UWL-hosted community collaboration to learn about policy becomes statewide model
How we get from point A to point B in our community — walking, biking, taking public transit or our car — is a major part of our quality of life.
Yet many of the decisions about transportation are technical or bureaucratic, involving concepts like "Euclidean zoning” and "Level of Service” that are difficult to understand and make it hard for the public to participate in the conversation, explains UWL History Professor James Longhurst.
“While you may never have heard of terms like Euclidean zoning and LOS, they determine the design of almost every city in America,” says Longhurst. “They shape property values, housing costs and availability, and freedom of movement for almost everyone.”
This need for transportation knowledge is why Longhurst joined a statewide organization in bringing an “academy” to La Crosse with the goal of teaching citizens to engage in policy issues that are important for health, safety and quality of life.
Now this academy model for public engagement in health and transportation policy has been adopted in two other Wisconsin communities, Stevens Point and Beloit, and is spreading to other parts of the state, supported by AARP Wisconsin and 1000 Friends of Wisconsin.
"Change happens locally with your councilperson,” said Sadie Kuhl, a member of the La Crosse community who joined the academy. “The class has given me the knowledge and a game plan to talk to my council members with actual solutions versus complaints.”
About the academy
La Crosse area citizens joined the Community Transportation Academy, a 10-week educational seminar, in spring 2023 with the goal of providing community members with skills and knowledge to advocate for safe and accessible transportation networks. Students learned about transportation plans and processes, engineering standards, interacted with local and national experts, took local tours and more.
“The weekly classes really opened my eyes to how local infrastructure can’t just be built in one day,” says Randi Serres Pueschner, a local small-business owner. “It takes immense consideration of all factors that affect community members. We as citizens can be advocates for the changes we need in our communities.”
Pueschner learned a lot about the decisions behind transportation design and the large amount of effort in every project. “This class has made me more compassionate to that fact and helped me prioritize learning more about my local community’s process,” says Pueschner.
Members of the public and UWL students were in the class side-by-side with local elected officials who wanted to understand the issue more, as well as staff members for local government.
“More and more communities in Wisconsin, in the U.S., and worldwide realize the importance of increasing safe and accessible alternate transportation options,” says Larry Sleznikow, a member of the La Crosse City Council who joined the academy. Sleznikow is also chair of the city's Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee and Committee for Citizens with Disabilities.
The academy, facilitated by UWL Sustainability & Environmental Studies Program and UWL Graduate and Extended Learning, was led by 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, a statewide organization specializing in land use planning, transportation policy, and advocacy.
“We are delighted with the results from the La Crosse Academy and eager to take the CTA to other parts of the state,” says Deb Nemeth, executive director of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin. “We were especially happy with the UW-La Crosse partnership.”
1000 Friends is currently in a partnership UW-Stevens Point and, in the spring, will be in Beloit and later in Kenosha and Racine.
Longhurst, historian of urban and environmental policy, helped to bring the academy to La Crosse and worked to make it a credit-bearing class for UW La Crosse students.
UW-La Crosse Graduate & Extended Learning provided technical support for the online parts of the course, connected 1000 Friends to local speakers, field trips and more.
While programs like this exist in several other states, this was the first time such a class was offered to Wisconsin residents. The course helped bridge the gap between community advocates and transportation planning entities.
Definitions: Expand your transportation policy knowledge
“Euclidean zoning” is the practice of dividing cities into areas that restrict the use of property, named after the village of Euclid, Ohio. That practice was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1926.
“Level of Service” or LOS, is an engineering term that grades road intersections by how quickly motor vehicle traffic can move through them.
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