Former Cornell senior researcher Myra Shulman has spent much of her career on ecology and marine biology so it is no surprise that she wants other people to enjoy the planet as much as possible.
An avid hiker, Shulman is a board member of the Cayuga Trails Club whose aim is to preserve nature and to promote the joys of exploring the great outdoors. In line with the nation’s renewed focus on racial and social justice, the club last year decided to look at ways to foster equity and to eliminate any barrier that would keep county residents from getting out to area’s spectacular trails and parks.
“The people we see out on our local trails do not reflect the diversity of our local community,” Shulman said. “One of the barriers that we recognized is access to trails and natural areas – not everyone has a car or money for Uber.”
Shulman was aware that TCAT serves many local parks and trails, but she also observed it’s not always easy for people to figure out how to connect transit routes with outdoor destinations. She got an idea. Would-be riders wanting to go to local natural venues could greatly benefit from transit maps that focused specifically on outdoor activities.
This week, Shulman was thrilled to announce that the “lightbulb-in-my-head” moment paid off with the roll out of the first-ever TCAT to Trails” map available online here and with printed versions soon available on TCAT buses and at TCAT’s Green St. and Seneca St. stations.
“TCAT provides sustainable, low-cost transportation to residents, students and visitors – this map shows everyone how get to stunning natural areas, waterfalls, and trails on our local bus system,” Shulman said.
Inspiration to reality
To get the project off the ground Shulman reached out to TCAT Assistant General Manager Matt Yarrow, who was more than happy to support the project. Over the past year, Yarrow has been working with a consultant and staff on a once-in-a-decade comprehensive Transit Development Plan that has a strong emphasis on reducing transportation barriers.
Yarrow, who oversees TCAT’s service development, said transit planners working with limited resources must prioritize essential travel; getting people to work and basic services is most important, especially for those riders with limited incomes. Fewer resources are left for planners to tailor service around leisure activities. Plus, he added: “Recreation means different things to different people, which makes it more challenging, so having this outside help is golden.”
Much of the outside help to create the map came from a seven-member team from Cornell Design Connect, described as a multidisciplinary, student-run, community design organization. Headed by Quinn Kelly, who in May earned his master’s degree from Cornell in regional planning, and Emile Bensedrine, a student in Cornell’s urban and regional studies program, the team brought an enormous amount of talent and energy to the project with an exhaustive list of duties ranging from working with geographic information systems and digital graphics design programs to writing, editing and illustrating.
After a thorough analysis of TCAT’s bus network and identifying what bus stops provided access to local parks and trails, the students surveyed 200 people to determine how they have and how they want to use TCAT to travel to those outdoor destinations. “This information was crucial in helping the team prioritize certain natural areas and bus stops to feature in their deliverables, said Bensedrine, adding that the results prompted TCAT to make adjustments, including adding a bus stop near the Finger Lakes Trail at Lower Treman Park.
The information Shulman’s crew provided also informed TCAT where to improve signage for outdoor recreation as well as make other small tweaks with routing. A number of other local groups contributed to the project including county planners and local transportation advocates
As an example, the Ithaca-Tompkins County Transportation Council provided funding for the printing of 500 copies of the map for TCAT to place on buses and at its two main downtown stations on Green St. and Seneca St. (TCAT also plans to print copies for additional distribution.)
An idea embraced all over
Those collaborating on the Trails to TCAT project were heartened to find that similar efforts are happening elsewhere among large transportation systems in Seattle, New York City and Boston. A recent article by Gregory Scrugs in “Reason to be Cheerful,” an editorial project by musician David Byrne, touts the many successes where transit agencies adopted transit-accessible hiking to reduce transportation barriers, especially for underserved urban populations.