It makes intuitive sense. Municipal plans that engage stakeholders are better received than those that have no community input.
The city of Sugar Land, Texas’, mobility master plan and related task force are examples of that principle in action. The city is taking a different approach to addressing mobility issues by shifting its focus — from moving vehicles to moving people. This renewed focus will aim to provide residents, visitors and tourists with multiple transportation options to choose from within Sugar Land.
Monique Johnson is the city’s transportation and mobility innovation manager. She said, as the plan will affect residents day in and day out, it only makes sense to invite them to the table.
“We really wanted to start by gaining the support from the community,” she said. “We’re trying to really capture the different mobility interests of the community and what their needs are. As we begin to develop this, we want them to feel like this is their plan.”
The mobility master plan will be the first step in a two-step process for mobility planning in Sugar Land. The first priority is to create a new consolidated mobility plan that combines all modes of transportation and provides high-level strategic guidance for mobility. The existing mobility plans were developed at different times and with differing levels of public input. The city’s goal for consolidating these mobility plans is to improve implementation coordination and document clear policy guidance across all modes of transportation in one plan.
The second objective is to provide a separate planning process to address neighborhood and corridor specific issues that are difficult to address during a citywide planning effort. Once the high-level mobility master plan is complete, the next step would be to develop multiple area and corridor plans to address specific projects based on policy guidance established in the mobility master plan.
This two-layered approach will allow the city to target the particular audience that will be most affected by proposed mobility projects in their area and to develop solutions for local mobility problems based on policy guidance from the mobility master plan.
Above all, Johnson said the plan needs to be inclusive and speak to the interests of various groups. The idea, she said, is to frame a longer-term vision for the entire region, inside of just Sugar Land proper. Speaking of interests, Johnson said residents have stated in surveys in the past that mobility is a top priority.
To that end, she said the master plan will be a roadmap for how to move forward in this area. In her words, “It’s not just about moving cars. We want to focus on moving people, too.” Such stakeholder groups include walkers, cyclists, people with disabilities, seniors, etc.
Johnson is candid in sharing that bureaucratic silos have created barriers in the past.
“So we have our pedestrian bicycle plan, which focuses on bike lanes and trails,” she said. “And then you have your thoroughfare plan, which just focuses on roads. And so those plans are separate and you know, they’re not really talking to each other. And so we ran into a lot of challenges with that when it came to implementation. So, what we really want to do is make sure all of those modes are considered.”
Johnson said that means providing multiple transportation options for people to get around. This could mean leveraging technology more. For example, there are apps that allow someone to plan a trip whether on foot, by train or another modality — as an alternative to using an automobile.
“It’s all about being connected as part of the mobility system beyond the vehicle,” she said. “It’s really about tapping into what is up and coming and all the innovation innovative ideas that are out here.”
For example, the Union Pacific Railroad runs through Sugar Land, and it has a huge impact on mobility. So the city recruited someone from the railroad to serve on the task force, so that vantage point is considered. There’s also a number of businesses that have a presence in Sugar Land.
“They use trucks and travel along the interstate,” she said. “So you want to understand what their needs are and what can we do as a city to improve that mobility or enhance it.”
However, regardless of who’s affected by the plan, Johnson said it’s important to define the terms.
“There’s an education component on our side,” she said. “We need to make sure they understand what transit is and what is available out there. And what is it that they really would like to see here.”