Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Best Wishes for a Happy New Year

On behalf of all of us at Easter Seals Project ACTION (ESPA) and Easter Seals Transportation Group, we wish everyone a bright holiday season and a happy New Year!

2011 was a year of substantial growth for public transportation—according to the American Public Transportation Association over 51 million more trips were taken in the last quarter of 2011 than in the same period in 2010―and the need for more transportation options continues to grow. In recent congressional testimony, Billy Altom, executive director of the Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living stated, “Lack of public transportation is one of the most serious, persistent problems reported by people with disabilities who live in rural America.” The National Council on Independent Living notes, “…there is still a substantial lack of accessible and affordable transportation. This absence poses serious barriers to employment, health care, and full participation into society by individuals with disabilities and older Americans […].”

To address the growing need for accessible public transportation, the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) initiatives in 2011 included:

·       new Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and level boarding regulations,
·       the Veterans Transportation and Community Living Capital Grants Program,
·       programs within the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Livability Initiative as well as within the Interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities among U.S. DOT, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development,
·       the first ever conference on person-directed mobility management, and
·       a new United We Ride strategic plan with a focus on jobs, health and wellness, and coordination through access to transportation on behalf of people with disabilities, seniors and people with limited income.

In 2011, ESPA staff worked diligently to support our mission and address accessible transportation challenges. We created 11 new materials, with over 22 new products issued in the last two years. The demand for our services continued to expand—e-newsletter subscriptions increased by 61%. We now implement or take part in an average of eight events per month with participation from or collaboration with over 30 organizations. Over the last ten years, our Mobility Planning Services program assisted 159 teams, often providing targeted technical assistance for several years after completion of the facilitated planning sessions. This year, we released a ten-year retrospective of this program to share best practices and successes from some of these teams. As Bryna Helfer, director of public engagement at U.S. DOT, notes in her foreword to the retrospective, “We all know, however, that bringing about change is a complex process. It requires us to look at all of our transportation resources in the community and explore the potential for enhancing connectivity. It requires a willingness to come together to identify the challenges as well as the opportunities. It requires cooperation and coordination.”

2012 will mark the third year in a row where we venture out to ten communities to hold Accessible Transportation Coalition Initiative activities. These events, based on the Mobility Planning Services program, help local teams achieve systems-change goals to increase access to transportation for people with disabilities of all ages. Next year, major initiatives include youth transition to career and college through access to transportation, the intersection of health and transportation, independent living and mobility management, veterans’ transportation, multi-cultural sensitivity and accessible transportation, the expansion of travel training, and supporting the implementation of the new FTA ADA rules.

All of us at Easter Seals Transportation Group look forward to continuing to assist in the growth of accessible transportation through collaboration, cooperation, and coordination. We are honored to do this work, and all who meet us know of our deep commitment to mobility through transportation that fosters inclusion and independence for everyone. Thank you for connecting with us in 2011, and please visit our website, use our materials, attend our training, network with us at events, and let us know how we can continue to improve and expand what we do. May the New Year bring your communities closer to achieving access for all, anytime, anywhere, through easily navigable transportation modes that serve everyone.

Photo above includes staff at Easter Seals Project ACTION (ESPA) and Easter Seals Transportation Group. Text below the photo reads, “Thank you for supporting our work in 2011.
We wish you success and smooth travels in 2012!
Easter Seals Project ACTION, Easter Seals Transportation Group"

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Rail~Volution Evolution - Placemaking in America

Contributed by Rachel Beyerle and Krystian Boreyko

“Isn’t it mostly about rail?” a co-worker recently asked upon returning from presenting at and attending Rail~Volution this October in Washington, D.C. As the conference name implies rail is an integral part of the discussion at the annual Rail~Volution, and when Rail~Volution started in Oregon in 1989, its primary focus was development of the MAX light rail line in Portland. Rail~Volution has been a national conference since 1995 and has evolved with time. It’s no longer specific to Oregon. The 2011 Rail~Volution conference included a program and workshops spanning all subjects related to building livable communities: rail, pedestrian access, bus transit, design, bicycling, advocacy, and citizen involvement in the planning process. Attendees spanned four generations—all of them professionals working to find multi-modal, land use, housing, economic, and environmental answers to address transportation needs.  While it may not be just about the Pacific Northwest anymore, the Oregonians did share a term they use often: “intertwine.” 

What does it mean?  Intertwining is systems working together to create accessibility.  Intertwining lessons were learned throughout the conference.  From Santa Rosa, California, where advocates spent time at soccer fields to discuss a rail project with the Latino community; to the officials of the adjoining towns of Charlestown and Ranson, West Virginia who successfully applied for three federal grants to revitalize a major corridor that’s attracting new companies and to rehabilitate older manufacturing facilities to meet the needs of modern employers; to national policymakers finding the right ways—and words—to encourage great placemaking and explain the non-partisan benefits of public spaces; to community corporations explaining how practicing cultural sensitivity and listening to what’s important to neighborhood residents can mitigate tensions related to gentrification. Rail~Volution challenges attendees to think beyond the obvious roles transportation plays to deeper issues of how it shapes and is integrated into the community fabric. The notion of Development Oriented Transit was prevalent; instead of considering how transit moves individuals in and out of areas, planners and developers were encouraged to consider how transportation projects will impact the future identity of a community.

“Places are what we’re making,” Charles Fluharty, president and CEO of the Rural Policy Research Institute in Columbia, Missouri, stated in a session on small towns and rural regions.  Placemaking has evolved, just as Rail~Volution has evolved, and Easter Seals Project ACTION continues to have an intertwined role in supporting accessible routes to transportation, and in turn, raising awareness of the social, health, and economic benefits of livable communities.