From Dave Van Hattum, Policy & Advocacy Program Manger
Many credit young people for changing attitudes and habits around recycling and re-use. As we collectively try to create communities where people have real transportation choices, perhaps young people can once again lead the way.
City Trek 2011, a partnership of TLC and EcoEducation, was a day-long exploration of the environmental and equity impacts of the Twin Cities current (and future) transportation system. On May 3rd, 25 teachers and youth leaders spent the day experiencing and discussing our regional transportation system. Recognizing the value of learning by doing, participants walked, biked (thanks to Nice Ride), rode the Hiawatha light rail, and local and express buses (thanks to Metro Transit).
The diversity of the group, including Minneapolis and Saint Paul teachers who teach a range of subjects and students of varying ages, led to stimulating dialogue. Participants were encouraged to arrive at our downtown Minneapolis base without driving and the vast majority took the challenge.
The morning discussion focused on three strategies for reducing the environmental impacts of transportation: 1) public transit, 2) biking, and 3) more compact communities. The topic of equity came up in all the discussions, exploring ways to expand convenient and affordable transportation choices for those with low-incomes and from diverse communities.
The morning session included an overview of the Twin Cities transportation system and breakout sessions with experts on bicycling, walking, and transit. The afternoon session highlighted the equity issues of building new light rail lines, in particular the Central Corridor. Presenters Carol Swenson (District Council Collaborative), Metric Giles (Community Revitalization Project) and Christina Morrison (Saint Paul planner) got the conversation going with unique perspectives on planning for the light rail line and planning for changes to neighborhoods adjacent to the rail.
For many decades, mainstream assessments of our urban transportation systems assumed they were equitable because they were primarily financed by a user fee – the gas tax. Yet, this assessment completely ignored those unable to afford cars and fill-ups. TLC believes that building out a robust transit system will generally lead to greater equity. But, as participants in City Trek 2011 learned, more transit is a necessary, but insufficient, step to a more equitable transportation system. Where we locate transit stops, who builds the trains and highways, and how communities retain existing residents and businesses when new housing and commercial development cluster around light rail stops are key equity concerns going forward.
One critical step to more equitable outcomes is to make sure more community, and non-traditional, voices are heard in the planning (rail and development) process. I can’t say exactly how the teachers and youth who made City Trek 2011 such an inspiring and thought-providing day will carry forward the dialogue and ideas into lesson plans. But I trust that most of them will engage their students in pondering and imagining how best to get people where they need to go –an intellectual trek worth taking!