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Planning for Accessibility: In Theory and In Practice

UCD-ITS-RP-05-44

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Pick up a transportation plan for a major metropolitan area in the US and you are likely to find improved mobility and accessibility highlighted as goals. The 2020 Regional Transportation Plan for the Austin region, for example, stated that "The primary goal of the CAMPO 2020 Plan is to provide an acceptable level of mobility and accessibility for the region's residents with the least detrimental effects." The 2020 Regional Transportation Plan for the Chicago region aimed to "provide an integrated and coordinated transportation system that maximizes accessibility and includes a variety of mobility options that serve the needs of residents and businesses in the region." Such statements are likely influenced by the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, commonly known as TEA-21, which established seven "planning factors" for consideration in the planning process, including "increase the accessibility and mobility options available to people and for freight."

What exactly these plans mean by "mobility" and "accessibility" isn't clear, nor whether the agencies writing these plans themselves have a clear sense of what they mean in using these terms. If so, they may have missed an important opportunity to clarify their objectives and direct their planning efforts more effectively. This paper takes the position that mobility and accessibility are distinct concepts with vastly different implications for planning. First, the paper looks at these concepts in theory, articulating a distinction between mobility and accessibility and outlining the possible implications of planning for mobility versus planning for accessibility. Second, the paper looks at the current use of these concepts in practice, by examining a sample of regional transportation plans. This exploration yields a mixed picture: although these plans continue to reflect a traditional concern with mobility, they also show many indications of a concern with planning for accessibility, even if they don't label their efforts as such.
Published in Access to Destinations, ed. David M. Levinson & Kevin J. Krizek, chapter 7.