Quality of life is a commonly used term, but what does it mean to the average Minnesota citizen? What factors do Minnesotans identify as important to their quality of life, and how does transportation fit in? The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) has partnered with researchers from the University of Minnesota’s Tourism Center in an effort to find out.
In a statewide study, researchers used focus groups and surveys to identify the major categories that contribute to quality of life in Minnesota, including transportation. The research team was led by Ingrid Schneider, Tourism Center director. Karla Rains, director of customer relations at MnDOT, provided transportation-related guidance.
The study identified 11 main categories that Minnesotans find important for their quality of life, including education, employment, recreation, health, and transportation. And although transportation was ranked ninth in terms of overall importance, participants said it was often a factor in their experience of other categories.
“Transportation is described as the piece that makes everything else on the list happen,” Rains said. “It gets [citizens] to work, health care appointments, and recreation opportunities.”
The research team also asked participants to identify specific services within transportation that contribute to or detract from their quality of life. Results were organized into seven transportation categories: access, design, environment, maintenance, mobility, safety, and transparency (in planning and communications).
Although all seven areas were identified as important, maintenance was considered nearly twice as valuable as any other category. Within maintenance, keeping the road surface smooth—including snow and ice removal—was ranked as MnDOT’s most important activity.
The researchers also asked participants about the categories they would like to see MnDOT emphasize in future planning initiatives. Citizens identified maintenance, access, and safety as the most important for both short- and long-term efforts.
Using the results of the study, MnDOT has begun implementing a planning process that uses transportation as a gathering point to address the multiple needs of a community.
“We’ve already begun holding consumer-centric planning meetings with stakeholders and other state agencies at the corridor-planning level,” Rains said. The meetings aim to expand the discussion beyond transportation investment to consider the benefits of other quality-of-life, economic, and environmental objectives.
MnDOT has also used the quality-of-life study results to support Minnesota GO, a 50-year visioning process aimed at aligning transportation with Minnesota's economy, natural environment, and quality of life.
In addition, MnDOT is using the study results to review and revise its current performance measures, which will be used to guide future planning and investment decisions.
“Our goal is to ensure we’re measuring ourselves against those services that predict satisfaction and contribute to quality of life for Minnesotans,” Rains said.