Numbers!

Stephanie WeberThe team of policy managers working on the Regional network project has been incredibly busy in 2012, and as I have reflected on their work in the past month, in particular, the importance of numbers has stood out. By “numbers,” I specifically mean data and statistics. 

 When the Safe Routes to School program began with the passage of SAFETEA-LU in 2005, I remember being very excited that this new program included “evaluation” as a key component. Being relatively new to the bicycle and pedestrian advocacy world then, I longed for better numbers to strengthen messages to policymakers. 

 I’ll jump ahead seven years and report that we have numbers—at least more than we did in 2005. And those numbers definitely strengthen our messages.  You will frequently hear someone on the National Partnership staff remark, “What gets measured, gets done.”  When we are educating policymakers, they definitely “zero” in on numbers.

For instance, I imagine most of you have heard about the recent report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group that shows that young adults are driving less and using transit and active transportation more. Data like this excites me as it has significant impact on our messaging.

 Here’s a small sample of how the regional policy managers are using numbers in their specific regions:

  • —In California, statistics from the 2009 National Household Travel Survey (NHTS) show that 23 percent of children walked to school and another two percent bicycle. That’s one-quarter of school-aged children—a huge number!
  • In the Southern California region, the 2009 NHTS shows us that walking and bicycling accounted for 21 percent of trips in the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) region. Think of that impact: one-fifth of trips in Southern California—the icon of cars and freeways—is  active transportation. Unfortunately, pedestrians and bicyclists comprise one-quarter of the traffic fatalities (More). When the Southern California regional network first started including these numbers in their statements at SCAG meetings, SCAG allocated less than one-half percent of its funding to active transportation. SCAG just recently adopted a new regional transportation plan (RTP) and now that percentage has tripled to 1.3 percent ($6.7 billion). It’s far from the identified need of five to eight percent, but this data has had an impact on decisionmakers. (More on this story)
  • The Atlanta Regional Network has been emphasizing the importance of including children and vulnerable constituents in RTPs. They point to census forecasts estimating that between now and 2040 Atlanta’s population will grow by three million people, of which 47 percent will be between the ages of five and nine years old. 

These are just a few examples of how numbers are critical to our work at the regional level. As the data continues to emerge, it is empowering to see how the numbers support what most of us have long known—that walking and bicycling are bonafide transportation modes that deserve ongoing support and funding, whether it’s at the local, regional, state or federal levels.