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Understanding Tribal Mobility Challenges during Native American Heritage Month

Posted: November 8, 2023

Safe transportation options are a vital part of life—whether it’s traveling to work, medical appointments, grocery stores, or social engagements—we’re always on the move.

In rural or isolated communities, this can often present challenges, and these challenges are amplified for Native American tribal communities.

The National Rural Transit Assistance Program highlights immature or underdeveloped transit systems and infrastructure combined with large service areas and dispersed destinations as part of the struggles facing tribal communities. A safety report from the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration found that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of unintentional death in indigenous Americans under age 44.

Solutions are needed—but what’s being done for these communities to enable safe and reliable mobility?

SAE Authors Katelyn Davis and Kristin Shaw provided a glimpse into one case study around the Karuk Tribe through a chapter in their book, Women Driven Mobility: Rethinking the Way the World Moves.

“They were suffering from a lot of disinvestment or lack of investment in infrastructure,” Davis told SAE in an interview earlier this year. “They were having a lot of pedestrian accidents.”

A lack of vehicle access combined with poor sidewalk infrastructure played a big role in those accidents. There was also the matter of financial resources, which are limited in the community.

Through the Happy Camp Complete Streets project detailed in the book, a team of mobility professionals recognized the need for a multimodal transportation infrastructure to serve the needs of the Karuk Tribe. With a nearly $10 million Cycle 5 Active Transportation Program grant the Karuk Tribe received in 2021, the team put together a construction plan to help achieve their goals of road improvement.

In September 2023, the Department of Transportation announced $9.9 million in grant funding to improve public transit programs for Native Americans, and pledged $324,000 to the Karuk tribe for a new transit system.

Read more about the Happy Camp Complete Streets project in Women Driven Mobility and find more information on transportation safety for tribes at