Critical Conversations in Transportation Planning: Judy Shanley and Claire Stanley
Every two years, the American Planning Association Transportation Planning Division publishes the State of Transportation Planning Report with the intention of highlighting innovative ideas, cutting-edge research, and interesting experiments in transportation planning in the United States. As part of the 2022 edition of the report - titled “Intersections + Identities: A Radical Rethinking of Our Transportation Experiences" - we’re bringing you a series of critical conversations with pioneers and industry leaders across the US who are offering their insights into some of the most challenging issues facing our field.
In this podcast episode, we’ll hear from Judy Shanley, a Project Director with the National Office of Easterseals in Chicago, and Claire Stanley, a Public Policy Analyst at the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN). Their conversation brings forth insightful ideas and guidance on how transportation professionals can reimagine how we plan for maximum mobility and accessibility in our transportation infrastructure and beyond.
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[00:00:19.890] - Em Hall
Every two years, the APA publishes the State of Transportation Planning Report with the intention of highlighting innovative ideas, cutting edge research, and interesting experiments in transportation planning in the United States. As part of the 2022 edition of the report titled Intersections and Identities a Radical Rethinking of Our Transportation Experiences, we're bringing you a series of interviews with pioneers and industry leaders across the US who are offering their insights into some of the most challenging issues facing our field.
[00:00:50.670] - Divya Gandhi
Hello, everyone. I'm Divya Gandhi.
[00:00:53.110] - Em Hall
And I'm Em Hall.
[00:00:54.620] - Divya Gandhi
And we are the co managing editors of the 6th edition of the State of Transportation Planning Report.
[00:01:00.680] - Em Hall
And this is critical conversations in transportation planning.
[00:01:09.350] - Em Hall
Please state your name, title and organization.
[00:01:12.710] - Claire Stanley
Hi. My name is Claire Stanley. I work for the National Disability Rights Network and I'm one of the public policy analysts.
[00:01:19.570] - Judy Shanley
Good afternoon, I'm Judy Shanley and I'm with the National Office of Easter Seals in Chicago. And I'm also the project director of several federal projects technical assistance centers funded by the US. Department of Transportation.
[00:01:35.960] - Em Hall
Claire, tell us about your background, your journey, how you came to be a public policy analyst at the National Disability Rights Network.
[00:01:44.570] - Claire Stanley
My background is in law. I graduated from law school in the spring of 2015 and kind of had a path of different jobs, always in the disability advocacy space. I'm a person with a disability myself, so as early as high school, I was kind of plugged into the disability advocacy world. I was part of a lot of different groups and things like that. My first job out of law school was with Disability Rights DC, which is the protection and advocacy office for the District of Columbia, and then just kind of a couple of different things that passed on from that that eventually got me here at the National Disability Rights Network. I always knew I was interested in advocacy and policy work. Like I said, it was something I did as early as high school. It was just kind of the perfect fit for me, bringing together my legal background and my advocacy background and my love for politics and Congress and things like that.
[00:02:34.020] - Em Hall
Great. Thanks, Claire. Now, Judy, tell us a little bit about your background and your journey and how you came to what are multiple roles that you carry out?
[00:02:41.410] - Judy Shanley
Currently, my academic training is in human services. I was a vocational rehab counselor for a number of years. I worked with school districts on youth transitions, so I was always interested in careers and occupations that helped individuals with disabilities be successful once they left a school system. I worked at the US. Department of Education for about eight years and had the opportunity during that work experience to be part of a federal interagency committee called United We Ride. And what that committee did or was all about was recognizing that every federal agency, eleven of them, have a need to focus on transportation. So I working at the Department of Education, couldn't help individuals be successful in the workplace if they could get to the workplace of those individuals. My colleagues that worked at Health and Human Services, if individuals couldn't access health care because of transportation challenge, that resulted in poor outcomes, poor health outcomes. So it was that experience that got me thinking, wow, transportation does underpin everything we do in our society. And so I left the Department of Education, had an opportunity to work at Easter Seals about twelve years ago, and have recognized that it's not about just transportation getting from point A to point B. And my experiences with working with the Federal Highway Administration and other Department of Transportation projects really affirms that transportation is more than the ride. So I've had a long and windy path, but I'm excited to be where I'm at.
[00:04:26.730] - Em Hall
Transportation is more than the ride. I like that. Maybe that's a theme for the 2024 report. So, Claire and Judy, as you've heard, the theme for the 2022 State of Transportation Planning Report is "Intersections and Identities: a radical rethinking of our transportation experiences". I'll start with Judy this time. What is a current transportation issue that you find is most in need of this radical rethinking?
[00:04:54.890] - Judy Shanley
Sure. I think one of the most needed changes is in what we know as paratransit services. So the ADA related services that people with disabilities are entitled to under the Americans with Disabilities Act, we think, and transit agencies often think of paratransit as a restrictive, non inclusive kind of service. In many transit agencies around the country, the service is separated from traditional fixed route kinds of services. We could be at a point we were building a continuum of service. There are people that are always going to need a paratransit service. But if we were thinking about universal design and inclusive service in a continuum as part of a fixed route service, I think that will help us think about paratransit service differently.
[00:05:46.410] - Em Hall
And Claire, what would you consider what is most in need of a radical rethinking?
[00:05:51.710] - Claire Stanley
I also wanted to talk about paratransit. I'm blind, and those of us in the blind community have a lot to say about paratransit. It's something that, especially depending on where you live, if you don't live in a big city, you are more dependent on things like paratransit because you have lesser options with public transit and things like that. And for us, a lot of us get really frustrated with the idea that you have to set up an appointment the day before or multiple days in advance, depending on what your county policy is. That's really frustrating. Those of us who are adults who live busy lives, we can't schedule in advance just to go to the pharmacy or go to the bank or want to pick up a Starbucks, things like that. It hinders your ability to go out and live a life. So things like on demand rides is something that some counties throughout the United States have kind of played with these alternative options for things with paratransit. So I think that's one of the biggest things you hear, especially from the blind community, but I think other communities is we need to change paratransit up and make it more of an on demand service.
[00:06:57.350] - Claire Stanley
Make it more flexible so that we're not stuck in this place where suddenly I have to divide out 3 hours of my day just to do one minor task. And suddenly my days are really limited in what I can get accomplished.
[00:07:10.580] - Judy Shanley
I've heard the Federal Transit Administration, some professionals say that all people, regardless of disability, want spontaneous choice.
You want to be able to go from point A to point B when you want to go, when you need to go. And the scheduling of the paratransit service 48 hours in advance is just not realistic for individuals with disabilities. So why would we have restrictive, specialized kind of transportation service? If our culture and our world and legislation and policy is all facilitating inclusive service, why would we still rely on an antiquated kind of service that takes people away from each other?
[00:07:55.130] - Claire Stanley
[00:07:56.170] - Em Hall
So I'm going to start with Claire on this next question, because you come to this work as an advocate, as an analyst, as a lawyer, and I want to hear about where you find the biggest gap between how planners view the world, especially transportation planners, and then how non planners perceive mobility and accessibility in their everyday lives. What's your experience there?
[00:08:23.200] - Claire Stanley
So one new form of construction that we're starting to see more and more in different communities. I obviously can't talk about the whole country, but for instance, the county that I live in, which is Montgomery County, it's just northwest of Washington, DC. They call them floating bus stops as a new plan or set up or I'm sure there's a fancy term for it, where they have, as it implies, a floating bus stop. So instead of just going to what we used to always love, when I say we, I'm talking at the blind community with your traditional four way intersection. Now they have different little islands that you cross over and a lot of times what's in between them is a bike lane. So instead of just crossing the street and boom, I'm on the other corner. No, you might have to cross a bike lane, cross over to some kind of floating island. It's just not easy anymore. And that makes it really hard for people with all kinds of disabilities. Depending on the orientation and mobility training we get, which is kind of the token word we would use, it makes it really hard to navigate and interact with our communities.
[00:09:25.950] - Claire Stanley
And so when planners are trying to create really new fancy things that I'm sure are all about interacting with pedestrians and cyclists, I think they have really good intentions. But it's making it so much more complicated for people with disabilities. Again, speaking for the blind community, the orientation and mobility training that I went through when I was younger, it's now not enough, because there are these new designs that are different. And so we're really starting to scratch our head and go, okay, what new O and M training do we need? Is that even going to be effective enough? Because some of these new designs are just so outside of the box. So I think the city planners had these great intents behind these new plans that they often forget people with disabilities, we're kind of an afterthought.
[00:10:11.260] - Judy Shanley
I agree with you wholeheartedly. One of the things that I think is maybe different between transportation planners and people that have to utilize the service, particularly individuals with disabilities, is planners think about efficiency. They think about getting from point A to point B. And what you've designed, what you've talked about in terms of the floating bus stops, is similar to flag stops. Money agencies put flag stops in where the person on the side of the road has to motion to a bus or a fixed route service to stop or train. For the transit planner, sure, it's sufficient to keep that vehicle running, but for an individual disability, how do you access that ride when you can't see the vehicle coming? And so I think that planners think about efficiency, whereas riders may think about the quality of service and the implications on that service and their impacts on the availability to access opportunity, like a doctor's appointment, like an employment, like school. Transportation planners are very analytic and quantitative. I agree with you what you said about the new mobility and new innovation and design, but without thinking about the implications for various riders, I think that's the difference.
[00:11:42.110] - Claire Stanley
I think that's so interesting too, because I always wonder, not just in city planning, but all kinds of different areas of design. I feel like people who are going to school, whether you're an architect or an urban developer or anything, I often wonder and think and hear from people in these programs that they're not getting classes and education on how to make things ADA compliant or accessible or user friendly. And that boggles my mind. I'm like, we're in 2022, and this isn't part of the curriculum because it would make such a big impact on making things accessible.
[00:12:14.970] - Judy Shanley
Exactly. I just finished a study underneath my FTA funded project, the National Center for Mobility Management, where I queried University personal preparation programs for planners to ask them what are they teaching in their curriculum about the ADA accessibility, mobility management. And very few indicated that there was any coursework that future professionals had in their programs and it hurts the industry ultimately. One other thing came to mind is there seems to be a fragmentation in some state departments of transportation where the people doing planning for the roadways and the sidewalks are different from the people that are doing transit service planning. And we just did another study on a federal highway project that I'm on. And I asked many of those people, how often are you interacting with your transit side? Your colleagues? And few are. And I think there needs to be more coordination across those disciplines within a DOT.
[00:13:24.490] - Claire Stanley
One other thing just kind of going based off of something you said that sparked my thoughts, Judy, was these are built often without things like the ADA kept in mind or other forms of accessibility. And then putting my lawyer hat on, a lawsuit comes at some point, and then you have to retroactively fix it. Hopefully they listen and they do what they're supposed to do. And then when you retroactively fix something, it's so much more difficult, and in some situations, close to impossible, depending on the architecture, et cetera. But anyway, it's so much more difficult. And so it's one of those things where if we can plug it in right away, it's going to give us all a lot easier of a time doing what we're supposed to do. Everybody is going to be happy, we're going to spend less money. It's just going to work better. Retrofitting things just never work as well.
[00:14:10.500] - Judy Shanley
Yeah, exactly. In education, we have something called universal design for learning. And what that means is when you use classroom materials or curriculum, you're building in flexibility in the beginning. So you're building in varying ways to present the content so various learners could access the content in different ways. You're building in various ways that a learner can demonstrate to you that they know the content. And we need to think about those same principles, universal design in transportation and mobility sectors. We could educate transportation planners while they're still in school and then educate those that are in the profession already about universal mobility. That that would create a lot of opportunity for a lot of people.
[00:14:55.630] - Em Hall
Both of you really have already answered a couple more of the questions we have. I love where this conversation is going. I was wondering if each of you could share a positive experience or an instance where folks with disabilities were taken into account where there was universal design. I think especially for folks who are students or those who are starting out, the challenges are myriad. And we don't even know where those examples are of something that's worked. It could be at the hyper local level or something that took a policy or legal route. So I was wondering if either or both of you had an instance where you're like, yes, this worked. This is the way it can be done to kind of share that and give folks some inspiration creatively as we move forward.
[00:15:46.270] - Judy Shanley
This is Judy. I was recently at a statewide conference in Arizona, and there was a speaker from a transit agency from Utah, and they had experienced it was a tourist destination in the wintertime. And so their population escalated at certain times seasonally, and they were having to increase the amount of fixed route service. And so instead of doing traditional vehicles, big buses, traditional kinds of service, they were thinking about an on demand service that Claire mentioned before and connected service. So they may have had a bus, a big bus, and then there was an on demand service that was integrated with that bigger service. And I asked the question about accessibility, and she said, we have accessible vehicles, every size vehicle, even our taxis are accessible. And so she was thinking about universal design, universal mobility as she was building and expanding this system so that she didn't have to worry about in the future trying to find the right sized vehicles. And then that created opportunities for riders, obviously, because they could feel confident that every vehicle that they were using in this city was accessible. I was really excited to hear that.
[00:17:15.610] - Claire Stanley
This is Claire. One form of transportation that I've been very excited about over the last couple of years were the new train cars that they designed for the Metro system, which is basically the subway or train system in the greater Washington, DC. area. And unfortunately, they're actually out of order right now for some safety reasons. Go figure. But the design of these cars is so accessible. In the older cars, the announcements are made orally by the conductor of the train, which in theory is great, but because of just the older technology, it's often muffled and they kind of say, oh, you're at blah blah blah blah blah station. You can't hear them. It's really frustrating. Whereas the new ones have automated computerized voices played at a really good volume. So I never miss which station is mine. The doors don't open immediately. They give you time, presumably, for people to get up safely who might have a physical or mobility disability so they can get out safely. And the doors stay open for an allotted of amount of time. For the same reasons, they have designated wheelchair spots to give you more access for people who are wheelchair users, all kinds of things.
[00:18:25.590] - Claire Stanley
So I was really impressed and excited to see the new designs of the latest cars on the Metro system. And like I said, I was very disappointed when they had to be taken out of order for a while. So hopefully they're back up and running soon.
[00:18:37.850] - Judy Shanley
This is Judy. I get excited when I see people with disabilities at the table in planning and designing service in communities. And there's a lot of cities around this country that have done a fine job of that. There's others that they know that there's requirements to have individuals with disabilities at the table in terms of public participation, but the opportunities that they offer are often limited and perfunctory in nature. And so my biggest excitement is when I see cities that actually have people on staff. They are employees of the agency that are part of the planning. They're all along the process, they're not only planning and designing, but carrying out. They're part of an evaluation systems that transit agencies have so that they're offering feedback and communicating about the service at every step of the way.
[00:19:38.790] - Claire Stanley
I think that's such a good point. When you first asked the question, am, I kind of laughed inside? And I didn't use this as an example, but the first example I was thinking was the abundance of accessible pedestrian signals or APS's in the county I live in. And I didn't give an example because technically it wasn't initially done proactively, it was actually the result of a lawsuit in my county. So they didn't do the right thing initially, but then they did a phenomenal job. So hats off to the county I live in. But I want to use it as an example because kind of like dude was saying when the disability community was brought in and stepped up to the plate and said, hey, this is really important for the blind community, the county did really respond in kind. Not immediately. It took a little pushing, but when they did, it's phenomenal. Now we have APS's on almost every intersection where I live. So when I get off to the bus close to my condominium complex, there are APS's I can cross safely all up and down my town. I feel confident when I walk around and prostrate and things like that, you.
[00:20:43.250] - Em Hall
Know, where is planning, transportation planning for writers with disabilities and all writers really? Where do you think it's headed? Where do you hope it's headed? What? What do we want to look forward to in the next 5, 10, 20 years?
[00:20:58.690] - Claire Stanley
Sure, that's such a big question. I think it's important for us, as we think forward into the next 5, 10 years, to think about where technology is going. We constantly hear all the new things about electric vehicles EVs that President Biden has done a lot to promote in a lot of pieces of legislation. We're talking about autonomous vehicles. So that's really exciting. So when I think forward to the future, I think it's really important that we think about how we can make these products accessible through what Judy was talking with universal design. So to make sure that people with disabilities aren't left out of really awesome and potentially really positive opportunities for people with disabilities, that could open the door for things that we wouldn't have thought before. So that's kind of the first thing that comes to mind. Another thing, moving forward in the next five years or so, I think we need to consider and think about what the COVID-19 Pandemic has done to transportation. Most of us know that a lot of the public transportation systems were kind of sized back because people just weren't taking transportation, because people weren't going places because of COVID And that was a big fear for people with disabilities where we were saying, well, great, my county or city didn't have a lot of lines to begin with and now they're being cut back even more.
[00:22:18.540] - Claire Stanley
So making sure that that's not a lasting impact, that hopefully things will be sized back up or heaven forbid for me, even increased even more. So just keeping an eye on what Kova did and how we can go back to where we were before or get even better. So just making sure that like a lot of things, COVID doesn't have the lasting impact. So I think those are kind of the two immediate things I think, about where technology is going and how that will be implemented, and then how the pandemic, what the long term impacts of the pandemic are.
[00:22:48.310] - Judy Shanley
Claire, this is Judy. I totally agree with you. The first word that came to my mind when I think about the future of transportation planning is evolving. I think the new technologies, I think the automation, electrification has really created opportunities. My hope is that as those modes are considered, that they're built accessible and inclusive from the get go. But my concern is that as the Pandemic has adversely affected transit and transit ridership and the perceptions of riders that in their zeal to get people back to using public transportation that there's not a disregard for accessibility and inclusive service. That there's still the thinking that everybody should be able to access transportation when they need, whenever they need. And we all have spontaneous choice. So I'm excited about the future of where we're going. I'm amazed, I'm always amazed when I go to big transportation conferences like the American Public Transportation Association conference, and I see all the innovation and technology, I get really excited and passionate about the service. But I have also the regard that please don't go so fast, that we forget about all riders.
[00:24:17.950] - Claire Stanley
Judy's used the term universal design a lot and that just needs to be stressed as we develop new technology. Because like Judy said, we can get so excited. We take too many steps forward and we don't build accessibility into it. Retrofitting things is just so clunky and it doesn't work. So if we're going to create a brand new bus that's fully autonomous, make sure that it has a wheelchair ramp, make sure that it has automated announcements for the blind. But I think we just get so excited that we jump to and we create something that the average person, quote unquote, thinks about, that they leave out the accessibility features, and then a year down the line, they're scratching their head, going, oh, shoot. Now we have to put the accessibility features in it because of the ADA and other laws. And I was like, well, why didn't you do that from the beginning? So we need to think about those kinds of things.
[00:25:06.580] - Judy Shanley
This is judy, one more thing I was thinking about. I mentioned early in my career, one of the best things that I've seen in the industry is when planner transportation planners are talking with human service professionals and human service professionals are hearing from transportation planners. And so there's an integrated acknowledgment that transportation affects us all. And I had the privilege of attending a class at the University of illinois, Chicago, where it was transportation planners, and I talked about human services, and I talked about the ADA and mobility management and this notion of coordination across sectors. And that was amazing. Also, at the same time, I had an opportunity to speak with human service professionals, so special education professionals who were future teachers, future disability providers, about transportation, and providing them with resources on how they could connect with transportation planners in their communities so that students did have those supports. So I think just getting out of our silos would be really important as we look at transportation planning in the future.
[00:26:16.870] - Em Hall
I think that's why I think that's why your two perspectives are so welcome here, too, and we have other non planners contributing to planning. As you both very eloquently stated, these are issues that affect all of us, that can improve all of our lives. And it's really great to keep that collaborative approach and think about all the other sectors and people who are affected by these transportation planning choices that are made. If our audience wants to get in touch with you, learn more about the work that you're doing, where should they go? What should they check out? What are some resources folks should know on this topic.
[00:26:54.990] - Claire Stanley
For sure, if the listeners want to learn more about the transportation work that's going on, I'd point you guys in a few different places. First, feel free to check out with the National Disability Rights Network, my employer, what we're doing, we're constantly doing transportation work. So you can go to NDRN.org, and if you want to find out what you're doing in your own state, those are our protection advocacy offices, which are the state based affiliates. You can find all of those links on NDRN.org. So go there and click on your state and you can find out what they're doing in your own backyard. I am also the co chair of the transportation task force for the Consortium of Citizens with Disabilities. You can also see what our task force is doing. We're constantly writing to congress, to department of transportation, things like that. So just go to www.c-c-d.org and you can also see what we're doing. And then lastly, I am also one of the co chairs for the transportation committee with the American Council of the Blind, and we're always doing advocacy for transportation. So go to acb.org and find out what we're doing in the transportation space.
[00:28:02.410] - Judy Shanley
And this is Judy Stanley from the national level. Easterseales.com has a lot of resources related to the projects that we focus on that particularly emphasize accessible transportation. I mentioned I'm also the project director of a Federal Transit Administration project called the National Center for Mobility Management. You could access free technical assistance, free materials at NC4MM.org. The other thing locally, I would suggest to readers to find out who is responsible for the Human Service Transportation Coordinated plan. That's a way for people at the local level to be involved in decision making about the transportation service and their committee, usually planning organization, regional council is responsible for that plan. But find out how you could be involved in the Human Service transportation planning.
[00:29:00.090] - Em Hall
Wonderful. This is Em. We have come to the close of our conversation and Divya and I are just both thrilled that you were able to join us today. Bring these perspectives and this information to our audience.
[00:29:11.970] - Em Hall
Thank you for joining us for this episode of Critical Conversations in Transportation Planning. To learn more and read the entire report, please visit the APA's Transportation Planning Division website at transportation. planning.org