• Leslie Neal

What the World Would Be Like Without Cars

How did you get to where you are right now? I don’t mean in regards to your professional success or personal growth, but, literally, how did you get to where you physically are at this very moment? Perhaps you drove home in a car, ordered a ride on your smartphone, or biked to a café. How much time and consideration did you put into planning your commute?

Now imagine you didn’t have a car and your only option was the city bus. That might not seem so bad if you live near a bus stop and don’t need to travel very far but consider how much harder that would be if the only housing you can afford is half a mile from the nearest bus stop and requires a two-hour round-trip commute to work each day. Furthermore, imagine you have children who need to be dropped off and picked up from school or day care. Think about the amount of planning and energy needed for low-income workers, especially those with children, to manage their day-to-day routines. For millions of people in the United States, this is not simply a hypothetical exercise, but something they deal with on a daily basis.

A neighborhood that lacks access to safe, reliable transportation is called a transit desert. Similar to food deserts, transit deserts are areas in which a critical resource is lacking due to improper funding, infrastructure, and policies to protect those resources. This becomes even more of an issue to those communities who depend solely on public transit systems for mobility.

We see this all the time. Take Lisa for example. Lisa is a young mother who just had twin premature babies at a hospital ten miles from her house. After a month in the hospital one of the twins was released, but her other baby had further complications and needed additional care. For the next two months, Lisa needed to find a way to visit her daughter in the hospital while also traveling with a newborn. Lisa doesn’t own a vehicle and the public transit system would take hours to get to and from the hospital. On top of that, her little baby girl has a compromised immune system so Lisa needs to be extra cautious. If she visited her daughter just once every day for two months, she’d need to ask her friends and family for 120 rides. Remember, a visit to the hospital is just ONE place Lisa needed to go during the time her daughter was in the hospital. Lisa also wanted to shop for fresh foods weekly, attend church services, shop for new baby supplies, and eventually get back into the workforce.

Lisa is just one of roughly 80,000 people in Tulsa who live in a transit desert, and like many people residing in these deserts, is seeking ways to better engage with the community and struggling to access the services and places she needs to survive and thrive. Access to education, healthcare, food security, and other necessities are often far out of reach to those who lack reliable transportation. This is a huge problem for many cities in the United States and is a major contributor to widespread inequity.

The key takeaway here is that transportation, or the lack thereof, directly affects every part of our lives. Ultimately, transportation barriers leads to decreased physical and mental health, poorer educational outcomes, and lower employment rates. Recognizing that transportation barriers and transit deserts exist in our communities is the first step in solving this problem and it is time we start having a much needed conversation about transportation equity in communities like Tulsa.

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