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Posts from the Equity Category

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What the Equality of Opportunity Project Actually Says About Commuting

With their powerful results, the studies coming out of the Equality of Opportunity Project, led by Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren, have become an important touchstone for journalists and transportation policy advisers. In their 2014 [PDF] and 2015 [PDF] studies, Chetty and Hendren show that place matters for low-income families. When low-income families have the opportunity to raise their children in better environments, their children do better as adults. And with their use of “big data,” Chetty and Hendren can show that these better environments are not just correlated with improved incomes, but actually cause them.

The Equality of Opportunity Project did not set out to be a study of transportation policy. Only one of the 40 variables that they tested speaks directly to transportation. This variable could have easily disappeared, like most of the other tested variables that did not make the final model.

Instead, transportation turned out to be extremely important. References to the Equality of Opportunity Project’s findings have found their way into numerous newspaper articles, policy reports, grant applications, and prominent public discussions of transportation policy that continue to this day.

The project’s transportation variable involves commutes. I say “involves commutes” because in an unfortunate bit of nomenclature, Chetty and Hendren call this variable “commute time.” This mis-naming has led to continuing confusion among journalists and policy advisers, who make the intuitive, but inaccurate, leap to describing what happens to families when a parent spends a long time commuting.

Instead of measuring “time” in the conventional sense of “minutes,” Chetty and Hendren do something quite different. Their commute variable is defined by the percent of commuting workers who can get to their job in less than 15 minutes. It’s a measure of people, not time.

Moreover, it’s a measure of the relative size of a very select group of people: workers with really short commutes. Nationally, this group is a shrinking minority. In 2000, 29.4 percent of commuters got to work in less than 15 minutes. In 2015, this percentage had fallen to 26.2 percent.

Chetty and Hendren find that for counties and multi-county commute zones, the higher the percentage of workers with really short commutes, the better it is for the children of low-income families.

To humanize what I am rechristening the “short commutes” variable, a journalist or policy adviser could talk about the probability of a parent in a low-income family having a really short commute. The short commutes variable, however, says very little about the impact of lengthy commutes. Nor does it say much of anything about the importance of transit service: Only 3.5 percent of workers who commute by bus or rail enjoy a trip of less than 15 minutes.

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Atlanta BeltLine Visionary Speaks Out on His Very Public Resignation

Not many planners get an opportunity to influence their city in the way Atlanta’s Ryan Gravel has.

Photo: Atlanta Beltline Flickr via ATL Urbanist

Photo: Atlanta BeltLine Flickr via ATL Urbanist

The concept Gravel laid out in visionary master’s thesis — transforming forgotten railroad tracks circling the city of Atlanta into a recreational and active transportation corridor — laid out an entirely new organizing principle for the city and inspired thousands. Construction is well underway on his “BeltLine,” and national observers including the New York Times have heralded its potential to change the way Atlanta develops — from car-oriented chaos to a more walkable, urban, and connected way of life.

So it was a big deal last week when Gravel announced he was resigning from the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership Board — the funding arm of the project — due to concerns about gentrification.

We caught up with Gravel by phone to learn more about why he felt it was important to take a very public stand on this issue.

How long had you been on the board of the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership?

I started in 2009, I believe. I was nearing the end of two four year terms.

The [BeltLine] Partnership has always been this sort of philanthropic fundraising for parks and trails, awareness campaigns like bus tours, and advocates for social sides including affordability, but also jobs and health, making sure the BeltLine lives up to its goals.

There’s always been this sort of balance in the Partnership about what’s important.

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What Killed Eduardo Dill: ‘Failure to Yield Right of Way’ or Awful Streets?

Screen Shot 2016-09-30 at 10.26.08 AM

Wide lanes, lack of medians, wide corners, and wide open views all tend to encourage people to drive faster through the El Paso neighborhood where Eduardo Dill was killed.

Tragedy struck El Paso again on September 22, when 27-year-old Susanna Lozano, driving her F-150 pickup truck, struck and killed 53-year-old Eduardo Dill as he attempted to cross a neighborhood street in his electric wheelchair.

Police said that the “contributing factor” to the crash was Dill’s “failure to yield the right of way,” according to El Paso Proud, because he was not in a crosswalk.

Blaming the victim of a fatal crash is all too typical in El Paso and other Texas cities. But if we continue to chalk up traffic fatalities to the behavior of victims, we won’t make progress in preventing them.

Last year, 48 people were killed in crashes on El Paso streets. In 2016, the death toll is on track to rise significantly, according to KFoxTV. Police say there have already been 50 traffic fatalities so far this year.

In this case, the questions we should be asking are: Why did Eduardo Dill attempt to cross Vista Del Sol Avenue where he did? And what can be done to prevent similar crashes in the future?

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LA County Bike Coalition’s Tamika Butler on Planning While Black

Too often, says Tamika Butler, the people responsible for planning cities don’t look like the people who live in cities. In her keynote address from this week’s NACTO Designing Cities conference, she considers some of the ramifications.

Butler is executive director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition and a national leader in the field of active transportation and racial justice. Her talk begins about five minutes into this audio file.

Jeff Wood of the Overhead Wire recorded Butler’s presentation and several other NACTO sessions. You can tune in and listen to them all at his SoundCloud site.

Streetsblog LA
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Justice-Oriented Mobility Advocates to “Untokenize” Active Transportation Movement at November Convening

spicy shoes

In lower-income communities of color in Los Angeles, cycling is largely a matter of necessity, not choice.

The Token One
He was so glad I had “talked about people of color committing violence against other people of color,” he gushed, shaking my hand.

My eyebrows shot up.

The focus of my talk at last October’s CalBike’s annual summit had been the extent to which the socio-economic and cultural landscapes of a community are inextricably intertwined with the physical one. Using the installation of amenities in a historically disenfranchised lower-income community of color as an example, I had explained how chronic insecurity in the public space – generated thanks to decades of disinvestment, discrimination, suppressive policing, and denial of opportunity – meant that many residents were still unable to access these “improvements.” Our stories about mobility, I concluded, must therefore also address questions of access, equity, justice, and a wider range of barriers in order to be truly inclusive.

At no point did I ever offer support for the artificial and highly problematic construct of “black-on-black violence.”

And yet, here was this white gentleman in front of me, congratulating me for having done so.

The advocates of color I spoke with afterwards had understood exactly what I was going for. They got the placement of mobility in a community context. And they got the call to think beyond bicycles to the constraints contexts imposed on the actual bodies moving through space on those two wheels. These were frameworks they understood intuitively.

But much like the guy shaking my hand, many of the white advocates in the room had filtered the presentation through their own experiences. And what they had come away with was very different.

A few said they had never considered the idea that certain streets might not be accessible to some people for reasons that had nothing to do with cars. Was this really true? Others seemed to think certain communities were unapproachable. How would one even begin to engage people in such a community? How would you know who to talk to? some asked. It seemed so dangerous to some, but also kind of edgy and exciting to others. Are you giving tours?

I wasn’t sure I could have expected better.

Despite being spot-on-topic at the “Equity in Motion”-themed summit, my presentation had been a major outlier.

The panel had been focused on how to pitch stories about the positive aspects of cycling – the joy, sense of well-being, freedom, and links to community it can bring. But as a reporter whose beat is specifically tied to two transit-dependent and historically disenfranchised lower-income communities of color in Los Angeles, mobility meant something different to me.

And given the theme, I had argued to the panel organizer, it seemed appropriate to explore the extent to which a choice framework both excluded those who cycle out of need – largely lower-income people of color – and rendered important questions of accessibility to the margins.

The organizer and the other panelists were enthusiastic about including an equity perspective. But in the weeks leading up to the event, it was clear that being open to including equity and actually creating the space for that topic to be properly explored are two very different things. And the more I tried to explain my critical approach to the organizer, the longer and more involved my emails became, and the more consternation I felt I was causing.

People don’t like to be told what isn’t working, I was admonished at one point.

But I didn’t see where I had a choice.

I have to speak to current frameworks to be heard. And I have to spend most of my time deconstructing said frameworks just to explain why I should not be dismissed out of hand. And every single time I have to proceed this way – every time I post another 3,000 – 5,000 word story trying to justify the incorporation of marginalized voices and realities, compose yet another lengthy explanatory email, or look around the room where I am speaking – I wonder if this will be the last time I will be invited to opine on this topic.

The More Things Change, the More They Really Don’t
It’s an odd thing to observe that the more popular the topic of equity has become over the last few years, the less genuine space there is to truly address it in a meaningful way.

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How Unrepresentative Is Your Regional Planning Agency?

Do the people who make transportation funding decisions in your region represent the people who actually live in your region?

The Texas Department of Transportation isn't exactly a model of diversity either. Image: Jay Crossley

Who makes decisions at the Texas Department of Transportation? These guys (and one woman). Image: Jay Crossley

After sitting through dozens of meetings presided over by a legion of white men, Texas transportation reformer Jay Crossley wanted to find out. He recently released the first phase of a report on the Austin region’s Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, examining how representative its decision-making boards are in terms of gender, race, and geography [PDF]. (Disclosure: The report was crowdfunded and some Streetsblog staff contributed.)

Crossley found that women, people of color, and urban residents are significantly underrepresented at CAMPO — with potentially profound consequences for transportation policy.

Here’s a visualization of how people of color are underrepresented on CAMPO’s most important decision-making bodies — the Technical Advisory Council and Transportation Policy Board — relative to “the people of CAMPO” (i.e. residents of the entire region):

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Report: Access to Car-Share and Bike-Share Is Worse in Communities of Color

Graph: Shared use Mobility Center

In many major American cities, communities of color have worse access to car-share and bike-share than majority white neighborhoods. Chart: Shared Use Mobility Center

Car-share and bike-share services are making it easier to go without owning a car in American cities, but access to “shared-use” systems remains limited in communities of color compared to majority-white neighborhoods, according to a new analysis from the Shared Use Mobility Center [PDF].

Urban areas with low car-ownership rates and strong transit are ideal for car and bike sharing. But a SUMC study found communities of color were being left out. Map: Shared Use Mobility Center

SUMC’s map of where car-share and bike-share would be most useful in Portland.

SUMC developed a method to analyze which places have the most potential for car-share and bike-share usage across 27 American metros. Areas with relatively high transit ridership, low car ownership, and small blocks (which enhance walkability) are where share-use systems can be most useful, according to SUMC.

SUMC then compared these areas of “opportunity” for car-share and bike-share to areas where the services are actually available. In many cities, SUMC observed that dense low-income neighborhoods lack access to shared-use systems even though they have the necessary characteristics for success:

While they have been often passed over by private operators, these neighborhoods have many of the key qualities — including high population density, transit access, and walkability — needed to support shared-use systems. Additionally, the opportunity to scale up shared modes in these neighborhoods is especially compelling since they stand to profit most from the benefits of shared mobility, including reduced household transportation costs and increased connectivity to jobs and opportunities outside the immediate community.

A clear racial disparity is apparent in many cities. In Chicago, for instance, 72 percent of low-income, majority-white neighborhoods have access to shared-use systems, according to SUMC’s analysis, but only 48 percent of low-income communities of color do. The disparity persists regardless of income levels. In well-off majority-white Chicago neighborhoods, 77 percent of households have access to car-share or bike-share, compared to just 49 percent in affluent majority-minority neighborhoods.

Not all cities have these disparities, but the pattern is alarmingly common.

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Naomi Doerner on How Street Safety Advocates Can Support Racial Justice

When a police officer in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, shot and killed Philando Castile earlier this month, the encounter began with a traffic stop. The stop fit a pattern: Castile had been pulled over many times before — 46 times in 13 years — but few of those citations were for dangerous driving. More prevalent were stops for minor issues like vehicle defects or misplaced license plates — the type of justifications that police are more likely to use when stopping black and Latino drivers throughout the country.

Naomi Doerner is a consultant who helps biking and walking organizations development social equity and racial justice plans. Photo: Bike Easy

Naomi Doerner helps biking and walking organizations development social equity and racial justice plans. Photo: Bike Easy

Street safety advocates often call on police to reform traffic enforcement practices in order to reduce dangerous driving that jeopardizes people walking and biking. Given the pervasiveness of racially discriminatory police work and the prevalence of police brutality in many communities, how should biking and walking advocates shape their strategies and messages?

Naomi Doerner, the former executive director of New Orleans’ advocacy organization Bike Easy, is a consultant who specializes in helping biking and walking advocates develop racial justice and social equity plans. She says advocates should be grappling with structural racism and considering how their own choices can entrench or dismantle it.

Here is a lightly edited transcript of our interview.

What’s a mistake some biking or walking organizations are making with regards to diversity?

I think that one of the things I see is hiring of people of color and then making them sort of the voice for diversity and equity, which are not the same thing.

It is great to hire the folks, to have the folks who do potentially have better understanding. Even if you had a staff that was diverse, if there’s not a co-created understanding of equity within your organization and how you’re contributing to it, it won’t succeed.

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“Opportunity Score” Shows Best Places to Find a Job Without Owning a Car

This screenshot shows how many jobs are available near the author's house. Addresses at more than 350 cities are searchable and ranked by jobs within a half-hour's trip by walking or transit. Image: Redfin/Opportunity Score

The 30-minute transit shed near the author’s house, overlaid with a heatmap of jobs paying $40,000 or more. Image: Redfin/Opportunity Score

Which places put economic opportunity within reach for residents who don’t own cars?

There’s a new tool to evaluate housing locations according to the accessibility of jobs via transit and walking. Redfin, the company that runs Walk Score, today released “Opportunity Score,” which ranks millions of addresses across 350 cities based on the number of jobs within a 30-minute walk or transit ride.

The above map shows the results of a search near my home in Cleveland. My neighborhood grades out as a “job-seeker’s paradise,” according to Opportunity Score, with 64,000 jobs paying more than $40,000 within a half hour car-free commute. Compare that to the cul-de-sac where I grew up in Hilliard, Ohio — which has an Opportunity Score of 1.

Redfin created the tool in partnership with the White House’s Opportunity Project, which seeks to address inequality “by putting data and digital tools in the hands of families, communities, and local leaders.” Opportunity Score combines jobs data from the feds with Redfin’s software measuring transit and walking travel times. The tool also factors in population, otherwise the biggest cities would all rise to the top (here’s the formula).

Redfin ranked 50 major American cities according to Opportunity Score, and the result was a top ten list with some surprises:

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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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