We Can Get There From Here : New Perspectives on Transportation Equity
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We Can Get There From Here : New Perspectives on Transportation Equity

Filetype[PDF-861.98 KB]


  • English

  • Details:

    • Resource Type:
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    • NTL Classification:
      NTL-HIGHWAY/ROAD TRANSPORTATION-HIGHWAY/ROAD TRANSPORTATION;NTL-ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT-Environment Impacts;NTL-PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION-Social Impacts;
    • Abstract:
      Achieving transportation equity is a transportation system goal that is becoming increasingly important in both the public sector and academia. An equitable transportation system would ensure that the benefits and burdens created by transportation projects, policies, and plans are shared fairly such that no groups would be unduly burdened by a lack of access to adequate transportation nor by the negative effects of proximity to transportation infrastructure. Such a system would also ensure that public participation in the transportation decision making process is meaningful and effective and that participants would have a reasonable expectation that their voices would be heard and decisions changed in response. The purpose of this white paper is to provide an overview, synthesis, and critical assessment of academic research and transportation planning practice in order to provide a shared foundation for the many parties working toward equitable transportation systems. Throughout, we highlight key dimensions of transportation equity to provide a common language and to facilitate collaboration among transportation decision makers, planners, policymakers, advocates, and the general public. These groups will also be able to use the white paper to identify key research needs and promising strategies for advancing transportation equity goals. We hope that this shared understanding of the definitions, challenges, and opportunities in this field will enable often conflicting parties to collaborate in achieving the common goal of transportation equity: in other words, to “get there from here.” We begin with a review of the empirical evidence on the differences in travel behaviors across demographic groups. We find that many of the results point in the same direction: the race and ethnicity of a traveler is likely to affect the transportation resources available to them and the decisions they make regarding the amount of travel they undertake and the mode they use to undertake it. The implication of these collected findings is that different types of transportation infrastructure will be used at different rates by different groups. These differentials will affect the ratio of benefits and burdens that are experienced by each group. Thus, any effort to understand the impacts of a project, plan, or policy has to consider the demographics of existing and potential users as well as these effects over time and space. We then review the evidence on the distribution of benefits and burdens and their relationship to transportation infrastructure and land use, finding disparities in the distribution of both. From the transportation accessibility literature, which focuses on the ease with which people can reach desired destinations (e.g., parks, places of work, schools, etc.), it is clear that a lack of access to needed goods and services and social connections affects health and quality of life. Furthermore, disparities in access to jobs, healthy food, and health care are widely observed along income and race and ethnicity dimensions. While people of color and low-income populations have adequate access to parks and walkable environments in many areas, there may be disparities in the quality of those facilities. Additionally, the means of travel (often called the travel “mode” in the academic literature) can have significant impacts on health and well-being. Access to a vehicle and the quality of transit play critical roles in the accessibility to a variety of destination types. From literature focused on transportation burdens, we see that in most parts of the United States, low-income people and people of color are more likely to live near busy roads, potentially exposing them to greater air pollution and noise impacts. Collision risks are also greater for these populations. While race, ethnicity, and income are commonly evaluated, there is also potential for disparate impacts among other groups, including rural, transit-dependent, and elderly populations. Furthermore, while these conditions are found throughout the country, there are also regional variations in the type of benefit or burden that must be addressed. The research literature on these topics is growing increasingly sophisticated. At the same time, methodological and analytical challenges remain. Future research should continue to improve upon analytical approaches to evaluate the patterns of inequity in transportation benefits and burdens as well as analyze the potential for tradeoffs between equity and other planning and policy objectives (e.g. placing affordable transit-oriented development in congested urban areas). Furthermore, additional research is needed to assess the design of policies to mitigate and reverse existing disparities. In this white paper we have attempted to provide a summary of broadly applicable findings, but in practice the details matter, and it is important to account for variation across regions, populations, and policy spheres. Fortunately, there are a number of promising directions for practical analysis and policy that can be drawn upon for this finer grained analysis. Regions—geographic areas defined by economic connections through shared labor and housing markets, politically through planning agencies, and often ecologically through common air and/or water basins—have become important sites for social equity advocacy and organizing. Regional equity advocates often focus on the underlying causes of spatial differences in opportunity that arise from differential tax bases, school quality, and job opportunities across a metropolitan area. More recently, public agencies with regional responsibility for transportation planning are also seeing increasing levels of engagement related to issues of infrastructure spending, access to opportunities, gentrification and displacement, and affordable housing. The authors share a belief that, even though the equity challenges and disparities we present in this white paper may seem at best intractable, by placing a central focus on equity, transportation policy makers, planners, advocates, and researchers “can get there from here.” Based on our community-engaged scholarship, we also see that some of the most promising approaches to advance the goals of transportation equity are not being generated by planning agencies or academic researchers, but by communities themselves. Community-directed equity analyses, with geographic units and performance measures selected through community input, have the potential to empower advocates and lead to improvements in the health and wellbeing of local residents. To sustain such community engagement will require policy strategies such as securing dedicated funding streams to support community engagement and meet the priority unmet needs of disadvantaged communities.
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