Sometimes it can feel like planners and the public are speaking different languages. But when there’s an actual language barrier, getting actionable feedback can be nearly impossible.
At a recent public meeting at RPT in Rochester, MN, community members gathered to provide feedback on the latest Transit Development Plan. The room had a mix of native English speakers and ESL speakers, but what they had in common was a dependence on transit to get to work.
The TDP included changes to Route 12, which connects the Century Hills and Emerald Hills neighborhoods to job centers downtown — and for many of the people present, the current plan made them walk over a mile to reach the bus.
Based on comments, staff started adjusting the map live, pulling the route deeper into the neighborhood while demonstrating in real time what the changes to the route path would mean in terms of timing and cost. “We were able to draw a new route in real time, in about 20 minutes, instead of having to go through several iterations of maps with meetings in between,” says Bryan Law, Transit Planner at RPT.
“This was perhaps my favorite public-meeting experience ever, since we came up with a solution that everyone liked, and some of our riders left the meeting knowing that they had a real constructive impact on shaping their transit system.”
Attendees helped translate and relay each other’s ideas and reactions, all while RPT’s team tried their suggestions and everyone could see the impacts of each turn. “We also were using easy-to-understand maps, which made a big difference with this particular audience of recent immigrants with varying levels of proficiency in English,” Law adds. Ultimately, Law’s team was able to quickly make route changes based on the comments of the residents, and demonstrate tradeoffs between time, cost, and coverage visually — a language everyone could understand.
Reflecting on the meeting, Law said, “This was perhaps my favorite public-meeting experience ever, since we came up with a solution that everyone liked, and some of our riders left the meeting knowing that they had a real constructive impact on shaping their transit system.”
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