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Talking Headways Podcast: Civil Rights on the Road

This week we’re joined by Anna Zivarts from Disability Rights Washington and Paulo Nunes-Ueno from Front and Centered. They join us to talk about the Disability Mobility Initiative and the Mobility Bill of Rights.  We also chat about why mobility experiments might make travel harder for disabled travelers and why road safety is a core part of civil rights.

For those of you who get your news through your eyes and not your ears, there’s an edited transcript below the audio player. If you want a full, unedited transcript (with some typos!), click here. If you want to listen, here you go:

Jeff Wood: That story was so powerful because of the small amount of distance that you had to go, you get most of the way. And then you couldn’t get the rest of the way because of the mud and getting stuck. And it just doesn’t seem fair.

 This collection of expertise that you all put together, and I’ve seen a number of the articles that you all were quoted in for after you released the project, talking about that, that these are folks who we should be valuing their expertise because they live it, they’re in it all the time. They’re trying to get to places and they’re learning what they can and can’t do. We often take, experts as people who have studied something for a long period of time, and they’ve just done their 10,000 hours.

It’s just, they’re doing it as they live day by day. So what’s the power of this expertise that you’ve collected? The stories of folks and, and the coordination that, putting them together in categories that that can actually inform change.

Anna Zivarts: You know, it is this expertise, right? That that 10,000 hours thing is a really good way to talk about it. You know, people who can’t drive, we are out there using the system day in and day out, and it’s taking a loooong time to get where we need to go. So we are thinking about it, like the amount of time I think about our transportation system, any time I need to go anywhere, especially out here in the west, but you know, is in this auto designed utopia for cars, you know it’s immense. The other thing I think about this lived experience expertise that we’ve really been able to tap into and people seem kind of surprised by is the passion that people have to change the system, because it is something that, as non-drivers, we are other thinking about, oh my gosh, if the only there was a light here to cross the street to my bus stop.

So, I didn’t have to try to dash across six lanes of highway. If only it wasn’t a giant puddle at the base of this ramp that I have to roll through or step through every time like there is. So when people have the opportunity to engage, they are more than willing and more than excited to show up, and hope to be listened to. We really have to start to change the way our transportation departments and transit agencies think about hiring people and paying people with this experience to bring them in and get that knowledge. One thing we’ve tapped into a little bit is just that so many of these job postings require driver’s licenses, when they don’t need to. Right? It’s not like we’re saying that you know, if you’re a bus driver, yes, you need a CDL, but there’s a lot of planning jobs, data jobs, other types of jobs out there, there’s no good reason people should be requiring driver’s licenses and yet they are. And then you’re just automatically excluding a whole bunch of us who could offer a lot of knowledge and expertise to improve the system.

Wood: What kind of jobs are they requiring licenses for? Why would they do that? If it’s not necessary? If you’re not delivering or driving?

Zivarts: It tends to be an automatic thing on a lot of these HR checklists. So when the job gets entered into the HR system it's just automatically checked. So that’s the most innocuous. There’s other times where people will make really good arguments or whatever they think they’re really good arguments to me about why a planning job, or a fundraising job, or a QuickBooks job, the person needs to have a driver’s license. Well, what if they needed to somehow get across the state to this other thing, and we know there’s no good transit, and it’s true. There is no good transit, but there are ways around that — especially if you’re a transit agency or an advocacy group that works to improve transit, there’s an imperative to try harder and recognize that, sure, it might take that person a little longer to get somewhere, but that’s okay. And in getting there, they are going to be gaining a lot of knowledge and experience just using the system.

So I think one other thing that Paulo hit on a little bit earlier, and I think is really important is that we aren't just talking about improving transit and walkability and roll-ability in urban areas or in population centers. We a very consciously focused on doing advocacy throughout the state and through our more rural, to our farming areas. Part of that is really critical because of the gentrification, the increased pricing of housing in our more urban areas. But also there’s no reason our more rural areas shouldn’t have at least hourly, or a couple of times a day, transit service.

Right now they just don’t. And there are so many folks, including so many seniors and folks in our tribal areas, farm workers, who don’t have access to cars and live in these more rural areas and could benefit immensely from having better transportation access. So I just think that is something really relevant to the national conversation that we can’t just be talking about cities. We need to be dreaming bigger than that.

Paulo Nunes Ueno: Yeah, absolutely. And what an engine of inequality we’ve set up for ourselves where, to fund transit, you need these basic requirements. You need to have a progressive general voting population that will vote to tax themselves, to pay for transit operations. And you need to have progressive politicians who are willing to put those measures on the ballot. Those things tend to coincide really heavily with pretty well-to-do areas right now in America. So the people that are just incredibly left out in this equation are poor people in communities of color who have the misfortune of living in areas that are conservative and led by Republican politicians, because they will never be able to get the transit that they need because they can’t get it on the ballot. And even if they did, they probably can’t get those things approved.

So it’s creating this engine of inequality, where the urban wealthy areas have the ability to tax themselves to create better transit. And the ex-urban and rural areas are getting left behind. And you have this sort of really sick situation where walking, biking, and transit are becoming elite activities where re-urbanization is bringing wealthier people back to the traditional city cores that have a connected grid that spent the money to build the sidewalks back in the day.

The suburbs have this disconnected network, with no sidewalks that are harder to serve with transit, frankly, and don’t have the tax base to provide this basic service. You know, going back to the indoor toilet example, absolutely there are economies of scale, right? We have water-treatment plants in places that are very urban and that where you have a mass of folks that can fund that. And we figured out how to do septic tanks in places that are less dense, but everybody has a toilet inside now, right? So we need to sort of figure out how we provide this basic element of living in society so that people can get to the things that they need, regardless of whether you’re in the big metropolitan area or you’re in a smaller city or a less dense place.

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