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Sarasota Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019 9 months ago

Young professional group focuses on future of transit

A coalition led by millennials is working to define what transportation will look like in Sarasota in 2045.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

On a Tuesday evening in June, more than a dozen young professionals met at Gecko’s Grill and Pub in Southside Village — not to blow off steam after a long workday but to discuss topics including autonomous vehicles and microtransit.

More than 50 people have joined the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Transform 2045 group, composed of residents aged 18-45. The MPO, a regional transportation body, formed Transform 2045 as part of its Transform Tomorrow long-term planning effort.

Corinne Tucker, the MPO’s public involvement coordinator, is taking a leading role with the group, which has been holding monthly meetings since March. But Tucker, 28, credited Leigh Holt, the MPO’s strategic planning manager, with creating an advisory body specifically made up of younger participants.

The MPO is in the process of drafting a strategic plan for the year 2045. The organization is required to conduct a comprehensive analysis looking at transportation in the region 25 years into the future. Holt thought it made sense to engage with the people who might be leaders in the community at that point in time — or at least more representative of the population who will be using the transportation network.

“If you look at our board and our volunteers and people who traditionally participate in what we’re doing, many of them may not be here in 2045,” Holt said. “And if we are, you aren’t going to want us to drive.”

Although the group includes some members of generations X and Z, the bulk of it is millennials, a key demographic as traffic professionals plot the future of the region. One of them is Cate McLean, 37, a communications professional with Sarasota brand agency AtLarge.

McLean, who has taken a leadership role with the group, said she felt motivated to join the group because she has started a family in the region. She has two children, one of whom just started kindergarten, which means safe transportation to and from school is an important issue for her. As someone who works near downtown Sarasota, so is traffic congestion.

She said she thinks other members of the group have similar motives for getting involved. As the people poised to live in the community for the next several decades, they have a strong incentive to weigh in on how the region should look in 2045.

“We’ve created roots,” McLean said.

Improving outreach to millennials and younger members of the community has been a priority for many organizations, but it’s a difficult goal to actually achieve. Transform 2045 is attempting to keep its members engaged — and attract new participants — by tailoring the content of its meetings to its audience.

The June meeting focused on technology in transportation; MPO officials in attendance noted Transform 2045 members showed more comfort with the prospect of using autonomous vehicles than the general population, based on survey results. A July meeting dealt with transportation and the environment, something Holt said seemed to be a particular topic of interest for younger residents.

So far, the group is optimistic about its efforts to connect with its target demographic.

“I feel like we’re picking up momentum,” McLean said. “I think we’re in a good spot right now. They feel like their voice is being heard.”

Tucker emphasized the potential to make a tangible difference on the future of the region based on the importance of the Transform Tomorrow process.

“Every comment they make, every survey they take will feed into the end product,” Tucker said. “We can’t fund projects that aren’t in our long-range transportation plan. Everything must be in the plan for us or the state to put dollars to it.”

Tucker said the desires of younger and older residents aren’t always different. Across age lines, there’s public interest in reducing traffic congestion and expanding opportunities for multimodal transportation.

Still, she thinks part of the value of Transform 2045 is giving a new generation a forum they feel like they can own — a place where they might feel more comfortable to share their thoughts than traditional government meetings or public workshops.

“It’s important they have a voice because they’re the future leaders of America and this region,” Tucker said.

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