Op-Ed: Use of data can help families benefit from public transit expansion

The new CT fastrak busway presents a great opportunity for Hartford and New Britain residents, and for Connecticut. The expansion of public transit opens up more employment opportunities for the projected 16,000 riders a day using the new system.

But in order for our region to take full advantage of this new resource, the needs of the residents living in the vicinity of the new transit lines must be taken into consideration.

Op-ed submit bugThese residents include young children and families who are often not the primary consideration for transit-oriented development, which generally focus on labor and housing needs, not family needs.

The Early Development Instrument (EDI), a recent pilot study sponsored by the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, looks at the whole population of children in neighborhoods in Hartford and West Hartford in regards to five key domains: physical health and well-being, language and cognitive development, social competence, emotional maturity, and communication skills and general knowledge. These domains focus not only on academic success, but also the social and emotional development children need to get ready for school.

Maps of the EDI results are a tool to identify areas where fewer children are on track to be ready for school. According to EDI, there are opportunities to support children’s development in the same neighborhoods where new Fastrak stops will open this spring – Asylum Hill and Parkville in Hartford, and the New Park neighborhood in West Hartford. Just half of the children in these neighborhoods are on track in all of the key areas needed to be ready for school.

Map 1: EDI results by neighborhood for Hartford and West Hartford

Click map to open interactive version.

CT Data Collaborative

Click map to open interactive version.

 

Why is transportation important for families and children? Having high quality affordable childcare and preschool located near transit stops enables families to utilize transit to access jobs – helping children’s development while enabling parents to get to work more easily.

This has been a particular challenge in and around Hartford. A recent policy brief cites lack of transportation as a key factor limiting enrollment in pre-K programs, with the “lack of Pre-K transportation disproportionately affect[ing] poor families.” Access to health centers, grocery stores, hospital, parks and other resources benefit families and children. Fastrak will connect riders to some of these resources, but future investments in transportation should benefit two generations–both working parents and their young children.

The Capitol Region Council of Governments has encouraged communities to take on “innovative transit-oriented development” that goes beyond housing and restaurants to consider the needs of children and families. As transportation expands through the rest of Connecticut, can we have this kind of innovative transit-oriented development that benefits families and children?

We can start with our knowledge of the existing resources in neighborhoods and work with parents, residents and others to find ways to connect transportation with these resources.

The maps of EDI are a starting point. The interactive maps show the resources available to families in the neighborhoods of West Hartford and Hartford. For example, the map below displays the location of 10 child care centers in Asylum Hill neighborhood.

Map 2: Location of childcare resources along CT fastrak route

Click map to visit interactive version.

CT Data Collaborative

Click map to visit interactive version.

 

But maps only tell us so much. Are stops situated in places that families will actually use? Are there sidewalks? Are the surrounding streets well lit at night? Family and resident engagement can fill in these blanks and help planners by providing the kind of input that leads to increased access to early childhood programs and family resources, along with jobs.

The launch of the EDI data will be followed by a series of parent cafes in Hartford and West Hartford and the information from those can help future planning. High quality data on neighborhoods and a process for community dialogue based on that data can move us all ahead.

CT fastrak should serve as a stepping stone to connecting more people in Central Connecticut to jobs, but also to schools and childcare. Future transportation investments can do the same. Be it through expansion of CT fastrak east of the river, connection with expanded rail service to New Haven, Springfield or — someday– Boston, or just improvements in how the existing bus and train systems function, transit should provide access to opportunity.

Let’s use the information we have to make sure these new routes connect children and families to resources that will serve them well.

Michelle Riordan-Nold is director of CT Data Collaborative. Scott Gaul is director of the Community Indicators Project, Hartford Foundation for Public Giving.

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