Transit Equity Resources

Photo courtesy of ZaksSnaps on flickr.com

Now that the busy holiday season has come to a close, I am taking part in my annual new years tradition of cleaning out my desk. I am a strong believer in the genius of piles because when we do finally sort through them, we find things that surprise, inspire and remind us.  And this week, when I came across the pile of publications I had picked up at the Equity Summit in Detroit around transportation equity I was most certainly inspired. In November 2011, I was part of a 150 person delegation from the Twin Cities to learn, share, and meet with 2500 people from around the country working and thinking about equity issues. Transportation equity was a large part of the discussion as shared by Owen Duckworth from TLC in his post about the conference at
http://tlcminnesota.typepad.com/blog/2011/12/policylinks-equity-summit-2011.html. What I found especially exciting about the transit equity dialogues was that transportation was not ever talked about as a single issue. Speakers, authors and practitioners drew numerous connections between public health, land use planning, housing and access to jobs and transportation systems and policy.  Policy Link’s Executive Director, Angela Glover Blackwell, puts it best, “Transportation policy is, in effect, health policy – and environmental policy, food policy, employment policy and metropolitan development policy.” (The Transportation Prescription)

The genius pile on my desk this week inspired me by reinforcing the lessons learned at the Equity Summit.   The first of those publications, The Transportation Prescription, Bold New Ideas for Healthy, Equitable Transportation Reform in America, draws links between public health and transportation (http://www.policylink.org/site/apps/nlnet/content2.aspx?c=lkIXLbMNJrE&b=5136581&ct=7290885). To whet your appetite I pulled a quote from the Introduction, authored by Minnesota’s very own champion of transportation, Congressman Jim Oberstar.  

“For too long now, our transportation decision making has failed to address the impacts that our infrastructure network has on public health and equity. The asphalt poured and lane miles constructed enhanced our mobility and strengthened our economic growth; but too often, this auto-centric mindset took hold and crowded out opportunities to invest in a truly sustainable intermodal transportation system, in particular a system that metes the needs of under-served communities.  The failure to link transportation and land use decision making, and to consider the public health effects of these choices, has lead to a tilted playing field that has made driving the easiest – and often the only – option available in many parts of the country. Our transportation policies and investments must do more to provide access for all through various modes. Transit, walking, and bicycling all have a significant role to play in lowering our dependence on foreign oil, reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants, and helping Americans incorporate exercise and fresh air into their daily travel routines. We must also continue our pursuit to reduce the number–and rate–of traffic fatalities and injuries that occur each year.”

The second publication that I found especially rich in complexity and content was a recent study released by the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy entitled, Maintaining Diversity In America’s Transit-Rich Neighborhoods: Tools for Equitable Neighborhood Change. (http://www.northeastern.edu/dukakiscenter/)  The report underlines the importance of connecting transportation and land use planning, especially related to issues like ensuring affordable housing in transit rich neighborhoods. 

“More than 3,000 transit-rich neighborhoods (TRNs) in U.S. metropolitan areas have fixed-guideway transit stations and hundreds more such neighborhoods could be created over the next decade if current plans for new transit systems and stations are realized. Americans are increasingly using transit and showing more interest in living in transit-rich neighborhoods. For neighborhood and equity advocates from Atlanta to Seattle and Minneapolis to Houston, however, this good news is tempered by a growing concern about gentrification and displacement. Will current neighborhood residents, many of them low income and/or people of color, benefit from planned transit stations? Or will they be displaced by wealthier and less diverse residents lured not only by transit but also by the other amenities that come with transit-induced neighborhood revitalization? … While patterns of neighborhood change vary, the most predominant pattern is one in which housing becomes more expensive, neighborhood residents become wealthier and vehicle ownership becomes more common. And in some of the newly transit rich neighborhoods, the research reveals how a new transit station can set in motion a cycle of unintended consequences in which core transit users—such as renters and low income households—are priced out in favor of higher-income, car owning residents who are less likely to use public transit for commuting.”

The Twin Cities is mentioned in each of these reports, which is evidence of the dynamic nature of the Twin Cities transportation trends, but these studies also place a responsibility in the hands of our community to proceed with thoughtfulness in our discussions, policies and designs around transportation to ensure a truly equitable future.