing low-carbon and healthy cities while also meeting the needs of our most vulnerable in the interim? (Low-income subsidies for electric vehicles may figure into the equation).
Several calls for a healthy and resilient recovery have been articulated by a C40 Cities task force, NACTO, and Canadian planners and policymakers. A group of 77 built environment professionals--planners, public health professionals, artists, and others--came together in May to develop a set of guiding principles to center health equity in planning processes. In September, the Planning for Health Equity, Advocacy, and Leadership (PHEAL) principles were released. Now in Phase 2, the PHEAL steering committee is working to realize these principles in practice. As a member of the PHEAL steering committee, Streetsmart Executive Director Kelly Rodgers is ensuring that the guidance within Streetsmart reflects these principles.
Welcome to the new Streetsmart website!
It’s been three years since we released the proof-of-concept prototype of Streetsmart, a platform designed to give civic leaders the evidence and insight they need for healthy transportation. Since then, the issues of climate change, public health, and equity have only become more urgent. As such, we decided to focus on these interrelated and inseparable issues and adjusted our mission and focus accordingly.
The beta Streetsmart draws from research reviews to identify the proven strategies that meet community goals for increasing walking, bicycling, and physical activity, and reducing vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions. We've also identified the potential co-benefits of these strategies, which illustrates the multi-faceted impact transportation has on communities. Practitioner guidance—such as guidebooks, case studies, and fact sheets—is also featured with every strategy to help you implement them. Notes about the equity implications of each goal and strategy is embedded throughout.
Many thanks to the Streetsmart Board of Directors and the Advisory Board for their guidance over the years. We’d also like to thank the scores of engineers, public health professionals, elected officials, city planners, and community advocates who provided input into how Streetsmart could be improved. We are grateful for those conversations and appreciate your commitment to making transportation work better for your communities.
We will continue to evolve Streetsmart and our work based on the feedback and support we receive from you. Public, private, and non-profit organizations can join as a Partner or Sponsor to help advance the integration of climate change, public health, and equity into transportation decision-making. If you find Streetsmart helpful for your work, please donate so we can continue to make this resource freely available and update-to-date with the latest research and resources.