Skip to content

Posts from the "Equity" Category

1 Comment

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.”

15 Comments

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.

Read more…

5 Comments

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.”

30 Comments

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.”

Read more…

25 Comments

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.

38 Comments

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.

Read more…

8 Comments

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.

24 Comments

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.

Read more…

No Comments

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.

Read more…

6 Comments

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.

Read more…