Multimodal Transportation as an Economic Equalizer

People jogging on the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority Shared Use path on 290 Expressway

Central Texans take advantage of the multimodal “shared-use paths” along the 290 Toll.

“If we’re stuck in traffic, we can’t be leaders in the world,” says the author of “Putting America’s Infrastructure Back in the Lead.” Our goal at the Mobility Authority is to be that leader in Central Texas and work to continue to blur socioeconomic lines among transportation customers through innovative and adequate multimodal transportation infrastructure, opening options to all our citizens.

In May 2015, the New York Times published a report “Transportation Emerges as Crucial to Escaping Poverty,” citing a large Harvard study linking commuting time to poverty. To cite the article, “The longer an average commute in a given county, the worse the chances of low-income families there moving up the ladder.” In fact, the researchers found transportation to be a more critical factor in social mobility than two-parent families, elementary school testing and crime.

Another cited study reinforced those findings, and also found that neighborhood residents with “insufficient access to transportation” were hindered by high unemployment and low incomes.

The transportation access inherent in multimodal transportation is key to social mobility.

Opportunities to reshape perceptions

If you get a chance, watch the 2011 documentary “Urbanized.” In it, independent filmmaker and photographer Gary Hustwit explores the “language” of urban design, devoting a portion of the film to transportation.

In one segment Enrique Penalosa, former mayor of Bogota, Colombia, describes his achievements in multimodal transportation – specifically bicycle, pedestrian and bus transportation. Penalosa calls the emphasis on these transportation modes over automobiles as “democracy at work,” noting how bicycle and pedestrian paths create “networks” to connect the poorest citizens, to the richest.

(You can get a snapshot about the bike path project in this short video from Streetfilms.)

Penalosa also emphasized that removing the socioeconomic stigmas associated with bus and bicycle use was paramount. High-quality shared-use paths elevate users as equals to their automobile-driving counterparts, and the bus system was given a name to raise its status.

Other links between access and economic opportunities

But the Mobility Authority is certainly not out to increase the stigma on automobile use – multimodal is just that: multiple modes of transportation. Proper infrastructure should include, not exclude, automobiles to ensure equalizing access for all citizens.

This is not just opinion. In March 2014, the Urban Institute issued a report, “Driving to Opportunity: Understanding the Links among Transportation Access, Residential Outcomes, and Economic Opportunity for Housing Voucher Recipients.” The

Jogger on bridge of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority Shared Use Path 183A Shared Use Path

Multimodal, pedestrian-friendly “shared-use paths,” such as Brushy Creek Trail, safely connect pedestrians around Central Texas.

authors sought to add transportation to the housing voucher equation and in doing so, highlighted transportation’s critical role in improving economic outcomes for low-income households, especially access to automobiles. This is particularly important in a city like Austin that is still struggling with comprehensive, connected public transportation – a factor also noted in the report. However, it also noted the benefits of being in “transit-rich neighborhoods.”

Taking a lead in transportation equality

Where the Mobility Authority builds new lanes, we make it a priority to improve and/or add existing free lanes as well as enhance the hike and bike trails in and around the community served by the tolled lanes. Both 183A and 290Express are good examples of helping to revitalize a community and enhancing economic vitality by connecting those communities with good infrastructure, while reducing commute times.

It’s important we continue to build the infrastructure necessary for multimodal transportation in Central Texas – walking, cycling, public transit and automobiles – to provide the transportation options that promote economic equality. The Mobility Authority is on the lookout for new, innovative ideas that not only make sense, but that promote transportation quality.

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