Civic Mapping Initiative Supports Transit Planning & Accessibility 


  • Matt Crespi
March 8, 2024 - (5 min read)

For the last few years, the public transportation needs of Americans have been changing faster than ever. In response, city leaders, planners, and transit agencies have been hard at work developing creative ways to improve and adapt transportation networks. A new resource from the National League of Cities (NLC) will support local leaders and transit planners in these efforts. 

The Civic Mapping Initiative (CMI), acquired from the Seldin/Haring-Smith Foundation (SHSF), offers easy-to-navigate Google Maps that identify key opportunities to improve transit accessibility while highlighting regional and national trends. The maps currently focus on the transit accessibility of Head Start centers and community and technical colleges. NLC plans to map the accessibility of additional types of civic infrastructure in the future. 

CMI also provides data and policy analysis to support making communities more accessible for all. Working with public transit authorities and leaders at local, state, and federal levels, this initiative has already led to action on many levels, from moving individual bus stops to introducing the bipartisan PATH to College Act in Congress. 

CMI research consistently highlights that important civic resources are often near transit but still not easily accessible. For example, CMI’s Head Start Transit Map, launched in the fall of last year, plotted over 16,000 Head Start locations nationwide and revealed thousands of opportunities for improving access. The maps have served as a jumping-off point for communication among transit planners and local municipal leaders to improve transit service to meet their communities’ needs.  

Transportation can be a significant barrier, especially for low-income residents. Community college leaders often say some version of “our students are one flat tire away from dropping out,” and commuting journeys aren’t always considered from the perspective of small children. Fortunately, cities are embracing their roles as laboratories for developing a better future. From diligent efforts to solicit feedback from community members (including non-transit riders who might become riders) to leveraging new technologies to optimize and enable dynamically routed demand-response services to considering how toddlers interact with pedestrian infrastructure (or lack thereof), communities all over the country are making strides to improving access, convenience, and safety, and NLC is proud to be a partner in advancing these missions. 

Working with local leaders in municipal government and their counterparts leading important civic assets, the Civic Mapping Initiative will contribute to NLC’s goals of: 

  • Supporting local leaders in using data to understand the needs of their communities. 
  • Providing data and policy analysis to highlight opportunities and mechanisms to support residents of our cities, towns, and villages. 
  • Advocating for increased transportation accessibility through bipartisan federal legislation and funding. 

Several NLC member cities have already used CMI resources to address transit challenges in their cities, including two recent changes in response to the Head Start Transit Map: 

  • Memphis, TN: The Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) has been at the forefront of the national movement to improve transit access to Head Starts. They worked with the National Head Start Association and CMI to identify three Head Start centers that had a bus stop nearby but just far enough away that it presented an obstacle for Head Start families. Not only did they relocate those bus stops – cutting out distance as well as busy streets and roads without sidewalks from many toddlers’ daily commutes – MATA decorated a city bus with art from local Head Start students to publicly declare their commitment to Head Start families. 
  • Alexandria, VA: When most people think of public transit in Alexandria, VA, they think of WMATA’s blue and yellow lines, i.e., rail transit into nearby Washington, DC. But even more locally, the Alexandria Transit Company’s cleverly named system Driving Alexandria Safely Home (DASH) bus provides service for those living, working and needing childcare within the city. After seeing CMI’s finding that almost two-thirds of Virginia Head Start centers were more than a toddler’s walking distance away from the nearest transit stop, leaders in Alexandria began thinking more deeply about the pedestrian experiences of transit’s smallest riders. The city relocated and improved two DASH stops to provide Head Start children (and those walking with, pushing or carrying them) a shorter, safer walk to and from the bus. 

ther NLC member cities have addressed these issues on their own, and they’ve shared their stories with CMI hoping that their experiences can help others: 

  • St. Petersburg College, in Florida has worked with its local transit agency, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, to implement several best practices in making community college accessible to students. Students can ride the bus for free using their student ID cards; the college coordinates with the transit agency so they can make sure bus and class schedules line up in ways that work for students; and by staying in touch, they can make sure there are no disruptive mid-semester changes. 
  • In the Great Lakes Bay Region, Saginaw, Michigan worked closely with Delta College, 13 miles away from Saginaw’s transit plaza, to ensure access to its main campus where most programs hold required classes. Not only did students and advocates identify this distance as a barrier, but existing bus options stopped running before the end of evening classes. With the support of Delta College’s president, Dr. Michael Gavin, STARS (Saginaw’s transit agency) created a special service with student schedules in mind, running directly from Saginaw’s main transit hub to the college’s main campus.  

STARS Director of External Affairs Jamie Forbes describes the current status: “Now in its second year, ridership on the Delta Direct has more than doubled, and Dr. Gavin has joined the STARS Board of Directors, further committing to our partnership. STARS and Delta are now, more than ever, sure that educational opportunities matter so much more when everyone has the opportunity to take advantage of them. 

Learn more about the Civic Mapping Initiative and its map resources. 

About the Author

Matt Crespi

About the Author

Matthew Crespi, PhD is a Program Director of the Civic Mapping Initiative in the Research & Data Analysis Center.