Accessibility analysis, measuring the ease with which people can reach destinations, could shift the paradigm in the fields of land use and transportation planning. Where traffic speeds once reigned supreme, momentum is building behind the adoption of a more comprehensive metric. While uptake has thus far been somewhat diffuse among cities, metropolitan planning organizations, and states, those who have the capacity and resources to implement accessibility analysis find it a powerful tool for leveling the playing field between modes, focusing on the movement of people over vehicles, and centering the needs of under-resourced communities.
To increase walking, think bigger than the commute
For most people, changing how they get to work isn’t an easy task. According to the last national travel survey, almost one in ten people drive to work and only four percent walk. As Jeff Speck writes in a recent article for NextCity, events like National Walk to Work Day focus on a goal that decades of suburban growth and road design have made impossible for most. It potentially distracts from the changes in community design that would make walking more attractive, including for purposes other than commuting.
Low-income communities can benefit most from accessible cities
America’s outward, car-oriented growth has meant that people now travel much farther for basic needs. According to new research, only 12.1% of trips to basic amenities happen within a 15-minute walking radius of residents’ homes in the median U.S. neighborhood, and the frequency of those types of trips varies greatly depending on income.
Community-based solutions could bridge the mobility gap for the carless
Many areas of the country are not well served by public transportation, resulting in households without access to a personal vehicle being significantly disadvantaged. In such areas, travelers may rely on a combination of ride-hailing services, informal car-sharing and ride-sharing, and even medical transport, or they forgo trips altogether. A lack of transportation options can keep people from getting to work, accessing essential services, and make gathering necessities difficult.
Evidence shows that car-free streets can reduce traffic
Critics argue that car-free streets do not reduce overall traffic. Several new studies counter these claims and illustrate the benefits of creating areas that put people first.
Higher gas usage may point to pandemic era travel patterns
When gas prices rise it seems reasonable to expect people to economize by driving less. According to one indicator brought to light by Eno Center for Transportation, gasoline usage in the U.S.—and by extension driving—hit an all-time high during fiscal year 2022. During the same period gas prices were the highest we’ve seen—adjusted for inflation—since the great recession that began in 2008. But the U.S. is swiftly returning to pre-pandemic levels of vehicle miles traveled (VMT), perhaps due to pandemic-era travel patterns and relocations.
New federal vehicle charging requirements aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution for many states
As the federal government significantly invests in vehicle charging infrastructure, states voice their concerns on effectively implementing a consistent and reliable nationwide network while addressing their local needs. Many states are committed to supporting the transition to electric vehicles, but some are looking for more flexibility with funding requirements to coincide with their existing capacity for an effective system.
Agencies can help usher riders back on to transit
Even before the pandemic sent a shockwave through transit systems, ridership across the U.S. was on a slow but steady downward trajectory. A new report from Transit Cooperative Research Program points to some of the leading causes and, more importantly, ways that thoughtful planning and transit investments could help reverse the trend in the next decade.
Aligning priorities across agencies
Government agencies sometimes face the criticism that they have difficulty coordinating between various silos. In the transportation sector this may stem, in part, from the historic approach of separating modes into different funding, maintenance, and development streams. While barriers still exist, some agencies are developing coherent multimodal policy to combat this. In other cases incoherence can occur when different segments of the same network fall under the jurisdiction of different agencies, each with its own priorities and maintenance approaches.
Measuring access to destinations can help agencies predict transit ridership
Many transportation agencies throughout the U.S.—some working directly with SSTI—are beginning to think about service in terms of access to destinations. A few, like the Washington and Virginia DOTs, are measuring accessibility in planning and project selection. New research suggests that accessibility analysis can also be helpful in predicting travel outcomes like transit ridership.