Access and 20 minute neighborhoods

Ann Arbor, Mich., has set a goal of having 100 percent of residents live in 20-minute neighborhoods by 2030. For now, the 12 percent of residents who don’t have access to a car are at a big disadvantage — 109,000 jobs can be reached within a 20-minute drive, but only 30,000 jobs are within a 20-minute walk or transit ride. People of color are 37 percent more likely to lack 20-minute access, according to the city’s comprehensive transportation plan.

May 20, 2021 https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/05/20/see-you-20-or-less-living-where-access-is-within-short-walk-or-bike-ride/

Eugene, in turn, is one of several cities across the country trying to give more people the chance to live the lifestyle she describes. The city is pushing several initiatives to promote “20-minute living,” the ability to reach important destinations like grocery stores and workplaces within that time frame.

Property tax increases aim to boost affordable housing inventories

City leaders have set a goal of making 90 percent of Eugene 20-minute friendly by 2030. Touted benefits include better air quality, a healthier population, higher property values and lower transportation costs for those who can eschew an automobile (according to AAA, the average price of maintaining a car in the United States is $8,734 per year). It’s an ambitious goal for a city where, like most of the United States, the car remains king.

Reilly, 34, works in e-commerce. She grew up in New York City, where almost every neighborhood boasts a laundromat, supermarket, schools and restaurants within walking distance. Seeking a change of pace and weather, she moved to San Diego in 2010 and drove regularly for the first time. She and her husband eventually grew tired of “car culture” and sought a place where they could get around as pedestrians. After extensive research, they moved to Eugene in 2017 and are hoping it gets even more 20-minute friendly in the years to come.

Ann Arbor, Mich., has set a goal of having 100 percent of residents live in 20-minute neighborhoods by 2030. For now, the 12 percent of residents who don’t have access to a car are at a big disadvantage — 109,000 jobs can be reached within a 20-minute drive, but only 30,000 jobs are within a 20-minute walk or transit ride. People of color are 37 percent more likely to lack 20-minute access, according to the city’s comprehensive transportation plan.

Accessory dwellings offer one solution to the affordable housing problem

Ann Arbor is building a lot of housing downtown, much of it affordable, and city leaders hope that better walkability will also lead to better outcomes for seniors, who can maintain independence without driving. The idea of emphasizing human-powered transportation and public transit trips that begin and end with walking is a big shift from a few decades ago.Eugene stands out for its walkability. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

“Early in my career, in the 1980s, the emphasis was on the completion of the interstate highway system. It was about moving people by moving vehicles,” said Eli Cooper, Ann Arbor’s transportation program manager. “Ann Arbor is on the other edge of the spectrum at this point. As a mature, developed, urban community, our transportation strategies are not about building or widening roads, but about finding safe and effective ways for people to move about our community to meet their needs.”

Car-share and bike-share programs are one aspect of Ann Arbor’s updated transportation plan, as are more low-tech solutions such as filling in sidewalk gaps. Cooper said Ann Arbor is more walking-friendly than most of the United States, yet still has a lot of room for improvement.

“This is a culmination of decades of emphasizing that transportation is a strategy to achieve a community’s values and aspirations,” Cooper said.

While the term “20-minute neighborhood” seems to refer primarily to transportation, it also speaks to land use. Planning and zoning are major factors as well, with more mixed-use and infill development needed to realize the vision.

TOP: People walk and play in Eugene’s Hendricks Park. BOTTOM LEFT: The Miller and Mendelson families enjoy a picnic, riding bikes, playing near the river and more in Eugene. BOTTOM RIGHT: Lily Miller, 4, bikes with her friends at Alton Baker Park along the Willamette River. (Photos by Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Ann Arbor has already changed a lot of its zoning to allow for denser housing and homes in previously commercial-only areas.

“I think 20 minutes is a great way of measuring success when it comes to providing opportunities for walking and biking,” said Brett Lenart, Ann Arbor’s planning manager. “It puts a little bit more specificity around what that means.”

The other challenge is in convincing developers to build in a certain location so that it also makes economic sense.

“It’s easy to support and work toward the aspiration of having a grocery store within close proximity, and I think that’s a great goal,” Lenart said.

“But there are also economic factors to it. I don’t have the expertise of operating a grocery store,” he added.

“I think the city and certainly myself have a lot to learn about those dynamics to make sure that we are setting reasonable goals and looking for the right carrots and sticks that can be put together to get there. It won’t all be public policy decisions. Some of it will be market response.”