Of the 3,141 counties in the U.S., the vast majority of them (2,436 counties) are classified as rural. This paper by Transportation for America examines challenges facing rural transportation planning and then offers solutions. “Residents of small towns are more likely to be hurt or killed on the transportation system than those in urban areas” (page 8). Understanding the challenges and current solutions to improve rural transportation planning will help community planners increase the health and safety of all residents.
Fatalities were nearly three times as high (2.72 deaths for every 100 million vehicle miles of travel) on rural interstates as they were on all other roads. Challenges facing rural transportation planning comprise health, the environment, reduced state and local funding, local self-determination, regional connectivity, public transportation options, and demographic shifts to urban contexts.
Other paper highlights include:
- Rural areas are being converted into exurban (25%), tourism or recreation (23%), or “production communities (i.e., communities dependent on “mining, manufacturing, or farming” – 53%) at high rates. “According to USDA’s National Resources Inventory (NRI), from 1992 to 2003 more than 21 million acres of rural land were converted to developed use” (page 6). This means that not only are the types of rural designation for planning important, but as environmental concerns escalate through greater rural conversion, so too does smart rural transportation planning.
- Over half of the report provides case studies of good planning in rural areas (page 12-26). These are used as examples for the following solutions: 1) involve rural communities in planning for their future, 2) improve conditions on existing infrastructure, 3) improve transportation safety, 4) improve and restore freight rail connections, 5) invest in public transportation and paratransit services, and 6) provide intercity and multimodal transportation connectivity.
How to Use
Local planners and governments will find in this paper a practical resource for knowing where and how to appropriate funds, incorporate help, and prioritize projects. Rural transportation is a need often underemphasized, but one which can have significant impact on an aging population as a whole.