Skip to content

Posts from the Rural Areas Category


Pew Survey: Liberals Want Walkability, Conservatives Want a Big Lawn

Image: Pew Research Center

Image: Pew Research Center

Americans are increasingly sorted along ideological lines. There is less diversity of opinion among the people we associate with, in the media we consume, and even where we want to live. That’s according to a new report from Pew Research Center studying political polarization in the United States.

Image: Pew Research Center

Image: Pew Research Center

Perhaps most interestingly, the report found stark differences in preference for city versus rural living among people from different sides of the political aisle. People identified as the most consistently liberal were far more likely to say they prefer living in walkable place, while the most conservative people overwhelmingly said they preferred to live in a rural area or a small town.

The dynamic reinforces Nate Silver’s observation after the 2012 elections: “if a place has sidewalks, it votes Democratic. Otherwise, it votes Republican.”

Among those who identified as most conservative, 75 percent reported they’d prefer to live in a place where “the houses are larger and farther apart, but schools, stores and restaurants are several miles away.” Only 22 percent said they’re prefer to live in a place where “the houses are smaller and closer to each other, but schools, stores and restaurants are within walking distance.”

The situation was reversed for the most liberal class of respondents. Among this group, 77 percent said they preferred a smaller house, closer to neighborhood amenities. Only 22 percent would opt for the larger, more isolated house, Pew found. The proportions were roughly reversed for conservatives.

Read more…


Congress, Administration Trade Gimmicky Ideas For Keeping Amtrak Afloat

Image: Amtrak

At today’s hearing on Amtrak’s budget proposal, the nation’s rail leaders met with a different kind of Congressional leadership than in it has in recent years. The vibe of the meeting was significantly less combative — with the primary exception being Rep. John Mica’s reprise of his famous role as Amtrak villain. Here are some highlights:

Budget request. First, the topline numbers [PDF]: Amtrak made its formal budget request to Congress two weeks ago, asking for $373 million in operating support – 17 percent less than it requested in 2013 – and $2.065 billion in capital support. It needs less operating support now because skyrocketing ridership is allowing Amtrak to cover more and more – 88 percent this year — of its operating costs through ticket sales.

Dedicated funding. FRA Administrator Joe Szabo and Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman advocated for rail’s inclusion in a dedicated “transportation trust fund.” They said that would make rail funding more stable and predictable and help bring rail into parity with other modes. Recent history shows that a dedicated fund hasn’t saved highways and transit from severe uncertainty and piecemeal funding. The real solution, as always, is to increase revenues to stabilize the trust fund.

The peace dividend. Republicans can be forgiven for dismissing it as a gimmick, but the administration continues to insist that the “savings” from the drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan can help pay for infrastructure. The plan, as Szabo laid it out, is to dedicate $300 billion of the $600 billion “savings” to deficit reduction, then spend $214 billion to fully fund highways and transit through 2020, and then add rail into the equation with a $40 billion infusion.

Rural service. “Aviation is leaving these rural communities, inter-city buses are leaving these rural communities, and rural America has to have some transportation options,” Administrator Szabo told Rail Subcommittee Chair Jeff Denham (R-CA). Denham agreed and said he would look into holding a hearing to focus exclusively on mobility options in rural America. (Szabo also noted that inter-city buses, which often get praised for not requiring public support, benefit from billions of dollars in highway subsidies.)

Read more…


Meet the Rural Region That Opted for VelociBuses Over Highway Expansion

The four sparsely populated mountain counties make up the Roaring Fork Valley extend over roughly 50 miles on Colorado’s Western Slope. About 32,000 people are interspersed throughout the valley in small towns like Basalt, Carbondale, and Glenwood Springs, but the local economy revolves around the nearby resort town of Aspen.

Smart branding is important for rural transit systems, says Smart Growth America's Roger Millar.

This, clearly, is challenging terrain for a transit agency. Aspen’s hotels and restaurants attract workers from around the region, but people who toil in local service industry jobs have mostly been priced out of the housing near Aspen.

“People who wash pots and pans at the hotels in Aspen were driving 75 miles one way for the privilege of doing that,” said Roger Millar of Smart Growth America at the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference in Kansas City last week.

As a result, Highway 82, the main route into Aspen, is the most congested highway in Colorado. Between 1992 and 1994, the Colorado DOT widened Highway 82 to four lanes.

“The DOT said by the time we get finished building four lanes, we’re going to need six lanes,” Millar said. “And everyone [in town] said, enough with that, we’ve got to do something different.”

Now the Roaring Fork Transit Authority is constructing the agreed upon alternative: a 39-mile bus rapid transit system along Highway 82 that they plan to call, in a bit of marketing genius, the VelociRFTA. When it opens this September, it will be the first bus rapid transit system in the country to serve a rural area.

The $40 million project will run buses every 10 minutes at rush hour, stopping nine times along the lengthy journey — a commuter express route. It will also feature heated waiting stations with bathrooms (pictured above). RFTA officials are encouraging users to walk or bike to the stations.

Read more…


Making Rural Transit Work

Transit in rural areas is tricky. Folks need to go farther, the passengers are more dispersed, and there’s less money to go around.

Allendale County, South Carolina dramatically improved transit availability by better coordinating existing, fragmented service providers. Pictured above is its "Scooter" bus. Photo: Reconnecting America

But that doesn’t make it any less necessary. On the contrary, according to a new report from Reconnecting America [PDF], nearly 40 percent of the United States’ transit-dependent population — including senior citizens, the disabled and low-income individuals — lives in rural areas.

There are 1,358 transit agencies working hard to serve these people. But they operate much differently than urban transit providers. Only 31 percent of rural transit operators use fixed-route service. Meanwhile, 86 percent provide demand-response service, which operates much more like a public taxi service than a big-city bus.

Despite the challenges, investment in rural transit is improving, Reconnecting America reports, and communities that prioritize services are seeing economic results.

Consider Allendale County, South Carolina. “Do more with the same” should be this county’s motto. In 2003, Allendale County leaders came together to solve a vexing mobility problem: a finely dispersed population with a staggering 28 percent poverty rate. They discovered that the county was already running a number of fragmented transit services — those that served only the disabled, for example, or Medicaid recipients in need of healthcare services.

Read more…