Blurring the Lines in Topeka, KS

  • Author: William Reckley
  • Date: March 5, 2020

In February, the National Center for Mobility Management (NCMM) facilitated an issue-focused meeting in Topeka, Kansas alongside Kansas Mobility Management and the Kansas Commission on Disability Concerns (KCDC). The full-day workshop brought together a range of stakeholders to create better health outcomes for those in the region.


The Topeka Region is home to a wealth of healthcare services including two hospitals, a VA Medical Center, and numerous clinics, primary care offices, and therapists. Even with the availability of quality care, some community members still have trouble accessing services due to limited transportation options. Jurisdictional boundaries create gaps in transit services, schedules create barriers to receiving timely care, and lines drawn around groups of riders prevent sharing rides. These boundaries can lead to situations like dialysis centers not being accessible by transit, patients waiting for hours for transportation after an appointment, and inefficient or expensive modes of transport being the only available way of getting to healthcare. These issues cross sectors and require a multi-sector approach in solving them. One of the largest challenges is finding opportunities to bring together not only individuals with insights into the issues, but also those with power to make changes, into one room.

Enter Mike Spadafore, the Director of Mobility Management in Topeka and Shawnee County. Working with NCMM, Mike leveraged his contact list, as well as  those identified by the meeting co-chair Martha Gabehart from KCDC, to invite a range of stakeholders including riders with disabilities to local healthcare providers to the public library system were all represented. With a variety of important voices in the room, we posed the question “How might we establish accessible, affordable, and timely transportation for patients of all ages, abilities, and incomes to improve overall health the Topeka and Shawnee County region?”

Participants of the Topeka Intensive take part in the process of gathering "data points"
Participants of the Topeka Intensive take part in the process of data point collection
Collected data points sorted into broader tags
Collected data points sorted into broader tags


After hearing from crucial local voices including riders with disabilities, health care providers, and transportation and planning staff, attendees worked through activities grounded in design thinking (also known as human-centered design). Groups identified and wrote “data points” on sticky notes based what they heard during the group discussion. Attendees grouped these data by common themes, and then devised challenge statements, which were used to identify potential solutions. Participants also identified areas where they needed to Bring, Buy, or Build resources to support the solutions they had brainstormed, with the hope they could leverage existing resources where possible to ease the implementation of their ideas.

At the end of the meeting, attendees presented their solutions to the group, and the ideas tackled everything from driver training to ways to advocate for transit riders to a checklist to evaluate health impacts of planning decisions. In addition to these ideas, of equal importance was the opportunity for community members to have candid conversations about healthcare access and transportation challenges in their community. Community members left the meeting with new ideas and contacts to work with in advancing healthcare access in the Topeka and Shawnee County region. NCMM looks forward to seeing how Kansas Mobility Management and KCDC leverages the ideas and connections from the meeting to continue their goal of increasing mobility in the greater Topeka region.


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