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Posts from the "Equity" Category

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Our Cities Can’t Afford So Many Rooftop Spas

Rooftop pool with a view of the Washington Monument? All this could be yours if you have insane amounts of disposable income. And I do mean "disposable." Photo: ##http://www.rentalsgonewild.com/propertydetail/183/i-street-nw-washington-dc-20037##Rentals Gone Wild##

Rooftop pool with a view of the Washington Monument? All this could be yours if you have insane amounts of disposable income. And I do mean “disposable.” Photo: Rentals Gone Wild

First, let me be clear: Tomorrow is April Fools, not today. This is real.

There are luxury apartment buildings in Washington, DC, trying to lure renters with communal puppies.

That sounds like the makings of a tiny tombstone engraved with “Tragedy of the Commons,” if you ask me. Who’s going to take responsibility for a dog that lives in the hallway?

In any case, the shared dog is just one of many tricks and teases DC developers are using to entice renters, according to Jonathan O’Connell of the Washington Post.

“When the boom started a few years ago, a nicely finished kitchen or a landscaped courtyard made a project stand out,” O’Connell writes. “Now those are considered baseline essentials if a building is going to compete.”

The new must-have amenities include rooftop pools, pet salons, soundproof music “practice jam-rooms,” 24-hour resident concierge services, dry-cleaning valet, a calendar full of activities for residents, customized cupcakes and a signature cocktail at a nearby bar. Oh yes, and “a six-month-old miniature English bulldog named Emmy will take up residence in the sleek new lobby of 2M, one of dozens of apartment buildings being completed in the region this year.”

This is in a city where the average rent for a two-bedroom is over $2,000.

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Sec. Foxx: Bicycle Infrastructure Can Be a “Ladder of Opportunity”

Sec. Foxx told hundreds gathered for the Bike Summit that he won't stand still and allow bike and pedestrian injuries and fatalities to increase. Photo: Brian Palmer, via the ##http://www.bikeleague.org/content/sec-foxx-shares-support-bikes##Bike League##

Sec. Foxx told hundreds gathered for the Bike Summit that he won’t stand still and allow bike and pedestrian injuries and fatalities to increase. Photo: Brian Palmer, via the Bike League

This morning, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx’s blog post is all about bicycling. He opens by touting the complete streets policy he helped implement in Charlotte (it passed before he was mayor) and the city’s bike-share system — the largest in the Southeast.

His post follows on his speech yesterday to the National Bike Summit, which began with this frank admission: “I’ve got big shoes to fill.”

Foxx’s predecessor, Ray LaHood, became the darling of the bike movement when he stood on a table at the 2010 Summit and affirmed his commitment to safe cycling, later declaring “the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.”

Foxx’s speech was less fiery but showed his commitment to the issue. He mentioned that he himself had been the victim of a crash while jogging in Charlotte, and while he wasn’t hurt, he’s aware how lucky he was that it didn’t turn out differently.

“All across our country, every day, there are accidents and injuries — and unfortunately sometimes even fatalities — that occur among the bicycle and pedestrian communities,” Foxx told the Summit audience. “I didn’t tolerate it as a mayor. And as U.S. secretary of transportation we certainly won’t stand still and allow this crisis to slowly build up over time.”

“Our roads should be safe,” he went on. “They should be easy places to travel no matter how we are traveling on them.”

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Study: Civil Rights Protections Lack Teeth When It Comes to Transportation

American transportation policy has a woeful history of civil rights abuses. For a good part of the 1950s and ’60s, using highways to level black neighborhoods was a matter of national policy. And the white flight and segregation that those highways engendered have left a legacy that continues to shape much of America in the present day.

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Wisconsin is sinking billions into highway expansion projects while city transit service languishes. Photo: Milwaukee Business Journal

Out of those chapters in American history came a few key protections. Laws like Title VI of the Civil Rights Act aim to safeguard people from discrimination by federally-funded agencies.

But are these protections shaping a fairer transportation system? Not according to a recent study by researchers at the University of California-Davis published in the Journal of Transport Geography [PDF]. Authors Alex Karner and Deb Niemeier say that most metropolitan planning agencies are simply going through the motions, not making equitable decisions.

Right now, “basically anything goes,” Karner told Streetsblog. “You can make anything look good from a civil rights perspective” under current law, using conventional metrics to demonstrate compliance.

As a last resort, civil rights activists can use federal laws to take action in court. Black and Hispanic community groups in Wisconsin, for instance, are suing the state Department of Transportation under the National Environmental Policy Act for shortchanging transit with the $1.7 billion Zoo Interchange project, outside Milwaukee. But Karner and Niemeier say the whole federally-required “equity analysis” process needs to be reformed if it is to have a meaningful effect on decision making.

Here’s what Karner and Niemeier recommend to give civil rights protections some real teeth when it comes to transportation investments:

1. Perform Equity Analyses Early in the Planning Process

Metropolitan planning organizations, or MPOs, are agencies that play a big role in distributing federal transportation dollars. They generally decide what they want to do first, then spend a lot of time developing plans, and then at the very end perform the required equity analysis.

“After all the major planning decisions have been made, it’s a pro forma thing,” says Karner. “They just kind of check a box.”

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Study: For Americans With Lower Incomes, Long Commutes Sap Will to Vote

For decades, researchers going back to Robert Putnam have drawn connections between total leisure time and individuals’ level of political and community involvement. New findings published in American Politics Research say the amount of time spent commuting is especially important in determining whether Americans vote, take part in political campaigns, and otherwise engage in politics.

Long commutes impact voting behavior, a new study finds. Image: ##http://journalistsresource.org/studies/environment/transportation/commuting-distance-fitness-metabolic-risk## Journalist's Resource##

Long commutes impact voting behavior, a new study finds. Photo: Journalist’s Resource

Researchers Benjamin Newman, Joshua Johnson, and Patrick Lown examined survey data from 590 working adults. Overall leisure time, they found, was actually not a very good determinant of political involvement. For example, part-time workers were no more likely to vote or otherwise participate in politics than those who worked full time. In fact, those who worked the longest hours were among the most likely to be politically engaged.

Rather than focus on what activities take the most time, researchers explored which activities drain individuals of the most energy that might otherwise be devoted to political behavior. They found that long commutes were actually far more exhausting than working.

“Time spent commuting,” they wrote, “involves a higher degree of depletion of psychological resources and incurrence of negative emotions than time spent on the job.”

The results were not consistent across socioeconomic groups. Newman and his research team found that the effect was most pronounced in workers who make less money. Those who earned higher incomes actually skewed the opposite direction: They were more likely to vote and participate in politics the longer they commuted.

Researchers theorize that higher-earning workers were better able to shake off the stress of long commutes. They might have more comfortable cars. They can eat out if they get home late. And they’re more likely to listen to the news while commuting — a factor that might have something to do with their increased political involvement.

The researchers speculated that higher transit use among people with lower incomes might add stressors like overcrowding and noise — but, they noted, “higher-income commuters are no less dissatisfied or frustrated with their commuting than low-income commuters.”

Newman and his team say their findings should worry us as a society. Lower political and civic engagement among people who make less money and have long commutes translates to less political power for those who already have too little. It means that job sprawl and poor transportation options end up costing them a voice in their own communities. And their lower participation rates could very well have an impact on who ends up getting elected to public office.

Wrote the researchers: “The societal processes increasingly forcing commuting on individuals, and leading to longer commuting times, are working to further distance an already weakly active and often marginalized segment of the populace from the democratic process.”

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NAACP: A Walkable Built Environment Is a “Premier Civil Rights Issue”

The shooting at the Capitol yesterday, which took place as Walking Summit advocates were there lobbying lawmakers, underscores a very important point: Street safety isn’t just about sidewalks and traffic. It’s also about crime.

That’s one aspect that walkability advocates often overlook when discussing improvements to make an area “safer” for pedestrians. “For us, the conversation is along the lines of ‘reclaiming the streets,’” Niiobli Armah told me. Armah is the NAACP’s manager of childhood obesity for their health and wellness initiatives.

Flatbush Avenue and Fulton Street, Brooklyn. Photo: Threecee/Flickr

It might surprise some that the 104-year-old civil rights organization has a focus on walkable and bikeable neighborhoods. But it shouldn’t. It stems from the organization’s work on childhood obesity. Nineteen percent of black children between two and five are obese. Black high school girls are two-and-a-half times more likely to be obese than their white counterparts.

“We think of health as the premier civil rights advocacy issue,” Armah said. “We advocate for the built environment so that students can have opportunities for safe physical activity in their neighborhoods.”

In some places, there’s a wide racial gap for health indicators. Obesity rates are going down overall, but they’re still rising in communities of color. Armah says it’s a social justice issue. “Regardless of what community you live in, you should have access to healthy eating and active living,” he said. And that means making sure the built environment is conducive to walking and biking.

In addition to trying to install streetlights, crosswalks, and traffic calming devices, residents have to address concerns about personal safety, which can outweigh concerns about traffic safety. Armah said they work on those issues with residents, often incorporating the same tactics used to boost walking and physical fitness.

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Commemorating March on Washington, Foxx Links Transport to Civil Rights

Photo of Rosa Parks seated on a bus

Today marks 50 years since the landmark March on Washington, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his historic “I Have a Dream” speech. I was privileged to join tens of thousands of others on the National Mall this weekend to commemorate the anniversary.

In a blog post today, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx noted the role that transportation has played in the nation’s civil rights struggles:

In the mid-1950s, a young woman who sat down and refused to get up — she did it on a transit bus. And the boycott of the Montgomery, Alabama, bus system resulted in changes that spread across the South.

Foxx notes that the nation’s highway-building boom contributed to racial divides. ”Rarely in the last century did an urban interstate highway plow through a neighborhood that wasn’t characterized as poor,” he writes. “In 2013, many communities are tearing down those divisions and building bridges.”

He doesn’t necessarily cite the clearest examples of how transportation and streets can heal divisions, however. He points to Columbus, Ohio, where a “once-vibrant community was cut off from the downtown area when I-71 was built, leading shops to close and families to relocate.” But the current project aiming to “reconnect the city’s communities” will actually widen I-71, as well as I-670. Not a good way to reconnect communities.

A better project that Foxx highlights is the highway teardown in New Haven, CT, where the state DOT “is helping the city reclaim a highway that has split the city in half, creating a barrier between New Haven’s downtown and the Medical District and Hill neighborhoods.”

Meanwhile, Foxx says, transit can bring communities together:

And when I was Mayor of Charlotte, I fought to bring a streetcar system to our city.  The whole community got behind it. That streetcar is the first effort in Charlotte’s recent history to connect a poor part of the city with modern transit.

“President Obama gets this,” Foxx writes. “He understands that when you isolate communities, it’s not just those who are affected who are hurt. We’re all hurt.”

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Jarrett Walker: Empty Buses Serve a Purpose

Most transit agencies have been through some version of this scenario: In one part of the city, buses drive around stuffed like sardine tins, while elsewhere they can be all but empty. Car drivers mock the empty buses in low-density parts of the city. Some elected official picks up the banner, demanding that the transit agency stop flagrantly wasting taxpayer money by running these money-losing routes.

Transit consultant and author/blogger Jarrett Walker says transit agencies need to search their own souls to determine the best mix of ridership and coverage. Photo: Aucklander

If you hear echoes of the federal fight over Amtrak, you’re not going crazy — it’s the exact same conversation.

And it merits the exact same answer.

Ridership versus coverage

As transit consultant Jarrett Walker, the mind behind the Human Transit book and blog, sees it, every transit agency needs to make a trade-off between ridership and coverage. The agency can focus on routes with high ridership — which makes the most sense environmentally and financially — but then large swaths of the area will have no service at all. It simply doesn’t make fiscal sense to serve low-density areas, or areas without a complementary pedestrian network, with transit. Not enough people will ride it.

But if you cut that service, you’ve cut off a lifeline to people with disabilities, seniors with no other transportation options, people with low incomes, and others. “Social benefits of public transport, such as accessibility for persons who cannot drive, tend to be based on the severity of need among certain population groups, rather than the level of patronage to be gained by meeting this need,” Walker wrote in a 2008 paper in the Journal of Transport Geography. The people served by a low-ridership route might not be populous enough to make a route through a low-density area particularly profitable, but the service is still valuable. It serves a goal of coverage, not ridership.

Walker encourages transit agencies to have the ridership-versus-coverage conversation publicly and without shame. They should decide upfront, with community input, what percentage of their resources will be spent on routes with high ridership and what percentage will be devoted to broadening the geographical reach of coverage outside those high-ridership zones.

These conversations are becoming more and more essential as tight budgets and limited federal funding are bringing more scrutiny to transportation spending. Although transit agencies are generally serving more riders with less money, they are constantly asked to prove that they’re not wasting taxpayer funds. “One of the ways you can answer that kind of public demand is to have the ridership/coverage conversation,” Walker told Streetsblog, “because to the ordinary suburban voter’s mind, an empty bus driving around their subdivision looks like government waste. They don’t understand that it’s actually the result of conscious policy, namely a coverage policy, and that their own city leaders may have been fighting hard for that policy.”

“There’s a lot of confusion out there, and unfortunately there a lot of economic intellectuals out there who are writing articles that make it sound like because transit systems run empty buses that means they’re failing — just not understanding what transit agencies are actually expected to do,” Walker said. “Those buses are valued for the lifeline access they provide for the isolated senior.”

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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.