I recently spent a few days in Chicago for the 2022 National Shared Mobility Summit put on by the Shared-Use Mobility Center. Their mission is to advocate for equitable, affordable, and environmentally sound mobility across the US.
There was no shortage of inspirational community leaders and transportation planners at the conference voicing their thoughts, concerns, and experiences around the topic of moving people efficiently, fairly, and safely from place to place. While there was a lot to take in, these were my main takeaways from the event …
During one of the keynote addresses, Benjie de la Peña, CEO of Shared-Use Mobility Center, shared this quote on the big screen: “The climate crisis and persistent social, economic, and racial inequality are shaped in no small part by how our roads and streets are designed to prioritize cars over people.”
This stood out to me as one of those all-encompassing messages worthy of resharing. If we want to make meaningful improvements to the environment and people’s lives, we need to do a better job creating ways to get around our communities besides driving.
It may not be easy since our neighborhoods and business areas have been physically laid out to accommodate personal vehicles for more than a generation, but the more we build safe places to walk and cycle, the more people will want to get around that way because it will become more efficient and enjoyable.
This goes for public transit too! If you’re in the Grand Traverse region and haven’t ridden on a BATA bus, I really encourage you to give it a try. There are many options available including city loops, village loops for further out of town, the frequent and free Bayline, and Link On-Demand, which operates in a similar way to UBER or Lyft. Shared-Use Mobility Center even featured the on-demand service during its pilot phase!
This one builds off the first takeaway above, needing to prioritize places to walk. In the transportation world, I often hear, “There isn’t enough money in the budget for sidewalks,” or “We aren’t responsible for covering the cost of sidewalks. You have to fund that yourselves.”
While it may be true that there’s no sidewalk money in the budget, the root cause of that problem is likely that sidewalks weren’t even considered during the planning phase.
Communities can also fund sidewalks through several federal programs, and sidewalks are considered a priority by the Federal Highway Administration. FHWA notes that more than 75,000 pedestrian injuries occur in roadway crashes annually and that it’s important for transportation agencies to improve conditions and safety for pedestrians. A leading solution is to integrate walkways more fully into the transportation system.
Traverse City recently wrapped up a major sidewalk expansion project that added or reconstructed over 20 miles of walkway since 2016 and invested around $7.7 million in walkable infrastructure.
A lot of attention is given to electric vehicles and an autonomous future. Rightfully so, as the technology has the potential to lessen environmental harm and improve on-road safety, but we shouldn’t forget that they take up the same amount of space on our roadways and will still be financially out of reach for millions.
During the conference, Danielle Harris of Elemental Exelerator, sat down with Peter Norton, a professor at the University of Virginia and author of the book Autonorama: The Illusory Promise of High-Tech Driving. Peter spoke about how we need only to look into the past to see that we have been fed ideas of what a transportation utopia looks like and that automobile companies have been promising us that they alone have the solution to our problems.
Back in the 1940s General Motors came out with its model for better transportation called Futurama. They were selling us a utopia where we could drive anywhere at any time, without delay, without crashes, and park anywhere once we arrived. When that didn’t work out as planned, the company announced Futurama 2 around 1965. Peter described this as “invoking the magic of the latest technology”—the highway system.
Roughly every 25 years we are fed a new vision and solution. Peter’s warning is to watch out for promises being made by the auto companies. After all, their number one goal is to make money, and to do that, they need to keep customers dissatisfied just enough so that they are willing to purchase the latest version.
Instead, he urged us to look at the ways we traveled in the past, ways that worked well and continue to be good for communities, like walking, biking, transit, and rail—the same things that organizations like Norte, BATA, TART Trails, and Groundwork are working toward.
The name given to this year’s conference was “All Together Now,” a play on words for once again gathering in person and also a message about how we all need to work together to bring about equitable transportation change. Municipalities, local businesses, planning consult