Planada forum will address transportation

Residents unhappywith lack of options

jsmith@mercedsunstar.comMarch 12, 2013 

— Community activists and residents are holding a public meeting in Planada on Thursday to discuss dissatisfaction with public transportation options.

The transportation forum, hosted by Building Healthy Communities, will include representatives from the Merced County Association of Governments.

MCAG officials will be on hand to answer questions about the county's Regional Transportation Plan and countywide bus service.

Neighborhood representatives from Franklin-Beachwood, south Merced, Planada and Le Grand are expected to raise questions about a variety of transportation issues facing their communities.

"The only way for people to engage in their community is if they can get there," said Michelle Xiong, youth coordinator for BHC in Merced. "Participating in community events, from City Council meetings to Board of Supervisors meetings, is not as accessible as it could be."

The Merced Union High School District bus cuts, which have affected hundreds of area students, will likely be front and center at the meeting.

Residents have voiced concerns about a lack of adequate sidewalks and often-unreliable municipal bus service in the city of Merced and surrounding communities, according to BHC organizers.

"Transportation has been challenging in our communities for a long time," Xiong said. "One issue is the school bus cuts. It highlights all these concerns that we have about transportation in our community."

Policy changes, such as school busing cuts, can have significant unintended health effects, said Marilyn Mochel, a registered nurse, who plans to participate in the public event.

"We'll have more teen drivers," she said. "You'll have more bicycling to school and walking to school, so you'll have a higher risk of injury and death. It's really important to consider all of the factors when there's a change in policy."

Also expected to attend are officials from the University of California at Merced Transportation and Parking Services, the Merced Bicycle Coalition, Planada En Acción, We'Ced Magazine, the Merced Organizing Project and California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc.

The transportation forum will be held at Cesar Chavez Middle School at 161 Plainsburg Road in Planada from 5:30 to 8 p.m.

Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or jsmith@mercedsunstar.com.

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