Editor’s note: Frank D. Scott, Jr. is a banker and state highway commissioner. Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of Talk Business & Politics.
As a father tries to get his children to school in time to make his morning meeting or a CEO considers how long it would take her employees to travel to the office if she relocated her company to the state, mobility is a critical concern for all Arkansans.
In order to meet the needs of all citizens from urban walkers and bikers to traditional commuters, cities and the regions surrounding them are increasingly challenged to provide an array of mobility options. We are also challenged to be thoughtful in developing plans that leave room to grow into new mobility models without locking ourselves into reliance on a single mode of transportation.
Take Central Arkansas for example. Little Rock is the largest city in Arkansas with an estimated population of nearly 198,000 out of the state’s 2.9 million people. While it may not be the logistics hub that Memphis is or a national leader in sustainability like Portland, Little Rock is a special place that can capitalize on 40% of the nation’s buying power being located within 550 miles of the city and the more than $1 billion of downtown investment the city has seen over the past 20 years. Yet, mobility remains a serious challenge.
For Little Rock and the Central Region as a whole, achieving a more mobile future will take partnership at all levels – partnership between the City of Little Rock, Pulaski County, the business community, and everyday citizens. Issues like mobility and transportation are sometimes thought of as purely government led. However, it is critical we have major employers at the table; especially considering the impact they have on our infrastructure and the economic benefit they provide to the community. With 28 Fortune 500 companies operating in the Central Region, there’s no reason large employers like Dillards, Windstream, and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences shouldn’t be engaged in decision-making right alongside government officials and individual citizens.
This type of regional collaboration would position us to meet a wide range of needs and ensure we are prepared for future growth both in Little Rock and in other parts of the region. It would also enable us to use resources more efficiently and maximize the economic benefit of investments. Together, we can create new urban thinking that both builds on lessons learned from other regions around the country and aligns with our own unique vision for Little Rock and the Central Region as a whole.
For example, Los Angeles, a city notorious for bad traffic, has seen a great deal of success investing in mass transit options to meet the needs of its sprawling populace. Aided by the creation of a new funding stream for transit in 2008, the Los Angeles Metro Region saw a 15% increase in transit use between 2005 and 2014. On the sustainability front, the region saw a 41% increase in the number of bicycle commuters from 2011 to 2014. While the exact same approach may not fit our needs in Central Arkansas, there is much we can learn from how the Los Angeles Metro Region was able to engage public and private sector stakeholders along with everyday citizens to create multiple mobility options for its citizens.
This type of new urban thinking and regional collaboration not only holds value for the Central Region, but also for the entire state. From the Delta to Northwest Arkansas, each region can develop and implement its own unique vision. By improving mobility options, we improve quality of life for Arkansans.
And as I have previously written, quality of life is one of our main competitive advantages as we look to attract businesses to the state and increase economic prosperity.