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Posts from the Equity Category

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Anthony Foxx to Local Officials: Transport Policy Should Tackle Segregation

Local transportation officials should actively work to reduce segregation and promote equal access to quality schools, three Cabinet members say in a “dear colleague” letter released last week [PDF].

Are good schools accessible by transit, or foot and bike safely? Federal officials say transportation officials have a role to play in improving equality. Image: Streetfilms

Are good schools accessible by walking, biking, and transit? Cabinet members say they should be. Image: Streetfilms

The message from Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, HUD Secretary Julián Castro, and Education Secretary John King urges transportation, housing, and education officials at all levels of government to work together to ensure that people aren’t excluded from economic and educational opportunities.

The call to action builds on HUD’s 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which requires local governments that receive federal housing funds to analyze segregation patterns and develop plans to reduce it.

“We recognize that a growing body of research supports the benefits of socioeconomic and racial diversity in schools and communities, and that such diversity can help establish access points for opportunity and mobility,” Foxx, Castro, and King wrote. “We also recognize that children raised in concentrated poverty or in communities segregated by socioeconomic status or race or ethnicity have significantly lower social and economic mobility than those growing up in integrated communities.”

In the transportation sphere, the letter recommends a few steps to take. To paraphrase:

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Car Dependence and the Troubling Rise of Subprime Auto Loans

There have been warning signs about the growth in subprime auto loans for years now. But the issue got some very high-profile attention last week when JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon raised concerns that there may be a bubble in the auto lending market.

Since the economic recovery began, lending institutions have actually loosened standards for car loans. The auto finance sector was excluded from regulation by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was created after the housing crisis to help regulate the consumer banking and credit industry.

Since then, more Americans have chosen to borrow to pay for their cars. About 86 percent of new cars were financed in 2015, up from 80 percent in 2008, according to Tony Dutzik of the Frontier Group, who has been researching the issue. For used cars, the financing rate rose to 55 percent in the second quarter of 2015 — about 7 percentage points higher than in 2010.

Lower-income borrowers account for a large share of the growth in car loans. According to a 2014 New York Times story, subprime auto lending increased 130 percent in the five years following the recession.

Evidence suggests consumers are being stretched thin. Default rates have been climbing. CNN Money reported in March that unpaid subprime car loans are at a 20-year high. As Dimon indicated, this may pose a risk to the broader economy.

But the core issue, says Carjacked author and Brown University professor Catherine Lutz, is the high cost of car dependent development patterns for low-income people. The subprime auto market is booming because in so much of the country, owning a car is a necessity to access employment and other basics.

“If you look at what people have to pay to stay in a car it’s a phenomenal amount of money,” she said. “The bottom two [income] quintiles often have zero equity in anything. So to get a car they have to take a loan.”

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House Panel Calls on U.S. DOT to Measure Access to Economic Opportunity

A bill working its way through Congress may prompt federal officials to get a better handle on how transportation projects help or hinder access to jobs, education, and health care.

California Congresswoman Maxine Waters was one of the sponsors of the provision. Photo: Wikipedia

Representative Maxine Waters of California sponsored the provision. Photo: Wikipedia

The legislation, which passed out of a House Committee this week, calls for U.S. DOT to measure “the degree to which the transportation system, including public transportation, provides multimodal connections to economic opportunities, including job concentration areas, health care services, child care services, and education and workforce training services, particularly for disadvantaged populations.” Details of how the proposed metrics work would be determined by U.S. DOT in a formal rule-making process.

Sixty years of highway-centric transportation policies have systematically curtailed opportunity for poor Americans — spreading jobs and housing farther apart and limiting access to employment, especially for people without cars. Even today, projects like the Tampa Bay Express Lanes demolish properties in low-income urban areas to save time for more affluent suburban car commuters.

The provision in the House bill aims to make change through accountability. It won’t dictate policy, but it should illustrate how transportation policy decisions expand or diminish access to economic opportunity.

Advocates including PolicyLink and the Leadership Conference on Human and Civil Rights campaigned for such legislation for years, but it was not included in the last federal transportation bill.

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Tourists Keep Their Trolleys While Memphis Bus Riders Face Devastating Cuts

Memphis bus riders protest potential service cuts. Photo: Memphis Bus Riders' Union

Memphis bus riders protest potential service cuts. Photo: Memphis Bus Riders’ Union

Memphis’s transit system is in crisis.

For a long time, the Memphis Area Transit Authority redirected funds intended for repairing buses and trolleys to instead pay drivers and buy gas. Now the jig is up. A handful of buses as well as two of the city’s historic trolleys have actually caught fire in recent years.

According to MATA CEO Ron Garrison, the system is “on the verge of collapse.”

Memphis' historic trolleys shut down two years ago after a number of fires. But lawmakers are working on a fix. Photo: Wikipedia

Memphis officials quickly came to the rescue of the city’s historic trolleys, but haven’t leapt to defend regular bus service. Photo: Wikipedia

The city’s historic trolleys — which mainly serve tourists in the downtown area — were shut down two years ago after those fires. What followed was an all-hands-on-deck effort to restore trolley service, which is a “prize possession” of downtown developers, says Bennett Foster of the Memphis Bus Riders Union. Political leaders quickly pieced together $32 million in local, state, and federal funding to restore trolley service. Two replacement trolleys have been purchased.

But will local leaders come through for the people who rely on bus service to get to work and go about their day?

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High Transportation Costs Make a Lot of HUD Housing Unaffordable

"Affordable" housing units with excessively high transportation costs shown in red, and affordable transportation costs in yellow in the Atlanta area (left) and Detroit area (right). Map: University of Texas

Maps of Atlanta (left) and Detroit (right) show HUD rental units with high transportation costs in red and those with affordable transportation costs in yellow. Maps: University of Texas

Rental assistance from HUD isn’t enough to make the cost of living affordable when the subsidies go toward housing in car-dependent areas, according to a new study by researchers from the University of Texas and the University of Utah. The study evaluated transportation costs for more than 18,000 households that receive HUD rental subsidies, estimating that nearly half of recipients have to spend more than 15 percent of their household budgets on transportation.

HUD generally considers housing to be “affordable” if it consumes less than 30 percent of a family’s income. But that calculation doesn’t factor in the transportation costs that come along with different housing locations. A family that lives in a walkable neighborhood with good transit options will be less burdened with transportation costs — car payments, insurance, gas — than a family with the same income living in an area where they have to drive for every trip.

A broader picture of affordability comes from the “H+T index” popularized by the Center for Neighborhood Technology, which holds that if housing accounts for 30 percent of a household’s budget, transportation should not account for more than 15 percent to keep total costs affordable.

In the new study, researchers developed a model to determine how much households receiving HUD rental assistance have to spend on transportation in several cities. They found a great deal of variation across metro areas. In San Antonio, for example, only 13.5 percent of the housing units were in locations where transportation costs would consume less than 15 percent of household income, while in Los Angeles the figure was 97 percent.

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Study: Upward Mobility Much Higher in Regions With Less Sprawl

Living in a sprawling area, like Atlanta, or a compact one, like Boston, doesn’t just affect how you get around. A new study published in the Journal of Landscape and Urban Planning suggests it may also have a significant impact on your chances to escape poverty.

Children in a sprawling area like Atlanta are less likely to escape poverty than children living in compact regions, according to a new study. Image: ATL Urbanist

Children in a sprawling area like Atlanta are less likely to escape poverty than children living in compact regions, according to a new study. Image: ATL Urbanist

The study by Reid Ewing at the University of Utah compared upward mobility across 122 U.S. metro areas ranked from the most sprawling to the most compact. The researchers found a “strong, directional relationship” between compact built environments and upward mobility.

The study used previous research that measured the chances a child born in the bottom fifth of the national income distribution will reach the top fifth by age 30. There are huge differences between metro areas. For example, in Memphis Tennessee, the upward mobility rate was just 2.4 percent while in Provo, Utah, it was 14 percent.

The research team found that as compactness doubles, the chances of a child going from the bottom fifth to the top fifth increase 41 percent.

Ewing looked at how sprawl may affect children’s life chances by influencing factors like racial segregation, which previous research has shown to be negatively correlated to upward mobility, and income growth, which is positively correlated. The direct effect of sprawl itself, the authors found, was stronger than these indirect effects. They attribute the connection between compactness and upward mobility to “better job accessibility in more compact commuting zones.”

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Awesome 11-Year-Old Defends Road Diet, Calls Out LA’s “Bullying” Drivers

In case you need a reason to feel confident about the next generation of livable streets advocates, check out this viral video of 11-year old Matlock Grossman, standing up for a road diet in his Los Angeles neighborhood.

Grossman has been bike commuting since he was seven, and now commutes five miles each way to school. Unfortunately, like many bicycle commuters, he has already experienced his share of harassment from drivers.

Matlock Grossman (center in blue shirt) reads his comments at the Rowena Avenue forum. Photo: Joe Linton

Matlock Grossman (center in blue shirt) reads his comments at the Rowena Avenue forum. Photo: Joe Linton

At a public forum about a road diet and bike lanes implemented on Rowena Avenue, here’s what Grossman had to say to the project’s detractors:

Clearly there are motorists out there who not mature enough to share the road without having the rules painted on the road to show who goes where. The road diet by design is meant to slow down cars because – motorists are the problem.

Even if there are zero bicyclists taking advantage of the bike lanes, it doesn’t matter. The road diet effectively reduces collisions and the statistics prove this.

Stop bullying and victim-blaming the pedestrians and bicyclists as being the problem.

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Baltimore: The Consequences of Planning That Isolates Neighborhoods

Cross-posted from the Safe Routes to School National Partnership

Photo: Everett Aaron Benjamin

Photo: Everett Aaron Benjamin

If you travel up North Mount Street between Laurens Street and Presbury Street you find the Gilmore Homes, now most infamously known as the place where Freddie Gray’s life began to slip away. I walked up North Mount, not shocked by what I saw, but filled with dismay.  You could not go one street without a burned out home, abandoned property, or empty lot.  Three corner stores represented the only nearby neighborhood grocers, and transit was scarce.

Yet, still this predominantly low-income, African American community was vibrantly hopeful. Folk were out on the stoop with barbecue and music; kids were out and about playing; and everyone was biking and walking. Yes, you read that correctly — biking and walking.

From the older gentlemen in their work attire to the cluster of young boys that directed us to the mural honoring Freddie Gray, to the scores of people who stopped by as we served food, water and medical supplies, biking and walking were everywhere.

Seeing this caused me to ask this question: How many of these people are faces in our data and how many of them are missing? In other words, what assumptions are we making in our program and policy strategy that causes us to miss the opportunity marker in who can be served and advocated for?

In Baltimore, the repercussions of eminent domain, freeway expansion, gentrification, foreclosures, and the dismantling of public housing have eliminated safe and healthy mobility for many underserved communities and cut them off from the ability to meet their basic needs. This was no accident or oversight.

In 1944, Robert Moses, a dominant national voice on the planning and build out of urban expressways was talking about slums and the poor people of color who inhabited them when he said, “the more of them that are wiped out the healthier Baltimore will be in the long run.” From 1951 to 1971, 80 to 90 percent of the 25,000 families displaced in Baltimore to build new highways, schools, and housing projects were black. Therefore, it is safe to assume that the evolution of these young and old residents’ mobility choice is rooted in the historical consequences of being cut off.

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5 Things the USDA Learned From Its First National Survey of Food Access

How much does transportation limit people's access to food? A new UDSA study takes a look at the issue. Photo: Wikipedia

How much does the transportation system limit people’s access to food? Photo: Wikipedia

The links between transportation, development patterns, and people’s access to healthy food are under increasing scrutiny from policy makers trying to address America’s obesity epidemic.

Here’s some new data that sheds light on Americans’ access to fresh food. The USDA recently completed the first “National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey,” which delves into where people buy their food and how they get there.

Here are the major findings:

Most people drive their own car to the grocery, but lower-income households are more likely to rely on transit or a ride

Across all income groups, 88 percent of Americans drive the family car to pick up the groceries.

However, people who use government food assistance like WIC or SNAP — as well as people who don’t participate but qualify based on income guidelines — were more like to rely on transit, walking, biking, or a ride from a friend or family member:

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Man Walks 21 Miles to Commute Each Day Because of Detroit’s Awful Transit

A piece in the Detroit Free Press about 56-year-old factory worker James Robertson and his 21-mile round-trip walking commute to the Detroit suburbs is going viral this week. It is both an amazing story of individual perseverance and a scathing indictment of a failing transportation system.

Robertson’s total commute is actually a 46-mile round-trip, split between different buses and a marathon walk. He has been taking this route to reach his job in Rochester Hills from his home in Detroit since his Honda Accord died 10 years ago, he told the Detroit Free Press. Baldwin can’t afford a new car on the wages from his $10-an-hour job.

Despite this formidable obstacle, Robertson has never missed a day of work. “I can’t imagine not working,” he told the paper.

Readers from around the country who were inspired by Robertson’s story have raised $72,000 for him (at the time we published), more than enough to get a car. But a crowdfunded car can’t help everyone who’s in a similar situation in Detroit.

CeCe Grant, executive director of Americans for Transit, says Robertson’s situation is “partially by cruel design.” Detroit’s suburban bus system, SMART, allows municipalities to “opt-out.” That “has always sported a sharp cultural edge, because it nudges up against the notion that some communities don’t want ‘those people,’ be they Detroiters or blacks or bus riders, coming through their locales,” she said. “Because Rochester Hills doesn’t participate in SMART, Robertson must walk the last seven miles of his journey to work — after taking a SMART bus as far as it can reach into Oakland County.”

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