In the future, we can be healthier, if we are flexible, adaptable and multimodal.
That was the message that emerged from the Wichita Metro’s Local Consult Round 1: Visioning Transportation Futures meeting on Tuesday. About 135 Kansans participated in a scenario planning exercise and provided input on how transportation investments could best serve their communities in the future.
Throughout the discussion, participants emphasized the importance of collaboration and compromise. They noted that the importance of the State and local governments working together to fund projects.
For example, Gary Plummer, President and CEO of the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce, noted that Wichita and Sedgwick County have contributed about $140 million in local match for the last two state transportation programs. Participants also noted that making infrastructure more resilient to extreme weather will increase costs and we must prepare for that.
The emphasis on health and wellness related to not only making existing modes of travel safer but also in encouraging walking or biking to improve public health. However, as Jane Byrnes, a Wichita resident, stated more work is needed to make pedestrians— especially children, safer. She noted that the existing Safe Routes to School program is helpful, but more projects and initiatives need to be implemented. Crosswalks near elementary schools should be a priority, she said.
“Active Transportation isn’t healthy, if it’s not safe, especially for children. We could enable active transportation for every Kansan in the future.”
- Jane Byrnes, Wichita resident
Participants stressed the importance of utilizing multimodal approaches when addressing challenges, including congestion. Tom Brown, the mayor of McPherson, noted that creating a regional transit network would help more people gain access to jobs. McPherson has many jobs available, but Kansans from nearby communities are unable to fill them because they have no transportation to our city, he said.
“They (Wichita) have the people we need to supply our jobs and we need ways to get them to our town.”
-Tom Brown, Mayor of McPherson
Participants also noted that they must be open to new technologies and approaches to delivering services. For example, Michael Tann, Wichita Transit Director, said that Wichita has recently begun the process of electrifying its bus fleet. The city has ordered 11 electric buses and plans to purchase more as funding becomes available.
The emphasis on multimodal also extended to the importance of short-line railroads. Pat Cedeno, Watco Transportation Services, said “short-line railroads are the regional airlines of the rail industry.”
“Multimodal solutions are about giving people access they didn’t have previously and access to markets that businesses wouldn’t otherwise see.”
-Pat Cedeno, Watco Transportation Services
Like previous local consult meetings, participants also emphasized the importance of expanding broadband access and making our infrastructure compatible with the latest technologies. They noted that while how people choose to travel may change in the future, freight corridors will still be needed and should be prioritized. They noted the importance of planning for the needs of rural and urban communities in future and were particularly interested in how agriculture may shift with new technological advances.
As they worked through three distinct future scenarios, participants questioned how to create a system where active transportation, technology and freight distribution all work could together in small space. They noted that as more goods and services continue to be delivered on-demand, people may come to expect transportation to be delivered the same manner. Regardless of what the future brings, participants stressed the importance of future transportation programs and policies being flexible and adaptable to seize opportunities and confront challenges.
Finally, participants insisted that future requires us break out of our silos and work together regionally. Or as one group noted, “We need to work together to build a multimodal system that allows people and freight to travel seamlessly.”