A transportation paradigm shift that we need is moving too slowly

Our transportation system in the U.S. is built and maintained largely on basic principles that are now a century in the making. The first principle: cities and metropolitan areas will continue growing outward. Second, almost everybody will drive. And third, by adding road capacity, we can prevent the system from breaking down. As a result, commute times have risen by more than 20% over the last 50 years and only the pandemic has offered any relief from traffic congestion. A new study now offers a fresh perspective on the current state of practice and some critical challenges to moving toward accessibility as an industry.

The work commute changed after the pandemic, new data shows

Research continues to shed new light on the post-pandemic changes in travel behavior and access to opportunities. A recent webinar with SSTI and Accessibility Observatory examines the changes in accessibility across the country, while a new study by Replica highlights new commute patterns in two cities. Both analyses show the lasting impacts of the pandemic on peak travel times, giving transportation professionals valuable insights for adapting planning and design in ways that will improve overall access and system performance.

Virginia hopes to expand transit access by leveraging data

All public transit agencies in Virginia will have free access to planning software, thanks to a new partnership with the transit technology company Via. This is one of several steps the state has taken to incorporate accessibility analysis into planning and programming, and to advance equitable transportation. Providing statewide access to data and software may serve as a model for other agencies as they strive for more equitable and effective networks. 

Accessibility analysis may be at a pivotal moment for widespread adoption

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.  

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.