On August 25, 2011, the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) Research Foundation held the RPO America Peer Symposium in Washington, DC. This event was sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and was held in conjunction with the 2011 National Rural Transportation Peer Learning Conference, an annual meeting organized by the NADO Research Foundation and Development District Association of Appalachia. The Symposium brought together transportation professionals from across the nation and addressed how rural and small metro regions and their partners have improved the planning and implementation process of vital transportation projects by strengthening communications and collaboration across state, regional, and local agencies.
One noteworthy presentation was given by Will Cockrell, planner for the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC). Demographic changes present one of the nation’s biggest planning challenges, including in Virginia, where the population over age 65 increased by 23 percent from 2000 to 2010 and those over age 85 jumped by 40 percent in the same period. Rural areas are even more directly impacted by these changes, as young people disproportionately leave for the amenities and opportunities of metros. The probability of mobility problems is higher in rural counties, not only because of a relatively older population but also because residences are more dispersed and farther from destinations, and transit covers fewer areas, if it exists at all.
In response, the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission received a grant from the Virginia Board of People with Disabilities to conduct case studies in the independent city of Charlottesville and five surrounding counties on the inclusiveness of local ordinances and procedures for accessing housing and transportation for mobility-limited people. The outcomes of the grant include:
1.) A standardized assessment tool for counties to identify gaps or barriers for disability transportation and connecting residences to frequent destinations
2.) A list of common barriers to addressing needs, from political to economic and otherwise
3.) Model ordinance language that local governments can adopt to overcome these barriers
Some deficiencies already identified include:
- Setback requirements that do not allow for wheelchair ramps at front doors of residences, and utility poles in the middle of sidewalks blocking the path of wheelchair users
- Housing design not taking into account the needs of seniors and mobility-limited people, resulting in homes that can be difficult to navigate
- The relative lack of bicycle and pedestrian facilities that could promote mobility for residents that do not drive
- Ordinances prohibiting “granny flats” or other accessory dwelling units that would allow more mobility-limited people to live near destinations like family members’ homes and shopping centers
The message from the TJPDC’s work in this realm is that regional planning and development organizations can assist local governments with identifying and solving these issues in order to prevent larger problems and promote mobility as the population ages. This is especially vital for many rural regions, where the population is older on average and the barriers to mobility are often greater than in metropolitan areas.
This case study was researched and written by NADO Research Foundation Graduate Fellow Jonathan Tarr and Associate Director Carrie Kissel and is supported by the Federal Highway Administration under contract number DTFH61-10-C-00050 through the NADO Research Foundation (www.RuralTransportation.org). Any opinions, findings and conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of FHWA or the NADO Research Foundation.