Monday, March 20, 2017

Parks for Everyone!

As I discussed in my November 17 post, I am writing a series of quarterly blogs discussing trends and key data from the 2016 Change in Motion report. This is the second in that series. You can find the first, on housing affordability, here.

Whether you are a parent taking your toddler to the jungle gym, a weekend warrior playing
on a city-league softball team, or someone who simply enjoys a nice walk by the river, we all benefit from the Treasure Valley’s vast number of parks.

Between the two counties, we have nearly 5,900 acres of public parks, in addition to private parks (e.g., those owned by neighborhood associations) and vast open spaces, such as the foothills and Morley Nelson Birds of Prey National Conservation Area. As of 2015, those 5,900 acres of public parks equated to 9.1 acres for every 1,000 people in the Treasure Valley.

In Communities in Motion 2040, COMPASS set a target of more than 10 acres of public parks per 1,000 people by 2040; a target that is consistent with national standards. While the current ratio of 9.1 per 1,000 is close to our target of 10, it is actually a decrease from our 2013 ratio of 9.8 per 1,000.

This begs two questions: (1) Why does a transportation plan have a target for parks in the first place? (2) Why did the ratio decrease? Are we losing parks?

Communities in Motion 2040 is different from COMPASS’ previous long-range transportation plans. COMPASS recognizes that you cannot plan for the transportation future of a region in a vacuum, so the plan not only addresses transportation, but also includes elements that affect, and are affected by, transportation. One of these elements is open space, which includes public parks.

To that end, Communities in Motion 2040 includes a goal to, “[p]romote development and transportation projects that protect and provide all of the region’s population with access to open space, natural resources, and trails.”

While parks and open space have many environmental and other benefits related to their simple existence (think of the pleasure of seeing the foothills out your window, even if you don’t ever set foot in them), most areas designated as “parks” are designed to be “used” by people, from playing soccer or Frisbee to picnicking or simply relaxing in the outdoors. From this standpoint, they are of limited benefit if the users can’t get to them. A robust transportation system is needed to ensure that people, of all walks of life, can access our public parks – by car, by bike, on foot, or by bus.

On the flip side, public parks and other open spaces and pathways, such as the Boise River Greenbelt, contribute to our transportation system by providing opportunities for active transportation. For example, during 2016, COMPASS’ automated bicycle counters recorded an average of over 550 cyclists using the Boise River Greenbelt during the morning commute (6 am – 9 am) each weekday.

So, if parks are so important, why we are moving away from our target? First, let me assure you that this doesn’t mean we are losing parks. What it does mean is that our parks aren’t keeping up with our population. It’s a simple math equation. Our population increased rapidly, but the acreage of parks didn’t increase proportionally, so the acres per 1,000 people decreased. To reach our goal, our acreage of parks needs to increase at a faster rate than our population.

We’ll continue to monitor this trend, and hopefully can report in the future that we have reversed direction and are moving closer to our 10 acres per 1,000 people goal.

In the meantime, we do have almost 5,900 wonderful acres of parks. After a long, harsh winter let’s all get outside and enjoy them!

Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho

COMPASS is the designated Metropolitan Planning Organization responsible for transportation planning in Ada and Canyon Counties. The COMPASS Board comprises 39 members representing the cities, counties, highway districts, educational institutions, state agencies, and other entities within the two counties. COMPASS plays an important role in making decisions about future long-range transportation needs in the Treasure Valley, taking into consideration environmental and economic factors that affect the quality of life.