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Comprehensive social equity study for the Baltimore Urban League.
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  • Abstract:
    This report was commissioned by the Greater Baltimore Urban League (GBUL) to the

    Graduate Program in City and Regional Planning and the National Transportation Center

    at Morgan State University. The purpose of the report is to answer two broad research

    questions: (a) how does the public participation process in transportation reach,

    empower, and take into account low-income and minority communities and their needs,

    problems, and aspirations? And (b) how are equity and environmental justice data and

    concerns incorporated into the decision- making process? The research employed

    multiple methods. These included a literature review; qualitative interviews with

    transportation planners, practitioners and policymakers, and other stakeholders in

    transportation planning and policy; a focus group; and a survey. Our primary analytical

    framework was drawn from critical ethnography and studies of practice and discourse in

    public policy.

    Three different views of environmental justice emerged from this study. Most

    private consulting firms are engaged in environmental justice and citizen participation

    because it’s a source of job and contracts. Most public officials are engaged in

    environmental justice and public participation because it’s a federal regulation and

    requirement. However, most citizen and advocacy groups consider environmental justice

    and citizen participation as part of the agency’s mission. The lack of uniform standards

    regarding environmental justice issues, coupled with scarcity of information, as well as

    the complexity of the issues, are all obstacles in implementing and enforcing environmental justice principles. Access to information is an important issue for

    community organizations, advocacy groups, low income and minority groups. Public

    agencies often hold meetings at places that are not easily accessible, or at times difficult

    for transit dependent, low-income, and minority populations to attend.

    We recommend that transportation agencies take a proactive stance in involving

    low-income and minority communities in the transportation policy and planning process.

    This should involve establishing outreach programs through nonprofit organizations,

    minority institutions, and advocacy groups that already play significant roles in these

    communities. The transportation agencies should work with these organizations to set up

    public meetings and hearings that are accessible. They should consider holding meetings

    in the communities themselves, and at times and on days which will allow the maximum

    possible participation. One idea that may be effective is holding informal, small-group

    meetings in neighborhoods, initiated by community leaders. Another way to boost

    participation would be to provide child-care during the meeting. Utilizing people who

    understand the culture of the targeted communities to initiate contact is also crucial to

    ensure greater participation among minority groups. In addition to the process of

    soliciting community involvement, making information on transportation issues readily

    available is critical. Such methods as radio, schools, libraries and churches could prove

    to be effective means of communications. There is also the need to translate documents

    into languages other than English to reach out to the non-English speaking minorities.

    The findings also suggest the need for transportation agencies, particularly the MTA, to

    re-evaluate bus schedules and routes to meet the demand of low-income and minority

    populations that depend on the system. The frequency and quality of the services should

    be improved, especially in the poorer segments of the city, in order to make the transit

    system just and equitable.

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