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By Douglas Shinkle

When people decide how to get from Point A to Point B, they take all kinds of things into account. What’s the weather like? Am I late? Will the car start? Is there traffic? What time is Billy’s soccer practice again? Do I have my transit pass?

Attendees at NCSL’s Fall Forum transportation pre-conference, "Point A to Point B: Serving Constituents through Transportation Access and Performance," heard from a variety of perspectives on how these factors can affect transportation choices and the role states can play in solving transportation access and performance challenges.

The meeting had twin goals: Help attendees get a better sense of the daily factors and barriers their constituents face when making transportation choices and give attendees plenty of time and opportunity for facilitated dialogue with their peers to discuss how to ensure residents of their communities have access to affordable, efficient, safe transportation options.

A man rides a bike on the dirt shoulder of a bust street | Photo by Steven DavisJack Lettiere, former commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Transportation, issued an inspiring call to leaders to adopt a customer-service approach when making transportation policy decisions. He mentioned that simple solutions such as adding more capacity on trains so people don’t have to stand are greatly appreciated and let people know leaders are paying attention and care about the comfort of customers. Lettiere also stressed that reframing transportation as a pressing social need—much as those in education and health care circles have done successfully—is essential to build consensus to create a world-class 21st century transportation system in the U.S.

(As the photo at left illustrates, not all road networks accommodate all users. (Photo by Steve Davis))

Other highlights from the meeting:

  • Barbara McCann, founder of the national Complete Streets coalition, discussed how creating streets that work better for all users, regardless of mode, requires political will as well as practical and technical challenges that must be addressed.
  • Yingling Fan with the University of Minnesota delved into all the factors that affect transportation affordability, and theorized that policy interventions for transportation disadvantaged folks may need to include policies that reduce the costs of operating vehicles, while simultaneously creating more transit options and complementary land-use.
  • Katherine Freund, president of ITN America, piqued the interest of attendees with her examination of how utilizing private vehicles can meet a public need and provide safe, dignified transportation for older Americans.
  • Teri Newell with the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) discussed how UDOT gathered feedback from citizens in order to reach a final agreement on development of a new transportation corridor in Utah’s fast-growing Wasatch Valley. A key point from her presentation was that often citizens don’t feel comfortable asking questions themselves, but want to hear someone else ask tough questions of the public agency and watch them “squirm.” UDOT gave careful thought to setting up multiple methods and venues for public input, such as open houses, town halls and one-on-one interactions.

Conversations in the small group discussions centered on how the research and perspectives presented translated to the challenges in their communities. One legislator shared an example from his state of a mobile home park in a cornfield two miles from the nearest town and services. For a resident living there without a car, what options do they have for transportation and what responsibility does the state have? No easy answers arose with respect to this question, but attendees seemed to agree that giving more thought to policies that consider location of housing, services and employment centers in coordination with transportation could lessen the occurrence of such “transportation deserts.”

The main take-away for attendees seemed to be that transportation decisions are made based on a variety of complex factors, and providing Americans with affordable, accessible and efficient transportation choices will require more innovative thinking and cross-jurisdictional engagement with other state agencies. All of the presentations for the pre-conference can be found here. Please contact Douglas Shinkle with any questions about the meeting.

Douglas Shinkle is program principal with NCSL's Environment, Energy and Transportation Program

Posted in: NCSL, Public Policy
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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.

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