Streetsmart News. Vol. 32, 2021
Evidence and Insight for Healthy Transportation
Shifting to Accessibility
The concept of accessibility (aka access to destinations) has been discussed for decades as an alternative paradigm to conventional transportation planning practice. Proponents argue that accessibility better reflects the accepted notion of transportation as a derived demand; that is, people do not travel for its own sake, for the most part, but as a means to reach goods and services. Accessibility necessarily incorporates land use patterns and decision-making, which may account for its slow uptake in transportation, as land use processes may be foreign to transportation professionals. Furthermore, transportation professionals may even fail to understand how intertwined land use and transportation are.

So here is some food for thought. The international Transport Forum has released a collection of discussion papers, produced from a transportation workshop, exploring the opportunities and challenges with adopting accessibility as a mainstream planning practice: The Accessibility Shift, A People-Centred Approach to Accessibility, and Accessibility and Transport Appraisal: Summary and Conclusions.

In The Accessibility Shift, Jonathan Levine argues that one problem with accessibility is that is framed as a means to accomplish other objectives—such as VMT reduction—rather than it standing on its own as inherently valuable. Accessibility is not the strategy but the outcome, which is consistent with the idea that the goal of transportation is to provide access.

Another problematic way to conceptualize accessibility, Levine suggests, is as a proxy for urbanism. Accessibility is often promoted alongside walkable neighborhoods and transit-oriented development, and certainly, urban areas usually offer higher levels of accessibility. But accessibility applies to rural areas as well—it is simply the ability to reach more destinations.

Levine asserts that accessibility-based planning can’t take hold until they incorporate accessibility based performance measures rather than the mobility-based measures more commonly employed. However, in A People-Centred Approach to Accessibility, Karel Martens argues that replacing key performance indicators without changing the transportation planning process will not ultimately shift transportation practice and outcomes. Instead, Martens calls for an overhaul of transportation processes in favor of a people-centered approach to transportation planning.

While still emergent in the field as a whole, accessibility is being incorporated into transportation planning documents. Access to destinations is frequently included goal statements in city transportation plans. It may be framed as a goal for economic development (e.g., access to jobs), livability (e.g., walking distance to parks), or equity concerns (e.g., access to transit). In some cases, indicators have been developed as well. More research is needed to understand if these indicators are helping translate policy into practice (see TRB poster, below).
Becoming Streetsmart Podcast
Executive Director Kelly Rodgers had the pleasure of speaking with John Simmerman on an Active Towns podcast recently. Listen in to learn how Streetsmart came to be, our lessons learned, and where we are going:
Posters at Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting (TRBAM)
For those of you registered for TRBAM, here are two posters to check out. A summary description of Kelly's dissertation project, the use and influence of health indicators in transportation, can found in the Eisenhower poster session on January 25 at 2:30 EST (Poster Session 1113). The second is a poster about Planning for Health Equity, Advocacy and Leadership (PHEAL) on January 27 at 2:30 EST (Poster Session 1315).
Why Streetsmart?
Transportation connects people to the places essential for their well being. We believe that transportation systems can create and support healthy, just, and climate-resilient communities. 

Yet, for many people, destinations are too far from home, transit is not reliable, walking and bicycling are impractical, or the streets are not safe. Rather than connecting people to opportunity, lack of adequate transportation is a barrier to reaching employment, schools, health care services, and social networks. Vehicular emissions expose communities to air pollution, increasing their risk of asthma and heart disease. Transportation is also the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the US, driving climate changes that will disproportionately affect many communities of color.   

We aim to embed climate change, public health, and equity issues into transportation decision-making so we can realize our vision of healthy, just, and climate-resilient communities. We do so by building alliances among diverse partners for transportation reform, advancing best practices in transportation that fully account for impacts on communities, and highlighting evidence-based strategies that meet community goals.
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