Research Underway to Address Travel Needs of Cognitively Divergent Individuals in Complete Streets Plans

The Complete Streets planning approach pushes for a future in which people of all ages and abilities can safely travel. Recently signed NJ legislation takes an important step toward this vision by ensuring that the travel needs of cognitively divergent individuals are addressed in Complete Streets Plans.

In January 2023, Governor Phil Murphy signed S-147 into law, directing the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) to update its Complete Streets policy to consider and implement design elements and infrastructure projects that promote the ability of persons diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs) to travel independently.

This requirement follows important research conducted by Rutgers CAIT and VTC and funded by NJDOT, in which the travel behavior of over 700 adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) was studied. The research concluded that individuals with ASD, seeking to travel independently, experience extraordinary transportation barriers that are complicated by the state’s auto-oriented street design and land uses. With fewer such persons driving cars, an improved network of walking and biking infrastructure opens a world of opportunities for engagement in civic life and to reaching essential destinations via public transportation.

The Complete Streets Summit event will include a session on efforts underway to revise policies to promote travel independence for ASD with IDD persons.

NJDOT has undertaken a project that seeks to address how to accommodate the travel needs of people with ASD and/or IDDs through policy and design. The Department’s Bureau of Safety, Bicycle and Pedestrian Programs has engaged the Rutgers-Voorhees Transportation Center, NV5, Toole Design Group and a working group of NJDOT planners and engineers to assist with addressing the travel needs of cognitively divergent persons – and with meeting the requirements of the legislation.

The research team is developing a primer on Complete Streets and neurodivergence and will use the information gathered to help NJDOT develop universal design guidelines that will ensure the Department’s Complete Streets policy considers the needs of those with ASD and IDDs. The team will be sharing more information at the upcoming 2023 New Jersey Complete Streets Summit on November 1st. Not yet registered? Register Here.

More information on the past and ongoing research underway and how cognitive functioning can differ among members of ASD and IDD populations is summarized in this short article, Complete Streets for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDDs), on the NJ Bicycle and Pedestrian Resource Center website.