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Diversifying Transportation in American Suburbs

Big Picture

The American suburbs are car-centric, designed specifically to support private automobile transportation. This way of planning is exclusively beneficial to those who have access to or have the ability to operate a car. Incorporating alternative modes of transportation, such as public transit, within suburbs would help make these neighborhoods more connected and accessible. 

Graphic From: Stromberg, Joseph. “The real reason American public transportation is such a disaster.” Vox, 10 August 2015, https://www.vox.com/2015/8/10/9118199/public-transportation-subway-buses.

This graphic illustrates how the basic design of the suburbs promotes car dependency and restricts other modes of transportation. It also demonstrates how the winding, loopy pattern of the suburbs can be difficult to navigate. 


Operative Definitions

  1. Zoning: A planning tool used to divide land and regulate how that land can be used. 

  2. Suburban expansion: The urban sprawl of low-density, single-family dwellings outside of cities. 

  3. Arterial roads: The roads that are heavier in traffic either leaving or entering urban areas or connecting to local streets. They can also refer to highways or interstates.  


Important Facts and Statistics

  1. There are about 175 million citizens living in the suburbs.  

  2. 45% of Americans do not have access to public transportation. 


Three-Point Plan

1) Prioritize public transit.

In Australia, public transit is of a higher priority because it is seen as an asset to the communities. The mobility it provides to its citizens is the obvious benefit, but it also increases productivity and economic prosperity. Showing how impactful public transit can be in communities in America would incentivize people like private stakeholders to advocate for the change in their areas. These impacts would include the environmental gains of public/multimodal transportation, economic benefits from having quality access to jobs, reduced traffic and increased community engagement.

  

2) Amend zoning regulations. 

Amending zoning regulations is specific to new suburb development. It would target the layout of the neighborhoods, transitioning from the winding, cul-de-sac pattern to a grid-like pattern. This change would significantly support connectivity, walkability and transportation based on the street pattern alone. Amending zoning would also address the roads, allowing for wider sidewalks and bike lanes on both sides of the roads. In addition, arterial roads would be allowed to be wider to support vehicles for public transit like buses.    


3) Retrofit existing neighborhoods to maximize public transit. 

It is extremely important to retrofit neighborhoods so that public transit can serve a community that has been neglected by it. One of the best ways to do this is by modifying the so prominent cul-de-sacs in suburbs across America. The cul-de-sacs separate neighborhoods so they cannot be accessed, even on foot. A possible solution to this would be to connect cul-de-sacs with streets designed only for walking or biking. This way, when bus routes are incorporated into the suburbs, the bus stops can be accessed by walking through neighborhoods and do not need to be placed as frequently throughout the neighborhood. Not only would this make neighborhoods more walkable and connected, but it would also improve the viability of public transit by allowing for easy access and cutting down on transportation time. 


Why This Initiative is Important

Multimodal transportation within the suburbs would allow suburbia to keep its reputation of being a spacious, safe, quiet place to live while also creating a public transit system that fosters productivity and connectivity. It would provide increased mobility to individuals with reliable access to jobs or other services while deterring the sense of social isolation the suburbs can cause. With a primary goal of creating a community that is well-versed in mobility, ultimately, diverse transportation options would have many positive indirect impacts on the people who live in suburban areas. 


Acknowledgments:

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.


The following student(s) worked on this nonpartisan proposal: Grace Axlund, Miami University.

 

Sources

Parker, Kim, et al. “1. Demographic and economic trends in urban, suburban and rural communities.” Pew Research Center, 22 May 2018, https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2018/05/22/demographic-and-economic-trends-in-urban-suburban-and-rural-communities/#fn-24446-2. Accessed 22 July 2022.

“Public Transportation Facts.” American Public Transportation Association, 7 July 2021, https://www.apta.com/news-publications/public-transportation-facts/. Accessed 22 July 2022.

“WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AN ARTERIAL STREET AND A NON-ARTERIAL (LOCAL) STREET? | City of.” City of Shoreline, https://www.shorelinewa.gov/Home/ShowDocument?id=9262. Accessed 22 July 2022.

“Why choose a grid? | CNU.” Congress for the New Urbanism, 20 November 2019, https://www.cnu.org/publicsquare/2019/11/20/why-choose-grid. Accessed 22 July 2022.

“Zoning and Land Use Planning | Urban Regeneration.” Urban Regeneration, https://urban-regeneration.worldbank.org/node/39. Accessed 22 July 2022.


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