Friday, April 13, 2018

The Cost of Public Participation

Image source (AP/Carolyn Kaster)
The typical citizen might not pay a team of communications experts and lawyers to spend hours doing hearing prep before public testimony, like Mark Zuckerberg did. Nonetheless, there are significant costs associated with providing testimony at a public hearing before a group of decisionmakers. I tallied up what it recently cost me to speak for one minute before our local transit board (MTS) on a community project to promote walkability. Here's a breakdown of the costs:

Transportation - $15
This includes mileage costs to drive to the meeting based on AAA's rates, plus parking.

Theoretically I could have taken transit to the meeting. That would have tripled my travel time, adding significantly to what I had to pay for childcare while I was away. Plus, a transit ticket costs three times more than parking at the MTS offices. (I'll allow that bit of irony to sink in before we move on).

Childcare - $45
This is what I pay my nanny for 2.5 hours of work. It's on the high end of childcare rates in my area, but not wildly so.

My youngest daughter is too young to be in school full time, so I needed to hire someone to watch her during the hearing, as well as to take my older daughter to school because the hearing started fairly early in the morning.

Clothing - $10
This cost was tricky, because while I didn't buy something specifically for this hearing, I also don't typically wear a dress and heels on my average work-from-home/schlep-kids-around day. I amortized the cost of my outfit for the hearing, using the assumption that I'd wear again in the future for other work meetings or hearings.

To anyone out there who's thinking, "It doesn't matter what you wear, it's what you say that counts." 

...that sounds like a lovely reality you exist in, sometime I'd like to join you there. Meanwhile, the rest of us know that appearance matters, especially for women. The way you present yourself in a hearing will impact how effective your testimony is. That doesn't *always* mean you show up in an expensive outfit (e.g., don't come to a hearing in a beach community wearing a suit, trust me on this), but in this case it did.

Time - 5 hours/$100-$325
Here's another challenging cost to quantify. The value of time varies by person and circumstance, and is based on all sorts of factors that I'm not going to go into in detail because this isn't a post about opportunity cost.

Suffice it to say, for a busy mom like me who works on an hourly/contract basis, time is at a premium and I valued it accordingly. The five hours I spent preparing for and attending this hearing were hours I didn't get to spend with my family, working, volunteering on other community projects--or sleeping, which I really missed. This isn't a robust economic analysis of time value, but I'm comfortable with this range for myself--and I think it's appropriate for many working adults.

Adding it all up
In total, it cost me somewhere in the range of $170 to $395 to provide one minute of testimony at a public hearing.

When we lament the lack of public participation (especially by women) in our planning process, are we really considering how much we are asking people to spend to participate? I place a very high value on being involved in my community in this way, but that's not true for most people. If we want to bring everyone into the conversations, we need to do more to reduce the time, travel, and other costs associated with public participation. 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Walking Towards Justice Series

I'm really happy that America Walks has started this important discussion of how factors such as gender, race, and income level impact the walkability of our communities. As an industry and advocacy community, we've been guilty of ignoring these issues for too long, and it's great to see that beginning to change.

I'm especially excited to see that the next webinar in the series will focus on street harassment, which  I've both experienced (like probably every other woman) and written about in the past. Street harassment harms women's mobility, reduces walkability, and is a serious concern for women all over the world. I'm looking forward to this discussion!

You can register for the upcoming webinar here. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Sexism on the Sidewalk: How Poor Street Design Keeps Women from Walking

Source: Burden
“Can we walk there?” my daughter asked.
I was facing down a long afternoon with four kids under eight. A trip to the local coffee shop was in order, and since it was less than a mile away, I did what any good walkability advocate would do: I tossed all the kids in the mini-van and drove there.

My choice, like so many of women’s travel choices, was based primarily on safety. I was confident the kids could walk that far, and I knew it would be the healthier and more interesting choice for all of us--but without good walkability, I wasn’t sure that I could keep them all safe.

All across the country women, in particular mothers, make similar choices every day. Poor street design, disparate land use, time constraints, lack of personal safety—all of these conspire to force women off their feet and into cars. We have built a transportation system that discounts women’s travel needs, and women—and our communities—are suffering for it.

To understand what we should be doing better, it’s important to understand how women’s travel is different from men’s travel. Women make more trips than men, but travel shorter distances. They travel more with children, and their trips are more likely to be household-serving (e.g., shopping, daycare, errands), rather than for work or leisure. Women are also more likely to trip-chain (stop at multiple locations along the way during one trip). In particular for women with young children who haven’t started school, gender drives travel patterns.

Source: Burden
In theory, the trips women take the most are ideally suited for walking. Short trips to the school, grocery store, or similar locations should be simple to complete on foot--and in the most walkable neighborhoods, women do walk a lot. However, more often we’ve built walkablility out of our neighborhoods. Our streets lack sidewalks where kids can walking hand-in-hand or be pushed in a stroller. We fail to provide safe, regular crossing points along key routes. We create neighborhoods where stores, schools, and (critically) childcare are too far apart to be accessed on a single walking trip. We fail to consider the design elements (lighting, lack of hidden spaces, etc.) that can deter crime and make women feel safe while walking.

These challenges have a real impact on women’s health. One recent study investigated the physical activity patterns of over 700,000 people in 111 different countries. Using travel data from cell phone records, the researchers developed a measure of activity inequality that quantified the difference between the most physically active and least physically active portions of the population. Not surprisingly, the US appears near the head of the list of least equal countries, topped only by Egypt, Canada, Australia, and Saudi Arabia.