For Walkers, The Last Six Inches are Important
Who will you meet?
Cities are innovating, companies are pivoting, and start-ups are growing. Like you, every urban practitioner has a remarkable story of insight and challenge from the past year.
Meet these peers and discuss the future of cities in the new Meeting of the Minds Executive Cohort Program. Replace boring virtual summits with facilitated, online, small-group discussions where you can make real connections with extraordinary, like-minded people.
WalkBoston has been talking about transit as the middle leg of a walking trip for many years. We understand that even the most avid walker or walking advocate knows that many trips are too long to make a single-mode-walk trip possible. Now, the transit and active transportation worlds have become more attuned to the facts that buses serve the broadest network of transit riders, are often the transit mode that serves low-income riders, and are the transit mode that can be modified most easily. For American communities – urban, suburban, and rural – to become truly walkable, they must also be served by transit. Understanding how the bus and walking networks must be linked is critical to shaping investments in transit and the built environment.
While many big city downtowns are making progress on walkability and high-density development, many big city neighborhoods along with rural and suburban communities are being left behind. A new study from the University of Utah Department of City & Metropolitan Planning analyzes Salt Lake City bus stops using 18 variables and then reports on the differences between stops that were made fully accessible and linked to neighborhood sidewalk networks with those that were not improved. Three years later, the analysis showed that, “the improved bus stops are associated with a statistically significant increase in overall ridership and a decrease in para-transit demand, compared to the control group stops.”
It is no surprise to those of us in the walking advocacy world that making bus stops accessible and linked to neighborhood sidewalks can increase bus ridership and reduce the number of para-transit trips that are called for. This is a logical outcome of thinking about how people make real life choices about how to get around. What this research demonstrates is an amazing win-win-win for walking and transit advocates. It shows how we can shift trips from autos to transit; give more people more independence by making it possible for them to use regular bus service rather than setting up special, scheduled para-transit trips (some of which require appointments to be made at least 24 hours in advance and only for specified purposes); and save money for transit systems over the long run.
WalkBoston has been a member of the advisory committee working with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s systemwide accessibility department on their plan for accessible transit infrastructure (PATI) over the last several years. More than 30 percent of the MBTA’s customers use the bus system for some or all of their daily commute – or about 350,000 trips/day.
The PATI team undertook a detailed audit of the system’s 7,600 bus stops and found significant accessibility problems at thousands of the stops, including 31 percent without crosswalks. Many more were missing curb ramps and other elements of accessibility. Happily, the MBTA is starting to undertake improvements at the most egregious locations. Starting this summer, the MBTA will be engaging in a yearlong project to construct improvements at over 140 bus stops located in 20 different communities. These bus stops were identified in the recently completed audit as being the worst bus stops in the system in terms of accessibility.
In addition to our work with the MBTA in the Boston metro area, WalkBoston has partnered with community advocates and municipal staff in many of Massachusetts’ small towns and rural villages. Safe walking routes and bus stop accessibility are critical issues in communities where a high percentage of transit users are people with no other transportation choices. Local participants in walk audits and community transportation efforts have been especially receptive to seizing opportunities to improve accessibility to transit and add ways for people to walk safely between schools, municipal buildings, local shops, and senior housing.
A strong case can now be made that investment in many more of the stops will serve the needs of bus riders with disabilities, make the bus system more attractive to all riders, and potentially save money over the long term by reducing the fastest growing part of the MBTA’s (and many transit systems’) budget – para-transit service.The walking movement has built strong ties with environmental advocates, community development organizations, and the public health world over the last decade. We are now working hard to join forces with transit advocates and the disability community to create communities that are truly inclusive and accessible to all.
“If you’re trying to get across the street and there are no curb cuts, six inches might as well be Mount Everest,” said Lawrence Carter Long of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund on the 99 Percent Invisible Podcast. “Six inches makes all the difference in the world if you can’t get over that curb.”
Fixing the “last mile” has long been the mantra of transit and walking advocates. While difficult to achieve, it has been taken up as an important goal by many transportation agencies and transit providers. Now is the time to take up the “last six inches,” too, ensuring Americans with Disability Act-compliant curb ramps and crosswalks are present. These last six inches are critical elements of age and disability-friendly communities, growing bus ridership, and improving mobility for all community members.
Leave your comment below, or reply to others.
Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.
Read more from MeetingoftheMinds.org
Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
This article was originally published on September 8, 2020.
Update for April 20, 2021:
After the murder of George Floyd we wrote this article as a kind of blueprint, a beginning to a new way of working with equitable resilience in our cities and beyond. Now, as the trial of Derek Chauvin comes to a guilty verdict in Minneapolis and the whole country reflects on the legacy of that verdict, we have to remember another senseless murder – another young Black man, Daunte Wright, at the hands of law enforcement, just miles from the courthouse. Again, Minneapolis is all of us. We have protested, we have voted. We stood up, we spoke out, we have raged about the anti-Black racism. We have seen people come together, we can feel a shift in this country. But there is so much more to do. No equity, no resilience.
-Ron & Stewart
Housing that is affordable to low-income residents is often substandard and suffering from deferred maintenance, exposing residents to poor air quality and high energy bills. This situation can exacerbate asthma and other respiratory health issues, and siphon scarce dollars from higher value items like more nutritious food, health care, or education. Providing safe, decent, affordable, and healthy housing is one way to address historic inequities in community investment. Engaging with affordable housing and other types of community benefit projects is an important first step toward fully integrating equity into the green building process. In creating a framework for going deeper on equity, our new book, the Blueprint for Affordable Housing (Island Press 2020), starts with the Convention on Human Rights and the fundamental right to housing.
Since the Great Recession of 2008, the housing wealth gap has expanded to include not just Black and Brown Americans, but younger White Americans as well. Millennials and Generation Z Whites are now joining their Black and Brown peers in facing untenable housing precarity and blocked access to wealth. With wages stuck at 1980 levels and housing prices at least double (in inflation adjusted terms) what they were 40 years ago, many younger Americans, most with college degrees, are giving up on buying a home and even struggle to rent apartments suitable for raising a family.
What makes it hard for policy people and citizens to accept this truth is that we have not seen this problem in a very long time. Back in the 1920s of course, but not really since then. But this is actually an old problem that has come back to haunt us; a problem first articulated by Adam Smith in the 1700s.