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Posts from the "Equity" Category

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Paul Krugman Links Sprawl to Persistent Social Inequality

Is sprawl holding back social mobility in America? Paul Krugman didn’t mince words yesterday in a follow-up to a post he wrote soon after the Detroit bankruptcy was announced. In that initial blog post, he compared Detroit to Pittsburgh and concluded that it wasn’t just the loss of manufacturing jobs that hurt Detroit — it was also the dispersement of jobs away from the city core. Yesterday, in a column titled “Stranded by Sprawl,” he took the argument further, arguing, “Sprawl may be killing Horatio Alger.”

Researchers have linked the lack of social mobility in places like Atlanta to the spatial segregation of different classes. Photo: NewsOne

Take Atlanta, says Krugman. Though its population is on the rise, a study released last week shows that Atlanta is one of the worst places in the country for social mobility: The chances that a kid born in the bottom fifth of the income ladder could move to the top fifth are one in 25.

Krugman writes that researchers have found “a significant negative correlation between residential segregation — different social classes living far apart — and the ability of the poor to rise.” He elaborates:

And in Atlanta poor and rich neighborhoods are far apart because, basically, everything is far apart; Atlanta is the Sultan of Sprawl, even more spread out than other major Sun Belt cities. This would make an effective public transportation system nearly impossible to operate even if politicians were willing to pay for it, which they aren’t. As a result, disadvantaged workers often find themselves stranded; there may be jobs available somewhere, but they literally can’t get there.

They may not be insolvent, but when it comes to the lack of social mobility, Atlanta and other sprawling metros are already following the same pattern as Detroit.

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Cyclists of Color: Invisible No More

Let’s get one thing clear: People of color ride bikes. They commute to work on bikes. They ride for pleasure. It saves them money and time, and it keeps them healthy.

People of color say they would have a better view of cycling if more cyclists looked like them. Luckily, more and more of them do. Photo: Red, Bike and Green - Atlanta via LAB/Sierra Club

But they may not show up at the Tweed Ride or the city council hearing on bicycle infrastructure. And cycling is still a divisive issue in many cities, with some high-profile instances of community leaders charging that bike lanes are for white people, at the expense of everyone else.

Why the disconnect?

“Nobody is against safer streets in their neighborhood,” said Hamzat Sani, equity and outreach fellow at the League of American Bicyclists. Cycling organizations just haven’t done a good job communicating the message that streets that are safer for cyclists are safer for everyone.

“There’s not an explicit hate for biking among communities of color,” Sani said. “Give any kid a bike and they’re going to enjoy it. What’s a problem is when there’s a lack of engagement in the beginning of a process for putting in a bike lane, and then afterwards, a too-late outreach effort is made to smooth over the conflict that has arisen.”

About a year ago, Sani was living in Atlanta and working with the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition. “There weren’t a lot of cyclists of color in the Atlanta area,” he said, “or at least there weren’t a lot of visible cyclists of color out there.”

He co-founded an Atlanta chapter of Red, Bike and Green, an Oakland-based organization that builds community among people of color around bicycling. “So we launched the chapter of Red, Bike and Green as an opportunity to encourage more people of color to cycle,” Sani said, “with the idea being that if they see a group of cyclists doing it, they’d be interested in hopping on board.”

Indeed, 38 percent of African-Americans say their perception of bicyclists would improve if people on bikes represented a “broader cross section of Americans, such as women, youth and people of color” in their community.

According to a new report by the League of American Bicyclists and the Sierra Club called “The New Majority: Pedaling Towards Equity,” Red, Bike and Green isn’t the only grassroots group making that connection.

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The Inequitable Toll of Pedestrian Deaths

A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control found that while 10.5 percent of all trips in the United States are made on foot, pedestrians made up 13 percent of all traffic fatalities between 2001 and 2010. During those years, a staggering 47,392 pedestrians were killed on American roadways. In 2010, the per capita pedestrian fatality rate in America was more than double the rate in the UK and Germany — 13.9 deaths per million people compared to 6.7 and 5.8, respectively, according to figures compiled by the British government [XLS].

Minority groups and the elderly suffer disproportionately from dangerous conditions for walking. Image: NYTimes

The CDC report also highlights the social dimensions of this public health epidemic. Not everyone is affected equally by dangerous walking conditions in America. Elderly and minority populations are at the greatest risk, researchers found, while men of all demographics were two-and-a-half times more likely than women to be killed by a car while walking.

Men over age 85 and women between the ages of 75 and 84 suffer a disproportionate share of pedestrian deaths. These high-risk age cohorts were each more than three times as likely to be killed while walking than people between 15 and 24 years of age. As a result, CDC officials predict overall pedestrian fatality rates may increase in the coming years as the American population ages.

Pedestrian fatalities also took a high toll on Native American, Hispanic, and black populations. Native American men were four times more likely than white men to be killed while walking, and the fatality rates for black and Hispanic men are about twice that of white men. The disparity was less pronounced for women, but even so, Native American women are roughly twice as likely as white women to be the victim of a fatal pedestrian crash, while Hispanic and black women are 50 percent more likely.

The discrepancy may be partly explained by the fact that more people of color tend to live in urban areas, where residents walk more and are more exposed to traffic violence as pedestrians. (The lower level of driving in cities means that urban residents are less exposed to traffic violence overall.) Another factor is that black and Hispanic families are much less likely to own a car than white families, so these populations also walk more than the public overall.

From a policy perspective, one implication is that any initiative that increases risk to pedestrians — increasing speed limits, for example — is likely to have inequitable consequences across society.

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How to Diversify Bicycle Culture in Three Easy Steps

Everything you think you know about bicycling is wrong. At the National Women’s Bicycling Forum this morning, one message came through: the underrepresentation of women and people of color in cycling isn’t simply due to safety concerns and lack of protected infrastructure, as is often surmised. It’s more complicated than that.

Megan Odett of Kidical Mass DC is not your typical MAMIL (Middle-Aged Man In Lycra). Photo: Tanya Snyder

Megan Odett, who founded Kidical Mass DC in April 2011 to encourage family cycling, conducted a survey [PDF] of attitudes about biking with kids. She said she found men worry more about safety than women. In her survey, women ranked distance – and their own physical limitations — as a bigger barrier.

And an audience member who had worked in New York’s Chinatown found that a lack of bike lanes wasn’t what was keeping people from riding. It was the high cost of buying a bike, and the problem of where to park it.

Women represent only one out of four cyclists on the road. If you ask Odett why that might be — or why moms aren’t showing up in huge numbers to bike advocacy meetings — she’ll tell you it’s “because we’re at PTA meetings, or we’re cleaning up after supper.”

So how do you get more moms biking?

  1. Identify the most likely prospects. The “low-hanging fruit” for family cycling are people who rode before they have kids, who live in a dense area, and who have moderate or high incomes (because there can be expensive equipment involved), said Odett. People with somewhat flexible schedules or work from home are also likely candidates for cycling. “I think that the core audience for family cycling and ‘mama-biking’ hasn’t really been saturated yet,” Odett said.
  2. Saturate the core audience. “You want to looking at saturating this core audience first, and then letting this movement expand out to some of the higher hanging fruit,” Odett said. “That’s going to make it much more ‘normal’ to bike with kids. It’s also going to create a used equipment market, which will help lower the barrier to entry to cycling with children.” And that will expand the demographic base outward from that initial high-income set.
  3. Model the benefits. Odett says women are barraged with advertising messages, as are parents – so moms learn to just tune it out. An organized PR campaign aimed at getting moms to bike might not work – but they’ll notice when their friend rides right up to the school’s front doors with a happy, smiling child on the back and everybody else has been stuck in traffic. “When I ride, I think of myself as PR for bicycling,” Odett said. “I’m on this bike because it’s an amazingly fun thing to do with my son.”

These three steps can be a good game plan to expand cycling in any demographic — not just moms.

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Affordability as a Transportation Planning Objective

– This article originally appeared on Todd Litman’s blog at Planetizen, and was reprinted with permission of the author.

What do transportation system users consider to be the most important problem? Here’s a hint: it’s not traffic congestion.

The 2009 National Household Travel Survey asked respondents to rate the importance of six transport problems: traffic safety, congestion, price of travel, availability of public transit, and lack of walkways or sidewalks. Virtually every demographic group rated affordability (“price of travel”) most important, as indicated in the graphs below.

2009 National Household Travel Survey

According to a major national survey, virtually every demographic group rates affordability (“price of travel”) the most important transport planning issue.

Affordable transport is important, particularly for lower-income people. Increased affordability is equivalent to an increase in income.

Yet, conventional planning ignores this concern. Affordability is seldom recognizes as a transportation planning objective, and if it is, it is usually evaluated based simply on fuel costs. Conventional planning ignores vehicle ownership and parking facility costs, which are much larger than fuel costs, and so ignores the inaffordability caused by automobile dependency and the user savings that can result from increased transport system diversity and land use accessibility.

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International Funders Shift Investments Toward Sustainable Transportation

Traffic congestion, air pollution, and lack of mobility disproportionately harm the poor in the developing world when transportation investments favor automobiles. Photo: Owni

If you think the United States is doing a bad job shifting toward sustainable transportation, take a look at the developing world. The places with the most to lose from auto-oriented development are doubling down on it — to the enormous detriment of their citizens, especially the poorest.

The number of cars in the world is expect to grow as much as 375 percent by 2050. Road fatalities in low- and middle-income countries are expected to rise by 80 percent just over the next eight years, with pedestrians, cyclists, and other vulnerable users making up about half those deaths. Harmful air pollutants that already cause 1.3 million premature deaths each year, mostly in developing and middle-income countries, will rise. And carbon dioxide emissions from transport could grow 300 percent over 2005 levels by 2050 — with most of the growth, again, coming from the developing world.

The energy consumed by the transportation sector globally more than doubled between 1970 and 2005. Source: Worldwatch Institute.

Michael Replogle and Colin Hughes warn of these dire outcomes in their article on sustainable transportation for the 2012 State of the World report, published by the Worldwatch Institute. While international climate change agreements have historically overlooked the transportation sector, the authors note some promising changes afoot as international development banks seek to add transit projects to their portfolios.

Replogle and Hughes frame transportation policy in terms of both sustainability and equity. The urban poor lose out disproportionately when car-oriented infrastructure dominates, they note, since the lack of affordable transportation forces them “to choose between low incomes in informal sector employment close to affordable housing and higher-wage jobs that force them to spend a large share of their income and hours each day commuting.”

Compounding the inequity, fossil fuel subsidies disproportionately allocate public funds to the wealthy, the authors report: “The International Energy Agency estimates that only eight percent of the $409 billion that the world spent in 2010 to subsidize fossil fuel consumption (about half of which is used for transport) went to the poorest 20 percent of the population.”

Unfortunately, say Replogle and Hughes, international agreements on poverty reduction and climate change have largely ignored transportation. Even the Agenda 21 agreement, a bogeyman among far-right cranks, included “no targets, goals, commitments, or other forms of accountability” for sustainable transport.

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Voter ID Laws Marginalize People Without a Car

The 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery in March 1965, twice thwarted by brutal police assaults, inspired Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act, which is now under attack through various state voter roll purges and photo ID laws. Photo: Charles Moore

Sustainable transportation advocates may read news headlines about new voter ID laws, roll their eyes at the prejudices of red-state legislators, and turn the page — at their own peril. This seemingly unrelated issue may have far-reaching consequences for transportation policy. New state laws mandating photo ID for voters threaten to disenfranchise nondrivers, and the skewed elections that would result could lead to political control by forces hostile to transit, cities, and even Safe Routes to Schools.

A report issued in early July by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law [PDF] spells out how the strictest new laws in ten states* discriminate against nondrivers.

The first, and most obvious, way is that drivers have a driver’s license, which can function as the required photo ID. That leaves nondrivers as prime targets of voter ID laws.

Source: Brennan Center

Eleven percent of eligible voters lack the necessary ID, and, as the table above illustrates, nearly half a million people in the 10 affected states both lack access to a vehicle and live more than 10 miles from the nearest ID-issuing government office.

To make matters worse, many of the same states now requiring photo ID for voting also fail to support transit. The report brings home the reality for the targeted voters:

Voter ID laws are especially burdensome for citizens in high-poverty areas. Not only are these eligible voters among the least likely to have photo ID, they are also among the least likely to have access to government services, such as public transportation… Citizens with limited vehicle access will be highly dependent on public transportation to obtain the ID necessary for voting. However, the states that passed the most restrictive voter ID laws are among the nation’s worst investors in public transportation… Seven of the ten restrictive voter ID states rank in the bottom half of the country when it comes to investment in public transportation.

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Transportation Investments and America’s Quality-of-Life Gap

For a while it didn’t seem certain, but after a critical vote earlier this month, it looks like California’s on track to build high-speed rail. And, I’ll be the first to admit, California — with two large, global metros just a few hundred miles apart — is a great place for it.

Despite some reservations about the costs and feasibility of the plan, people all over the country who care about sustainable transportation were generally happy to see America moving forward. But in Wisconsin and Ohio and Florida, the news was bittersweet. James Rowen at Milwaukee-based blog the Political Environment again mourned the $810 million in federal passenger rail funding spurned by Governor Scott Walker. (Shortly after Walker’s decision, the LA Times gleefully wrote, “Thanks a billion, cheeseheads.”)

As great a day as it was for sustainable transportation, it also concerned me a little. Ohio and Wisconsin forfeiting billions for high speed rail to California is perhaps the clearest illustration yet of the growing divide between regions willing to invest in a livable future and those that are not.

While Chicago reaps the benefits of transit- and bike-friendly policies under Mayor Rahm Emanuel (left), Ohio residents are paying the price for the obstinate refusal of Governor John Kasich (right) to invest in rail.

It seems that America is on two divergent paths. Progressive cities are engaged in something of an arms race to design neighborhoods and build infrastructure to enhance the quality of life. In Portland, they have streetcars, light rail, and neighborhood greenways. In New York, expertly-planned public plazas are making the central business district more attractive and reclaiming neighborhood streets for pedestrians. Soon the city will add a world-class bike-sharing system to go with its growing network of protected bike lanes. Seeming to recognize how these projects help to attract talent and investment, Chicago jumped in the game last year, with newly-elected mayor Rahm Emanuel promising to build 100 miles of separated cycle tracks and moving quickly to improve the city’s bus network.

Meanwhile, Ohio and Wisconsin — where talent and investment are no less needed — seem to have chosen a different path. Their Luddite governors are responsible for the painful loss of rail funds. And while there are counterexamples — Cincinnati and its streetcar, or Madison and its bike-share system — these places are moving much more slowly to adopt the kind of infrastructure that’s making places like New York and San Francisco increasingly desirable.

The obstacles in these regions are many. At the top of the list, you have harmful political decisions — typified by the unilateral rejection of passenger rail by Walker and Ohio Governor John Kasich. And political resistance is reinforced when locals who prefer transit and walkability move away, as young, college-educated Midwesterners have been wont to do.

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Civil Rights Groups to Build Toward 2014 Transportation Bill Reauthorization

Wade Henderson is the President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 200 national civil rights and human rights organizations.

The long-overdue passage of the federal transportation bill attracted bipartisan congressional support, but it was not the hallmark legislative advancement for civil and human rights that it could have been. Still, the work that led up to the bill’s passage proved to be a small but significant step for our movement and one that establishes a pathway toward achieving greater transportation equity when the bill is reauthorized in 2014.

The entwined histories of civil rights and transportation didn't begin and end with the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Photo: Courtesy of the Library of Congress

This current Congress is the most hyperpartisan and least productive that I’ve seen in decades. But with billions of dollars and millions of jobs at stake, passage of a transportation bill was an imperative, particularly since it was coupled with an important measure to keep interest rates on student loans from doubling.

Some considered our work on transportation policy a bit unusual, but it is actually a natural extension the civil and human rights movement’s founding principles. Historically, transportation has played a key role in the struggle for equality – be it in the Montgomery Bus Boycott against segregated transit or in the fight against displacement of poor communities by interstate highways – because we’ve understood how mobility can affect our economic future.

Then, as now, we had a lot at stake in this debate. Decisions about transportation investment have often excluded or inadequately addressed the needs of low-income people, people of color, people with disabilities, seniors, and many people in rural areas, resulting in policies that don’t benefit all populations equitably.

About 560,000 people with disabilities are housebound due to transportation difficulties. And low-income communities, people with disabilities, and communities of color are less likely than other communities to have equitable access to transportation, making it harder for them to get to work or access schools, hospitals, and grocery stores.

The financial meltdown and the slow economic recovery have also wreaked havoc on many of the nation’s affordable and job-creating public transit systems. Since 2010, 79 percent of transit agencies have made or considered service cuts, fare increases, or both.

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Separate But Eco: Livable Communities for Whom?

New plans and developments, such as the Cornfield Arroyo Seco Plan pictured above, are great for the environment, but what impact does it have on the community it's placed in? Image via City Planning

Note: The authors are active advocates in the urban sustainability movement, focusing on non-motorized transportation in low-income urban areas. As mixed race women of color, we believe that we are in a unique position to bridge the advocacy communities trying to better conditions for the urban poor and for the environment. In this series, we draw on our experiences in the bicycle and environmental movements to shed light on the unfortunate divides we have noticed between urban sustainability communities and low-income communities of color.

When environmental advocates talk about urban sustainability, we often focus on how people use space and how we can encourage design that has a lesser impact on the environment.  How do people get around, are there single or mixed use developments, how can we minimize commutes between work, the grocery store, and home? Rarely do we mention class differences in who lives in the same neighborhoods or, crucially, the issue of segregation and how discrimination has shaped where Americans live and with whom they associate.

Surely we’re aware of the legacies of 1950’s white flight and urban redevelopment, where cars enabled Americans to flee the supposed contamination of newly integrating city centers. We know about the subsequent trend where city agencies labeled those neighborhoods left behind as “blighted slums” ripe for redevelopment. And yet we remain silent about the parallel between these twentieth century traumas and our current interest in promoting urban sustainability in these same areas through large scale economic redevelopment. Because race and class inequalities have been left out of the conversation, eco-friendly developments that aim to increase property values and, consequently, reduce affordable housing stock, get promoted as the key to urban sustainability.

Sustaining the ethnic and cultural diversity of our shared spaces should be an explicit priority of the environmental movement, and this means confronting the trend toward making “eco-friendly” neighborhoods primarily exclusive enclaves of wealth. We have seen this in countless neighborhoods in Los Angeles, New York, and Portland, where bike lanes often get striped in “up and coming” neighborhoods only after more affluent residents move in.

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