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‘Inclusive transportation’ is focus of CURA, Kirwan speaker series finale

Civil engineer Veronica O. Davis offers public engagement strategies

Smart growth and cultivating community buy-in for transportation projects was the focus of a Dec. 1 webinar presented by The Ohio State University’s Center for Urban and Regional Analysis (CURA) and the Kirwan Institute. The webinar concluded the organizations’ fall speaker series.  

The series featured transportation scholars and community engagement leaders discussing the safety and social justice impacts of street design. Veronica O. Davis, a civil engineer and director of transportation and drainage operations for the city of Houston, shared her vision for the future of the transportation industry.

Davis has nearly 20 years of experience in engineering and transportation planning. She serves on the board of the National Association of City Transportation Officials and cofounded Black Women Bike, which provides support for African-American women cyclists. She was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House in 2012 for her professional accomplishments and advocacy.

Davis is also the author of the new book, “Inclusive Transportation: A Manifesto for Repairing Divided Communities.” In the book, she examines what “equity” means for transportation projects and how to devise solutions that benefit communities as a whole.

“I really want to recommend this book,” said CURA Director Harvey Miller. “It has a very clear message, very digestible. It’s the kind of book you might hand to someone in your local planning department or maybe to a city council person. It really gets to the heart of the matter and takes a really hard look at how planning for a world of cars has harmed communities and how that affects anyone working to change things today.”

In the book, Davis outlines lessons she learned from working on development projects in Houston, Washington, D.C., and other cities. She offers advice on how to keep stakeholders informed and engaged throughout the planning process.

“What tends to be missing is how does the public engagement actually inform the planning process for the design? How do we actually link those two together?” she said. “How do we actually address people’s concerns? I walk through that process [in the book].”

Davis cited an example from her tenure in the 2010s as a planning manager at a firm in Washington, D.C. The firm oversaw a development that included the addition of a bike lane.

The community was divided between residents who welcomed the bike lane and those who felt the development would exacerbate existing parking and traffic flow problems. The area also lacked sidewalks and other structures to help pedestrians safely navigate the community.

The development would have received more community support if the planners had spent more time identifying residents’ unmet needs and addressing their concerns, Davis said.

“It’s about acknowledging people where they are,” she said. “It may take a little bit longer to get through the engagement process, but we can end up with a better overall project and get everything done.”

Davis said she is passionate about advocating for transportation projects that provide communities with a variety of viable options.

“With the city of Houston, we just adopted a multimodal level of service to look at all modes [of transportation], so it’s not just about the efficiency of moving vehicles,” she said. “People get across the street and bikes get across the street, buses move. It’s really thinking holistically about how we define the capacity of the roadway.”

CURA will launch a new speaker series in the spring. For more information, visit the center’s website at cura.osu.edu.

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