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Posts from the Equity Category

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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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Transit and Equity Advocate Stephanie Pollack to Lead MassDOT

Stephanie Pollack was one of the first transportation experts who made a serious impression on me. A few weeks after I started working at Streetsblog, at my first Rail~volution conference, she gave a presentation on the complex relationship between transit, gentrification, and car ownership. Her energy, intellectual rigor, and passion for social justice were apparent in her nuanced work exploring the reasons why car ownership rates tend to rise in neighborhoods with new transit services — and how it hurts not just the transportation system and the environment, but the poor.

Stephanie Pollack, a thought leader on how housing and transportation policy impacts minorities and low-income people, will be the new secretary of MassDOT. Photo: ##http://www.northeastern.edu/news/faculty-experts/stephanie-pollack/##Northeastern##

Stephanie Pollack, a thought leader on how housing and transportation policy affects minorities and low-income people, will be the new secretary of MassDOT. Photo: Northeastern

The person who opened a Rail~volution session on transit and equity with, “I spent a couple of decades as a transit and equity advocate before I went into academia,” has just been named the director of a state department of transportation.

By a Republican governor.

When Streetsblog fretted about what a Charlie Baker victory over Democrat Martha Coakley could mean for transportation, naming such a firebrand as his transportation secretary seemed unthinkable. But perhaps Baker will continue the legacy of moderate Republican Massachusetts governors who care about smart growth.

Or perhaps he was simply impressed by Pollack’s résumé, including her leadership at Northeastern University’s Kitty & Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy and her service on numerous teams and panels to help design city- and statewide public transportation and housing policy.

The Boston Globe’s headline yesterday about Pollack’s nomination read, “Baker names gas tax advocate as transit chief,” noting that “Baker has said he does not plan to raise taxes.” But Pollack’s history is much more interesting than her position on the gas tax.

Her research focuses on the intersection between transportation and equity. How can planners bring transit services into a neighborhood without bringing gentrification along with it? Are all communities equally consulted in the lead-up to major transportation changes? Are higher gas taxes “elitist or equitable”? (You can guess by that Globe headline which side she comes down on. Actually, don’t just guess — this short presentation of her conclusions is worth perusing.)

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How Does the Threat of Police Violence Affect How You Use the Street?

When the news came out yesterday that a Staten Island grand jury had failed to indict officer Daniel Pantaleo for killing Eric Garner with an illegal chokehold, like many people I found the outcome difficult to comprehend. With clear video evidence showing that Pantaleo broke NYPD protocol and a coroner’s report certifying that Garner’s death was a homicide, this grand jury should have reached the conclusion that had eluded grand jurors in the Michael Brown case in St. Louis County: There should be a trial to determine if Pantaleo had committed a crime. But apparently that’s not how our justice system works.

eric_garner

Eric Garner, the 43-year-old father of six who was killed by police officer Daniel Pantaleo on a Staten Island sidewalk.

As the editor-in-chief of Streetsblog, I’ve been grappling with how and whether the site should cover these incidents of police violence. Do the killings fall within the Streetsblog beat? My first inclination was to say they do not. I don’t believe there is something intrinsic to the streets of Staten Island or Ferguson to explain the deadly force that Pantaleo and Darren Wilson applied against unarmed black men. Wilson did initially stop Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson for jaywalking, but another pretense could have been concocted — none of the other high-profile police killings in recent months began with a jaywalking stop.

Nor is police harassment and aggression against black men limited to streets. John Crawford III was shot and killed in an Ohio Wal-Mart. Akai Gurley lost his life in the building where he lived. It is an “everywhere” problem, not just a “streets” problem.

Nevertheless, for people of color, the mere act of going out on the street carries the disproportionate risk that an encounter with police will escalate into a fatal situation — or, on a more routine basis, the threat of a random police stop turning into an arrest that can have profound life consequences. As Adonia Lugo wrote for the League of American Bicyclists last week, these considerations affect how people use streets and public spaces, including their choice of how to get around.

I’m white; I don’t know what it’s like to carry this apprehension with me whenever I’m out walking or riding my bike. So I would like to do something a little different with this post and invite people of color who read Streetsblog (or who just came across this post floating on the internet) to share your thoughts. What effect does the threat of police violence have on how you experience and use streets and public spaces?

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Don’t Drive? It’s Getting Harder to Vote in Texas

Today is the first federal general election since the Supreme Court struck down key portions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Texas and other states have taken full advantage of their new ability to make changes to their voting rights laws without federal approval. And under the new law, people without a driver’s license are finding themselves disenfranchised.

Without a valid Texas drivers license, many registered voters are finding themselves disenfranchised. Photo: ##https://www.flickr.com/photos/athrasher/2965451844/in/photolist-95cxQr-9JAy66-5zoGVG-95CyRJ-i5e3jX-5w3KvS-gTKTdq-a7wMAT-5w3Hw5-5vYuX4-aj7BCv-9YMp3r-an2x1D-8JnnQC-6SCqom-a4Vc83-91T9Fk-5zsqey-4tpFtF-4ttMMS-awvHe-5xBjcC-5zo8Eg-4z6vEw-4z6vAj-5w3Xrf-5vYq4c-5w3GJS-drahms-4tpJVa-aww8h-4wg3qj-4wg3xQ-4twvxe-27YQW-4z6vDo-aww3m-4z2gm8-5wakHY-5w5ZQt-5wam81-5w5ZAK-5w5Zox-5w5ZYP-5wakZ7-c49ttG-4w6g5e-8QaPFi-4twvki-4twvmk##Andy/flickr##

Without a valid Texas drivers license, many registered voters are finding themselves disenfranchised. Photo: Andy/Flickr

The Brennan Center for Justice has gathered stories of would-be voters who have been frustrated at the polls over the past few days of early voting. Poll workers are even turning away people who have ID, just not a current Texas driver’s license.

Voter ID laws like the one causing so much trouble in Texas today disproportionately disenfranchise people who don’t drive, the Brennan Center has previously reported [PDF]. People without a license may have a hard time getting to the necessary offices to obtain the paperwork they need to exercise their voting rights. And many of the offices issuing the IDs are located well outside the reach of transit.

When states were enacting the recent wave of voter ID laws in 2012, Streetsblog contributor Fran Taylor warned, “The implications are clear: If you don’t drive, you become a second-class citizen.” In states where the political landscape is already tilted against people who can’t afford a car, participating in the democratic process is getting harder.