Wanna explore nature? gotta have a car

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Just yesterday I had a fun walk in the woods at the Middlesex Fells Reservation with friends Rachel, Ethan, baby Teagan, and Wiley the dog. Here’s a picture of them with Wiley in opening of a dead tree and Teagan snug in the baby carrier:

Happy friends taking a photo break during a woodsy walk.
Happy friends taking a photo break during a woodsy walk.

The Middlesex Fells is a very popular nature area where people walk, hike, bike, ski, picnic, etc. It’s a 14-minute drive from my place, and a 7-minute drive from Rachel and Ethan’s house. It’s also bikable distance for us from both of our places. But what about public transport? Not so easy– one hour by bus/train from me, and 40 minutes from their house. Of course, because we have cars and bikes, it’s not an issue.

But it is an issue– for many communities and for many nature areas. In a report on equity and access to the Blue Hills reservation state park that came out recently in Boston,

…many in the community say they have never been there, and have never heard of the ski slope, the horse-riding facilities, the hundreds of miles of wooded trails, the large swimming and fishing pond, and even the National Weather Service observatory on its peak…That discrepancy in expectations is more pronounced among the 35% of residents dependent on public transit, which doesn’t move across the Blue Hills.

I’ve been to the Blue Hills reservation many times. There’s swimming, hiking (including ranger-led and meetup group hikes), picnicking, skiing in winter (including downhill), and all kinds of organized activities. It’s about 16 miles from me, and I can get there in 30 minutes in my car. But for residents of the Mattapan and Dorchester neighborhoods who are around 4–6 miles away and depend on public transit, it’s out of reach.

State Rep. Chris Worrell, who represents Grove Hall, said that few in his district would go to the Blue Hills Reservation despite it being so close. “Transportation deserts are real, and my constituents feel the repercussions of them daily,” said Worrell. “The study examined what we already knew, but it’s a step in the right direction toward awareness and change for our community.”

The solution in this case? Reroute one of the existing bus lines to stop at one of the main entrances to the park. A more expansive option would be to create a new bus route that takes in popular nature and recreational facilities in the area. Cost? $80K for the bigger plan, and much much less for the more modest one. That doesn’t seem like a lot of money in the context of a state budget, especially to open up state-owned resources like these to local residents.

This problem is all-too-common and not addressed nearly enough in North America. When I looked up “national parks public transport” I found this Outside online article touting “8 national parks you see without a car. Really? Well, no. You have to drive to get to the national parks, and then you can take a bus that makes its way around some routes in the park. That’s cool, but it’s not what I was looking for. And totally not the same thing.

Transportation inequity is real and it’s everywhere. And it’s a feminist issue– equal access supports us all and builds community solidarity, support for environmental concerns, and spreads of joy and beauty of nature to everyone.

So, readers: how do people access nature in your area? Are there public transportation routes? Is there talk in your communities about creating or expanding on them? I’d love to hear from you.

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