On May 18, 2020, ITS-Davis hosted the second in its series of 3Revolutions webinars. This installment, titled Equity, Community, and the 3 Revolutions in Transportation Mobility, focused on innovations in technology and planning best practices which can better support communities underserved by transportation services. The seminar featured speakers Bernadette Austin, Acting Director, UC Davis Center for Regional Change; Hana Creger, Program Manager, Environmental Equity, Greenline Institute; and Cynthia Cortez, Associate Director, Southeast LA Collaborative (SELA). Click here for more panelists' bios.
Greenlining’s Hana Creger opened the discussion with remarks on the distinction between equality and equity. “Equality is the assumption that the playing field is level, and therefore everyone receives the same one sized solution.” Whereas, advancing equity, Creger explains, first requires acknowledgment of historical disadvantages and then requires tailoring strategies to target unique needs. Equity should be a guiding principle in the design of transportation policy. Creger advocates for bringing opportunity and access to communities in an effort to reverse the inequalities caused by historic practice if redlining. Redlining institutionalized racism by restricting home loans for people of color, resulting in lower home ownership rates among people of color and segregated neighborhoods.
Creger highlighted how redlining influenced highway construction, sometimes bisecting communities. In response to this antiquated and unjust policy, Creger and the Greenlining Institute are working to implement equitable practices that empower communities by giving them fair representation on public policy decisions. Creger cautioned that “equity is not a commitment or promise, but instead an action.” The Greenlining Institute suggests four steps for making this practice actionable: Embed Equity Into Goals, Build Equity into the Process (e.g community-identified equity needs assessment), Equity Analysis, and finally to Measure and Analyze Data for equity. By taking these steps, Creger remarked that governments can reverse the unjust histories and instead be instruments of change..
UC Davis Center for Regional Change, Director Bernadette Austin agreed that equity is critical for developing transportation access, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. She warned there will be other disasters, and governments need to work with their diverse communities to plan for long-term rebuilding efforts after fires, floods and future pandemics. Austin remarked that “when trust is built with community partners, you can be in dialogue and collaborate on constructive solutions.” She pointed out that relationships with community brokers (civic leaders, service providers, non-profits) are key to developing preparedness because they can provide insight to the specific needs of different communities.
Pushing back against some popular arguments, Austin asserted that it is entirely possible to have a successful economy while addressing environmental and equity issues. She is currently working on transportation equity projects, including one study on how communities are impacted by the high cost of living in the Bay Area. Too often, Austin noted, workers are forced to live far from their jobs, and they don’t have access to transportation. This jobs-housing mismatch brings about significant transportation consequences that compel people to drive upwards of four hours a day. .
The COVID-19 pandemic, Austin asserted may offer new opportunities despite the many new challenges. This ‘new normal’ offers a chance to improve access to community decision making and civic involvement. Some people find they can participate more frequently with remote seminars and other events on digital platforms. With increased public access via virtual channels, some people may feel more comfortable participating in public action or forums for developing community policy.
Following Creger and Austin’s remarks, Cynthia Cortez briefed participants about her leadership role at the Southeast Los Angeles Collaborative (SELA). Cortez works to mitigate air quality issues and transportation inequity in Los Angeles. Using measurables like the quality and affordability of transportation, the group identifies infrastructure assets of communities and plans how to better develop and improve these existing assets. In southeast Los Angeles, air quality, transportation safety, and affordable travel were identified as key issues by interviewing community members.
Cortez advocates for community-involved studies that can provide insights for improvements to Los Angeles’ transportation system. SELA has helped researchers to conduct surveys using a multidisciplinary method that seeks to understand mobility and community needs. As southeast Los Angeles is a car-dependent community with few bike lanes, community members reported they feel unsafe taking alternative forms of travel. Other surveys conducted by SELA also account for the needs of bus drivers and employees who make public transit work. Education plays an important role in these studies and their results. One example is Metro’s Next-Gen Bus Plan, which develops new lines but also works to educate the community and distribute information about planned designs, concepts, and execution.
To close the discussion, each of the panelists was asked if they were hopeful about a more equitable transportation future. All of the panelists responded with optimism that the seeds of change have begun to take root, and they can envision an equitable transportation system on the horizon.