Case Study: Community Engagement Mobility Project Examples

  • Author: Shared-Use Mobility Center

This case study looks at several mobility pilot projects and how they used community engagement to work with the neighborhood residents to identify mobility barriers and solutions.  The examples are intended to compliment the Community Engagement Learning Module. The learning module covers several community engagement challenges and solutions for shared mobility projects. The challenges include: 

  1. Maintaining engagement throughout the program life-cycle
  2. Securing funding for community engagement
  3. Understanding effective timing for community engagement
  4. Ensuring inclusive planning
  5. Learning how to scale
  6. Executing virtual engagement
  7. Competing with other priorities
  8. Acknowledging that equitable and meaningful engagement takes time
  9. Overcoming and understanding the lack of familiarity and/or negative perception of shared mobility

The case studies below are real world examples to a few of these challenges.

Effective Timing

Oakland, CA Bikeshare: Oakland Mobility 101 was a 2016 outreach and engagement effort to understand the Oakland community’s perceptions of the city’s planned bike and car share programs. The outreach and engagement, however, came too late to be impactful. While the intention behind their engagement efforts was “to ensure authentic and culturally relevant community engagement”, the community felt shut out of the design process, with it being the last step in program development. More specifically, “it was actually disempowering for residents to be made aware of new programs” when decisions had already been made and the program would not be easily accessible to them [25].

With this lesson learned, Oakland’s new 2019 program called Let’s Bike Oakland, intended to bring the majority of residents within ¼ mile of a safe bike route, prioritized listening to community members early on, specifically those who faced the greatest vulnerabilities in the transportation system currently [29]. The agency teamed up with five local community groups to help facilitate engagement with disadvantaged communities in East and West Oakland, and they held 60 community events to gain feedback and comments on their plan, totalling participation from over 3,500 Oaklanders [30]. This type of community engagement not only helps to ensure that disadvantaged neighborhoods receive the type of mobility service that best suits their needs, but it also increases community trust in and awareness of the bikeshare programs themselves. 

Competing Priorities

Chicago, IL Traffic Safety: MUSE Community & Design, a Chicago-based urban planning and public engagement firm created and implemented several interactive activities to engage the public about traffic safety as part of their work with Chicago Department of Transportation’s (CDOT’s) Vision Zero program on the city’s West side. Recognizing the challenge that traffic safety is not always the most exciting topic and is competing with many other pressing priorities, MUSE wanted to create a way to interest the community on this topic in a way that they felt empowered to contribute. To do this, the firm created two interactive stations with dozens of hand-drawn sketches of streetscape elements such as bike lanes, bioswales, stop lights, crosswalks, and bump-outs. These drawings helped break down the barriers of what streetscape “infrastructure” means and inspire people to engage with these everyday elements. They also created custom local landmarks for each neighborhood to help residents envision their community and connect on a deeper level. The pieces sat on magnetized boards activities which were brought to many different already scheduled events and festivals. MUSE wanted to embed their activity within events already happening in the area to reduce the burden of engagement as much as possible, generating an estimated 200+ participants across all events. Community engagement facilitators interacted informally with the participants, gathered quotes and narratives to report back to CDOT and created a community oriented report as a follow up with their participants. Due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, MUSE has adapted this in-person activity to an online version.

Three pictures of community members engaging with MUSE's Design a Street boards and exercises.

Pictures from MUSE’s Design A Street exercise with community members. Credit: http://www.musecommunitydesign.com/design-a-street/

 

Engagement Throughout the Program Lifecycle & Securing Funding

Los Angeles, CA EV Carshare: In 2016, the City of Los Angeles embarked on BlueLA, an electric vehicle (EV) carsharing pilot project through a grant from the California Air Resources Board (CARB). The city’s grant proposal “L.A. Leading by Example: Partnering to Pilot EV Carsharing in Disadvantaged Communities,” emphasized serving low-income residents and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Initially, there was not enough grant funding earmarked to supplement public dollars for an engagement process. The California Air Resources Board recognized the gap and allowed more funding for outreach activities for future programs. With this money, BlueLA was able to set aside an ample budget for a robust community engagement process from start that legitimized the initiative, conveying to participants that this work was meaningful and impactful to the project.

As a first step, a Steering Committee was formed consisting of community-based organizations (CBOs) in the project area. The Steering Committee and the Shared-Use Mobility Center (SUMC) developed a community outreach plan outlining eight goals for outreach efforts. Between January 2018 and January 2019, all project partners engaged the community through 136 events where the project was either promoted or featured, including BlueLA community forums, street surveys, and community events. During these events childcare, snacks and drinks were also made available for attendees to ensure convenient and comfortable participation for household caregivers. Participants were also compensated for their time with gift cards. Lastly, BlueLA also promoted the street ambassador job opportunity to residents. 

The Street Ambassadors are hired through BlueLA to assist with outreach, education, and operations tasks such as rebalancing vehicles. Ultimately, this community engagement was extremely beneficial to the program’s success—as an example, the city learned that many community members did not have driver’s licenses, were unbanked, and/or did not have internet access, so engagement efforts enabled local residents to provide input on program design for these communities.

A picture of two parked electric car vehicles as part of the BlueLA car-sharing pilot.

BlueLA Electric Car Sharing pilot program. Credit: SUMC

Meaningful Engagement Takes Time & Virtual Engagement

Oakland, Richmond, San Jose, CA Mobility Hubs: Community engagement is central to the mobility hub pilot project in California, led by Transform in partnership with SUMC and funded through the California Air Resources Board. This project uses affordable housing developments as sites to implement three mobility hubs that include electric vehicle car sharing programs and other mobility options such as transit passes and bike sharing. The work started from a robust Community Transportation Needs Assessment to understand residents’ current travel behavior and identify their transportation needs and challenges. 

For example, residents themselves administer the surveys and help with data entry and are compensated for their time and efforts. Residents continue to be a main partner and driver of the work through their Site Level Teams and Site Coordinators. Site Level teams that consist of approximately ten residents at each project site that meet on a regular basis to share their knowledge, advice and vision to design tailored solutions for the residents of their communities, to conduct outreach, and to serve as neighborhood ambassadors. The project considers them a key partner and residents are compensated for time and expertise. Due to the global pandemic, this group adapted their meetings to virtual Zoom meetings. To ensure the success and functionality of these Zoom meetings, the team has live interpretation services included, a separate Zoom line for childcare, and host training on how to operate Zoom. This project, two years in the making, shows how to lift up community members in disadvantaged areas while developing services that help solve problems and improve their quality of life.

Inclusive Planning

West Dallas, TX Mobility Needs Assessment: A local philanthropic organization approached the SUMC to identify mobility needs and solutions, emphasizing mobility on demand in the West Dallas community. SUMC’s goal was to find equitable, sustainable solutions for the entire community, especially its most vulnerable, with an emphasis on the role private philanthropy can play to advance these recommendations. To start, the team conducted research and analyzed the neighborhood’s demographics, community history, mobility options, nature of the concerns about gentrification, and community stability. To build on this, they also organized two focus-group discussions, held in Spanish, with individuals who live or work in the west side of West Dallas to gain in-depth knowledge about this historically low-income area. The low density proved difficult to identify common corridors or main streets to perform outreach so recruitment for these focus groups was critical. The team learned insightful knowledge from the residents such as:

  • “En algunas calles es imposible saber si hay una parada de autobús o no porque no hay luz ni señales.” [“On some streets, it is impossible to know whether there is a bus stop or not because there are no lights or signs.”] 

This information directly informed the team’s needs assessment and recommendations for the community. 

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