What’s in a word? A lot, when it marginalizes key pieces of the complete transportation system.

When that word marginalizes vital and needed transportation options – and it’s used officially by federal government planners – it can be an obstacle to good public policy.

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That’s the case with the word “alternative,” which has wormed its way into our conversation on transportation. In July of 2012 President Obama signed the MAP-21 Act (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century) into law, which consolidated and re-categorized programs including active transportation, walking, biking, and planning and design of active transportation infrastructure under the Transportation Alternatives Program.

This reclassification of programs under the Transportation Alternatives title may improve efficiency. But what does the re-classification of non-highway projects as “alternatives” mean for our perspective on complete transportation systems?

Consider: Transportation for Michigan held 18 community forums across the state of Michigan and collected more than 50 video submissions of residents sharing transportation visions. From these dialogues emerged a clear picture of Michiganders calling for integrated, complete transportation systems. This vision is not represented in the perspective of MAP-21 policy, which considers active and public transportation options the “alternative” – or in other words, the unconventional or the marginal. Instead, these citizens are shouting that these options are the way to a complete transportation system. The MAP-21 policy – and its unfortunate labeling – does not acknowledge this.

Pedestrians, passengers and motorized transportation users recognize that the transportation equation in Michigan requires that we fix our roads and maintain, invest and create active and public transportation options. That is the path to complete networks for travel to work, education, entertainment and life essentials.

Alone, road projects will not improve transportation systems in Michigan. Investments across the full spectrum of motorized and non-motorized options will lead to a complete transportation system.

Smart and efficient transportation options are not “alternative”, but citizens’ desired ways to commute. Policy makers must recognize this to Move Michigan, and our nation, forward.

By: Neala Havener, Active Communities Coordinator, Michigan Fitness Foundation (Trans4M Core Member)

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