Local Motion: Transporation Equity w/ Lawrence Simonson
I’ve got a few questions: Have you put much thought into how you get around your town? Do you bike, carpool, walk, or ride the bus? How does your mode of transportation affect your life and other’s lives? In today’s episode we’re going to dive deeper into how transportation systems can affect citizens from all walks of life differently, and how we can work to make it better for all with Lawrence Simonson from Local Motion!
He shares how this led down a path towards becoming CEO of Local Motion – a grassroots advocacy organization based in Columbia MO focused on transportation equity. The vision of Local Motion is towns built for people, where it’s easy to walk, bike, and ride transit, and everyone can get where they want to go.
While you’re listening to this episode, I want you to think about how community, empathy, and privilege all play a part in making a change for safer, liveable communities.
Meet Lawrence Simonson
His first job out of college required a 40-minute drive that was a drain on his finances and his quality of life. He quit. This experience focused his attention on how transportation options affect our opportunities, and how many people are ignored and held back when having to own and drive a car is the only option. He felt compelled to do something.
He took a temporary position with Local Motion and now years later he is Chief Executive Officer, advocating for walking, biking, and transit solutions to meet people’s everyday transportation needs. And he’s living his dream of riding bikes to school and work with his kids.
Lawrence believes that when a transportation system serves the needs of the most vulnerable people in a community, it works best for everyone.
Lawrence reached out to Local Motion, formerly PedNet, to see if they had a job opening. After being with the company for years, he gained a part-time position and is now CEO. He encompasses everything Local Motion stands for, including being a role model for his family by biking with them to school and after-school activities.
What is Local Motion?
Local motion is a grassroots advocacy organization based in Columbia, MO, focused on transportation equity. The vision of Local Motion is towns built for people, where it’s easy to walk, bike, and ride transit, and everyone can get where they want to go.
Lawrence says that one of their core values is to focus locally – as the name implies.
“Whether that be the street that your house is on, or even your neighborhood or your community, if you continuously just focus locally, you should make changes. That are beneficial to that local environment. And if you do that, all those small changes in that kind of local environment, if you do them all over a community, they add up to be greater than what we currently have now.”
As someone who doesn’t personally own a car, Lawrence says that he doesn’t put the car at fault or wants everyone to stop driving and only bike. He says their work improves everyone’s lives – drivers and non-drivers.
“What we are really doing is we’re using biking, walking in public transit as a lens. Because what we’ve learned through all of our work, through all of our case studies and studying and research is when you focus on those three modes of transportation in the transportation system, if you prioritize them, make it very easy, safe, and convenient to where those are the default modes of transportation that everything else in the community starts to improve – including for those people that will either, either never walk, bike or use public transportation, they’ll always drive whether that be out of choice or necessity – it improves their lives as well.”
Transportation affects everyone’s life. He says to think about how transportation affects parking, affordable housing, getting groceries, or getting to other amenities. Focusing on transportation systems is a solution that can also be the solution to other problems as well.
Equity + Accessibility
Many people don’t ever see the need for more accessible transportation, but transportation affects everyone – just not in the same way.
“I could argue that even the people who live in some of the more privileged areas of our town are being oppressed in a way because of our transportation system. So, but they may not be, and they may not know it.
They may not be thinking about. So if an individual that is living a very privileged lifestyle is unknowingly not living the best life that they could possibly live. Imagine what that’s doing for some of the people in our community who have been historically marginalized and continue to be marginalized through all sorts of systems in our society,” Lawrence says.
He mentions how poor neighborhoods are often built by high speed and heavily trafficked roads which mean higher particulate matter, which leads to higher levels of chronic disease, as well as being in a dangerous environment where they could have an accident with a motor vehicle.
Being in these areas, with little accessibility to resources, means we are putting them in a place that says they have to have a car to get to work, school, or the store. But having a car isn’t cheap, about $10,000 on average, so you have to find a large chunk of change if you want to participate in society the way we have constructed it.
Imagine an idyllic street
Try this exercise to help bring the point home of what Local Motion is trying to achieve.
“Close your eyes and imagine the most idyllic street to live on. What does that look like to you? Are there kids walking? Are there kids kicking balls and them accidentally rolling into the street with no fear? Are cars driving very calmly, looking out for people? Are neighbors sitting on their front porches are retired folks out walking their dogs? And where are they going? Are they going nearby to the local coffee shop or the corner grocery?
What does that look like? And the same with business districts, what’s the most idyllic business district. No one fantasizes about going and parking in a Walmart parking lot, walking through a Walmart parking lot and going into a Walmart as a way to spend their Friday evening out shopping or eating.
They tend to think of a place that’s a little bit older. The streets are narrower. You don’t think about the parking, but you do think about the time you spend out of the car walking around. How safe you feel. How comfortable you feel. How pleasant it feels. Are there shops? Are there restaurants? And so what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to narrow the streetscape. We’re trying to widen the sidewalks. We’re trying to provide extra protection for people biking.”
Lawrence says a few changes need to be made to move forward with a more idyllic transportation system.
“Zoning codes are what help us create a place people want to be or a place people can go to. Because we can make the streets as walkable as you can imagine, but if they have no place to go, they’re still not gonna use them.”
“The actual way the infrastructure we build, the way the streetscape looks, the way any cross-section of a street looks”
Improving public transportation systems – like buses.
Lawrence notes that through the second piece, street structure, we can create livable streets that prioritize people over cars, which would benefit everyone. We can focus spending away from big projects and expansion to spending on maintenance and improving road designs within the city in areas that are most vulnerable and usually receive less funding for improvement.
Through focusing on public policy, education, consultation, advocacy, and awareness campaigns and working with other groups in the state, Local Motion believes they can make a change.
“We’ve made Intentional decisions to design this, our towns and our cities, the way we currently have them. We can make intentional decisions to design them differently. And that’s what we’re trying to do.”
To get involved with Local Motion and learn more about how you can help – visit lomocomo.com.
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