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Getting Rural Kids Walking and Biking: A Case Study From Northeast Iowa

This post is part of a series featuring stories and research that will be presented at the Pro-Walk/Pro-Bike/Pro-Place conference September 8-11 in Pittsburgh.

Nationally, more than 14,000 schools have taken part in Safe Routes to School programs. Though dedicated federal funding was stripped out in the current transportation law, SRTS funds have helped improve sidewalks, crosswalks, bike lanes, and other infrastructure near schools, as well as education and enforcement. However, most SRTS projects are in urban and suburban settings. Rural areas have their own distinct challenges when it comes to walking and biking.

Six counties in Northeast Iowa benefit from an unprecedented push for Safe Routes to School. Image: ##http://uerpc.org/uploads/PDF_File_64511658.pdf##UERPC##

Six counties in Northeast Iowa participated in the push for Safe Routes to School. Photo: UERPC

One rural region is trying to overcome those challenges. Ashley Christensen, the regional SRTS liaison for a six-county area in northeastern Iowa known as Upper Explorerland, says that when the state DOT and the non-profit Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative started the region’s Safe Routes program in 2008, there was no information out there with guidance about how to build a SRTS program in a rural setting.

“We know no other region in Iowa had worked on one when we started and are pretty confident that statement holds true for the rest of the U.S., too,” Christensen told Streetsblog.

With distances between home and school far longer than in urban areas and safe walking infrastructure far less common, Upper Explorerland’s SRTS program had its work cut out for it. “Rural areas typically do not have the sidewalks, crosswalks, etc. that urban settings do, so SRTS work in a rural setting has the unique challenge — or opportunity, as I like to think of it — of utilizing what is available and advocating for more pedestrian accommodations,” Christensen said.

The Northeast Iowa schools do similar activities to other Safe Routes locations: walking school buses and bicycle trains chaperoned by parents; bike rodeos to teach bicycle safety and road skills. But they also use techniques that might not be needed in denser areas, like remote drop-offs. A remote drop-off functions like a park-and-ride, where parents meet in a parking lot and walk their kids the rest of the way to school. All told, the programs reach 10,000 students from 20 school districts and six private schools in a rural area the size of Connecticut.

While some of the schools in the Upper Explorerland SRTS jurisdiction are located in walkable communities, others are “located along major highways in the middle of a cornfield, miles away from the nearest community,” Christensen reports.

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Will Young Republicans Change the Narrative About Conservatives and Cities?

Republicans under 30 like cities more than Democrats over 30. Is the urban/rural divide becoming less politicized? Image by Tony Dutzik using data from ##http://www.people-press.org/2014/06/12/ideal-community-type/##Pew Research Center##

Republicans under 30 like cities more than Democrats over 30. Is the urban/rural divide becoming less politicized? Image by Tony Dutzik using data from Pew Research Center

Last week, the Pew Research Center came out with a massive poll on political polarization in the United States. As Angie reported here, one of the main conclusions was that there is a stark divide between liberals and conservatives when it comes to the type of community in which they want to live. Conservative Americans, by and large, prefer living in spread-out rural areas and small towns, while liberals tend to prefer cities.

None of that is too surprising. But the Pew data tell another story, too: young Americans — both Democrat and Republican — are far more likely to express a desire to live in cities than older Americans.

When asked, “If you could live anywhere in the United States that you wanted to, would you prefer a city, a suburban area, a small town or a rural area?”, 38 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds said they preferred to live in a city, as opposed to just 23 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds and even smaller proportions of older Americans.

The difference in preference for city living by age group is especially vivid among young Republicans. About one third of 18- to 29-year-old Republicans and Republican “leaners” expressed the desire to live in a city, as opposed to no more than 13 percent of any other Republican age group. In fact, Republicans under 30 are more likely to want to live in a city than Democrats over the age of 30.

There has, of course, been a lot of talk about the degree to which the transportation and housing preferences of the Millennial generation diverge from those of older Americans. We already know that they drive less than previous generations and have expressed a strong willingness to seek out communities with a variety of transportation options.

While there’s a limited amount that we can learn from the Pew survey about changes in trends among young people, given the lack of comparable survey data from previous years, the data do raise some intriguing possibilities.

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Finally! A Kid’s Seat for Bike-Share

UPDATE, 6/2/14: Capital Bikeshare Director Eric Gilliland responds, below.

The magnetic pull of the minivan just got a little weaker. Bike-share has always been off-limits to people who need to tote kids around, but an enterprising DC dad has invented a kid’s seat that attaches on and comes off in seconds, without tools. As you can see in the video above, it’s easy. And the kid likes it, as you can tell by her happy dance.

Crispen Wilson’s invention won first place in the DC state fair competition for the best bicycle accessory. He’s refined the design since then and is now looking for product testers. (Volunteer in the comments section.)

Wilson’s invention was, like all inventions, born of necessity. As The Hill Is Home blog wrote, it all started when Wilson was trying to find a way to get his 5-year-old daughter to school:

Wilson’s daughter attends a school twelve blocks from their home — too far to walk, but not far enough to drive. He noticed there were Capital Bikeshare bikes just around the corner from his house and right next to the nearest metro at the school. He knew the bikes could help him streamline their morning routine — and he could save quite a bit of time and even some money. After taking some measurements of the Capital Bikeshare bicycle, Wilson disappeared into his shop. He emerged several hours later with the first prototype.

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Wisconsin’s Outdated Transportation Priorities Are Alienating Young People

Over-spending on roads is a bad idea for any state DOT. But it’s an especially bad idea if that state needs to retain more young people who don’t want to be shackled to cars.

From WISPIRG's survey of 530 college students.

Most college students surveyed by WISPIRG said they value having transportation options besides driving.

That’s the situation Wisconsin finds itself in, as detailed in a report the WISPIRG Foundation released today called, “Driving Wisconsin’s ‘Brain Drain’: How Outdated Transportation Policies Undermine Wisconsin’s Ability to Attract and Retain Young Talent for Tomorrow’s Economic Prosperity.”

“Policy makers and the public need to be aware that state and federal transportation policy — dominated by road-building — are fundamentally out-of-step with the transportation patterns and expressed preferences of growing numbers of students and young professionals in Wisconsin,” wrote WISPIRG Director Bruce Speight. “It is poor transportation policy and poor economic development.”

In a non-scientific survey of 530 college students in the state, conducted both online and on campuses, 47 percent of respondents told WISPIRG that having transportation options other than driving is “very important” to them when they think about where they’ll live after graduation. An additional 35 percent said it was “somewhat important.” Sixty percent said they’d be at least “somewhat more likely” to stay in Wisconsin after graduation if they could get around without driving.

The survey results echo those from a Rockefeller Foundation/Transportation for America study, released last month, which found that four in five respondents wanted to live in a city where they could get around without a car and two-thirds said access to high-quality transportation was one of their top three criteria for choosing a place to live.

Speight says state policymakers have ignored the needs and desires of the very people that Wisconsin should be trying to court.

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Survey: Freedom From Car Dependence Appeals Across Generations

When it comes to what Millennials and Baby Boomers look for in a community, the generation gap may be overstated.

Source: APA

Source: APA

According to a recent survey from the American Planning Association, young adults and their parents both want better transportation options. APA surveyed 1,040 adults ages 21 to 65 with at least two years of college. Of the respondents, 416 were between 21 and 34 years old (Millennials), and 416 were between 50 and 65 (Boomers).

Here are some of the key findings:

Both groups are pessimistic about the national economy and stressed about their personal finances.

Three in four Millennials and 65 percent of Boomers reported believing the national economy was “fundamentally flawed.” Furthermore, neither group displayed much optimism that it would improve in the next five years. Both groups, however, were more optimistic about their local economies and personal prospects.

Both groups think community investment is more important than “traditional business recruitment strategies.”

Instead of luring employers with tax breaks, 65 percent of respondents told APA they would prefer public investment in schools, transportation amenities, and other quality-of-life improvements. This was particularly true of Millennials — three-quarters of whom responded this way.

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Survey: Millennials Willing to Relocate for Better Transportation Options

Photo: Flickr Gareth Williams

Young people around the country express a preference for places that are walkable and provide access to transit. Photo: Gareth Williams/Flickr

Young people want to live in cities that give them a variety of transportation options and make it easy to get around without a car. That’s the key finding from a new survey of more than 700 young adults by the Global Strategy Group. The survey was commissioned by the Rockefeller Foundation and Transportation for America.

Researchers surveyed people aged 18 to 34 across 10 metro regions with varying levels of transit service. From Chicago to Tampa to Los Angeles, young people reported a preference for places that are walkable and transit-friendly.

Four in five respondents reported they would like to live in a city where they could get around without a car. And almost three in four said neighborhoods without transit access were less appealing places to live.

A strong majority — 66 percent — said that access to high-quality transportation is one of the top three criteria for choosing a place to live. And 54 percent even said they would consider moving to a city with better transportation options.

Even when considering cities and neighborhoods to visit, young people don’t want to be forced to drive — 65 percent called it a “major inconvenience” to visit an area where transit connections are poor.

“These findings confirm what we have heard from the business and elected leaders we work with across the country,” said James Corless, director of Transportation for America. “The talented young workforce that every region is trying to recruit expects to live in places where they can find walkable neighborhoods with convenient access to public transportation.”

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Talking Headways Podcast: Play the Gray Away

Jeff and I had a great time this week, getting all outraged at the short-sighted move by the Tennessee Senate to ban dedicated lanes for transit, and high and mighty about cities that devote too much space to surface parking at the expense of just about everything else. And then we treat ourselves to a fun conversation about the origin of the American playground — and whether the entire city should be the playground.

We think you’ll enjoy this one.

Meanwhile, have you subscribed to the Talking Headways podcast on iTunes yet? Well, why the hell not? While you’re at it, you know we’d love a little bit of listener feedback. Oh, you can also follow the RSS feed. And we always enjoy your comments, below.

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#GOPHipster Ads Try to Reach Young People With Gas-Price Populism. Oops.

How embarrassing. The Republican National Committee’s outreach to young potential voters misses the mark so badly they’re just proving the point they were hoping to disprove: The party is absolutely clueless about young people.

Exhibit A: the whiny young #GOPHipster in this RNC ad (the party calls it the “Create Your American Dream” campaign but we’re gonna go with the group on this):

In this brilliantly acted ad, young hepcat “Scott Greenberg” refuses to make eye contact (we’d applaud him for keeping his eyes on the road, except he’s stopped at a gas pump) as he recites his memorized lines.

“I shouldn’t have to check my bank account before I fill up my car,” he gripes to no one in particular, “but soooo much of my paycheck ends up going to gas.” That’s all to say he’s in favor of the GOP’s “all of the above energy policy.”

“I mean, increased domestic energy production doesn’t necessarily lower fuel prices in the U.S. because it is a worldwide market, and ‘all of the above’ is actually the energy policy of both parties,” wrote Alex Pareene in Salon yesterday, “but, you know, ‘whatever,’ as the millennials say. ‘LOL,’ they sext one another. ‘Let’s frack some shale gas, YOLO.’”

What the Republican marketing team doesn’t seem to get is that moaning about gas prices is soooo middle-aged. You know what’s really hot among the kids these days? Not driving. The percentage of 16- to 24-year-olds with drivers licenses is at its lowest point since 1963. Miles driven by people aged 16 to 34 dropped 23 percent between 2001 and 2009. The share of new cars bought by 18- to 34-year-olds fell 30 percent from 2007 to 2012. Even the car companies know the jig is up (though they’re still at the “bargaining” stage).

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How Windshield Perspective Shapes the Way We See the World

Via Shane Phillips at Planetizen: A new study published in the Transportation Research Record confirms that windshield perspective is all-too real. Observing the world from behind the wheel, it turns out, has a powerful influence on our judgments about places and even people.

Drivers are exposed to less information about the places they travel through than walkers and bikers. Image: ##http://foodtruckroadtrip.blogspot.com/2012/09/day-3-effort-pa-and-day-4-nyc-and.html## Food Truck Road Trip##

Driving cuts people off from information about their surroundings, unlike walking and biking. Image: Food Truck Road Trip

Researchers found that people driving a car tend to view unfamiliar, less-affluent neighborhoods more negatively than people who were walking, biking or taking transit. In affluent neighborhoods, the inverse effect took hold, and drivers had a more positive view of the surrounding area than other people did.

The study found drivers, pedestrians, transit riders, and cyclists even perceived the same event — two children fighting over a piece of paper — differently, reports Eric Horowitz in the Pacific Standard:

The researchers found that participants who saw the video from the perspective of a car rated the actors higher on negative characteristics (threatening, unpleasant) than participants in the other three conditions. Participants who saw the video from the perspective of the pedestrian rated the actors higher on positive characteristics (considerate, well-educated) than those in the car condition.

The research team, from the University of Surrey, also found that, compared to people who aren’t driving, motorists tend to have more negative attitudes toward young people.

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Report: More Kids Are Walking to School

SInce 2007-08, driving rates have mirrored the changes in busing, but it's been steady growth for walking. From Safe Routes to School National Center.

SInce 2007-08, driving rates have mirrored the changes in busing, while walking has grown steadily. From Safe Routes to School National Center.

The long-term decline of walking and biking to school has been linked to the childhood obesity epidemic, a big share of morning rush hour traffic, and even kids’ lack of attention in class. In 1969, 41 percent of children in grades K–8 lived within one mile of school, and of those kids, 89 percent usually walked or biked. By 2009, 31 percent lived within a mile of school — and only 35 percent of them walked or biked.

It’s too soon to say that downward spiral is over. But there are hopeful signs.

A new report released by the National Center for Safe Routes to School shows that more kids are walking. However, biking seems to be staying flat, and busing is down.

First, a disclaimer: The study is based on somewhat uneven data. The 2005 national transportation bill, which created the federal Safe Routes to School program and started disbursing money to states, also mandated the implementation of a data collection system. Compliance has been rising dramatically — 382 schools submitted information in 2007, while 8,119 did this year. So current data is more robust than past years, and you should take the year-over-year trend results with a grain of salt.

In addition, rural and low-income students are under-represented in the surveys, as are kids living far from school. In total, more than 525,000 parent surveys from 4,691 schools supplied information for the study.

That said, the National Center found that walking to and from school increased among respondents between 2007 and 2012. While 12.4 percent walked to school in the morning in 2007, 15.7 percent did in 2012. In the afternoon, 15.8 percent walked home in 2007, versus 19.7 percent last year.

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