Cities are full of people, and they all need to get somewhere. But everyone has different needs. For a long time, the policies, funding choices, designs, and other factors behind transportation systems have created inequitable outcomes that disproportionately harm (and benefit) certain communities. Some neighborhoods have access to better transportation options than others, and cars rule the roads to the exclusion of those who can’t — or can’t afford to — drive. But recently, and especially since Covid, many cities have been finding innovative ways to serve more of their citizens — including those who have been left out in the past. Here are five big swings.
Hoboken, New Jersey: Quick changes for zero pedestrian deaths
Hoboken is a small town with many sidewalks, but it hasn’t always been great for walking around. The city was facing a crisis between 2014 and 2018 when there were 376 traffic-related injuries and three fatalities. Hoboken acted decisively, instituting measures to make pedestrians more visible in crosswalks — what’s called “daylighting.” It removed parking spaces within 25 feet of crosswalks and changed the traffic light patterns so that pedestrians get a head start and begin occupying the crosswalk before motorists see green. The initiative worked, and Hoboken reports it has had zero pedestrian deaths since 2018.
Rochester, New York: Destroying a highway, remedying the past
America’s highway boom of the 1950s decimated some Black neighborhoods, causing fragmentation, noise and air pollution, and property devaluation. Rochester is trying to fix that. In 2013, it secured $17.7 million in federal grant money to reimagine part of the Inner Loop expressway, replacing portions with smaller roadways that allow for intersections, so once cleaved neighborhoods can reconnect. Smaller roads (think Main Street versus I-95) make biking possible and walking pleasant and encourage restaurants and shops to open along new stretches. Of course, it’s not without issues, including engineering conundrums and questions of equity in redevelopment. But Rochester is helping to lead the way in highway removal, and dozens of other cities are paying attention.
San Francisco, California: Personalized transportation for those who roll
San Francisco can be a daunting city for any pedestrian, but especially for those who use wheelchairs or other mobility tools. The city makes accessing transportation easier by offering Travel Training. Public transit users can meet one-on-one with a trainer who will devise personalized route strategies for an individual’s needs and accompany clients on practice runs. The city has also made the ocean accessible by offering free beach wheelchairs at four shores within Golden Gate National Recreation Area and laying out beach mats when needed that transect the sand.
Vancouver, British Columbia: Using technology to advance equity and accessibility
Walk around Vancouver and you might notice some large, colorful QR codes posted on city bus stops. These hard-to-miss decals are part of a pilot program for people with sight loss. Open an app called NaviLens, point it at a code, and it can serve up audio or haptic directions to the exact bus pickup point from up to 20 yards away. (That’s 12 times farther than a traditional QR code or barcode can be read.) The app, which is designed to aid the visually impaired, offers arrival info and service updates. Vancouver’s pilot program launches this month at 16 bus stops. It follows in the footsteps of New York, Los Angeles, Barcelona, and Madrid, among others, which have incorporated NaviLens into parts of their transit systems.
Washington, D.C.: Promoting fare-free public transportation
For some people, the cost of bus fare is a bargain. But for others, it can be painful. So Washington, D.C., is adopting zero-fare public transit for its buses beginning in July (for everyone) and adding more 24-hour bus lines — helpful in a city where the subway stops running at midnight or 1 a.m. The underground Metro will not initially be part of the program, though the D.C. Council is considering giving Washingtonians a monthly subway stipend. D.C. is just the latest locale to adopt this policy, but the pandemic supercharged the trend as municipalities like Boston and Kansas City abolished fares to aid essential workers traveling while others isolated at home.
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