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Public Transportation: A Privilege or a Right?

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"Walkability" has become a buzzword in recent years, especially as it's now clear that cities need to do a better job in facilitating efficient, environmentally friendly, and safe modes of transportation.

In the modern age, public transportation, bike lanes, and pedestrian-only zones should become the norm rather than the exception. Let's take a look at the cities that are making this ideal a reality, as well as examine the implications of failing to implement reliable public transportation, which may have an adverse effect on public health, public safety, and social justice.

The Benefits of Walkability

CBS recently did a study of the biggest cities in the U.S. to determine their walkability scale. The study looked at how easy it is to live a car-free lifestyle in each city. Oakland, New York City, Minneapolis-St.Paul, and Washington, D.C. came out on top. What these cities have in common are reliable public transportation and plenty of biking paths.

Minneapolis is near the top thanks in part to its expansive light-rail system, which took decades to complete. Other cities face a similar uphill battle as they try to reach optimal "walkable" status.

Walkable cities are, by definition, healthier than cities where you need a vehicle to meet basic needs. According to the Washington Post, there are health, environmental, and financial benefits to walkable neighborhoods.

Fewer car trips are necessary in walkable communities, which means that those communities see fewer carbon emissions. Fewer cars also mean less noise pollution. Further, walkability on a large scale means that people have the opportunity to socialize and support local businesses, ultimately strengthening communities and keeping local economies afloat.

The Social Implications of Public Transportation

In New York City, owning a car is a rarity. In Manhattan, 22 percent of households own a car, and only 8 percent of Manhattanites drive to work. This numbers differs greatly from the national average of 88 percent. The majority of the population in the city walks or utilizes the expansive public-transportation system of buses, trains, and subways, which run 24/7.

However, walkable communities like New York are not immune to transportation challenges. Across the country, only about 5.3 percent use public transit to get to work, and the majority of those individuals live below the poverty line. The inability to afford a car is a real challenge for many Americans who have no choice but to utilize public transportation to get to work and run errands.

Walking or biking to work is inherently dangerous, especially in car-centric areas. The University of Nevada, Reno, reports that 5,987 pedestrians and 840 bicyclists were killed on U.S. roads in 2016. In order to curb the issue, city and health officials must come together to make a city's roads more conducive to active transportation including walking, jogging, and/or biking.

How Car-Centric Cities Can Adapt

One way that cities are working to improve their walkability is by rechanneling some roads to favor bikes, pedestrians, and public transportation over cars. One notable example is Washington D.C., which has recently added more "bus only" traffic lanes, and the city is home to more than 60 miles of bike lanes.

Car-centric cities such as Los Angeles and Houston have plenty of work to do to reach the walkability standards set by NYC and Washington. A survey of Houston's downtown employees indicates that public transportation is becoming more necessary, however.

The survey indicates that more than half of commuters reported using a combination of personal vehicle and active transportation in order to get to their workplace. And 65 percent of respondents said that their employer offered some type of transportation subsidy, such as bus fare. Transportation subsidies should become the norm rather than the exception across the U.S.

Improving Public Transportation at a National Level

Some advocates have called for the nationalization of public transportation in order to help reduce fares and improve transit service on a national level. In the meantime, public transit should be expanded and improved upon locally in order to better serve underprivileged populations.

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