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):

People of color are underrepresented on Austin's most important transportation boards. Graph: Jay Crossley
All charts: Jay Crossley

Given the unequal outcomes of the current transportation system (black Americans, for instance, are disproportionately more likely to be killed while walking), the skewed representation could affect transportation policy in important ways. Crossley intends to explore that question further in upcoming phases of the study.

Women's representation on CAMP's most important boards. Graph: Jay Crossley. Click to enlarge.
Women’s representation on CAMPO’s most important boards.

Women, meanwhile, hold just 33 percent of seats on the TAC and 30 percent on the TPB. The under-representation of women could affect policy decisions in a number of ways, Crossley writes. In the Houston region, for example, surveys have found that women value safety and pedestrian access more than men.

CAMPO also drastically underrepresents urban residents. While about 57 percent of the metro region lives in Travis County (which contains the city of Austin), representatives from the county account for just 40 percent of TPB and 32 percent of the TAC.

Crossley reports that Travis County has just one representative on the TAC for every 107,000 people. Outlying counties average one representative per 46,000 people. Put another way, a single Travis County resident has only about 43 percent of the representation on the TAC as people living in the surrounding counties.

Residents of Travis County -- the Austin's region's most urban county -- currently have only 43 percent the representation on CAMPO's most important committees, compared to suburban and rural county residents. Graph: Jay Crossley

This kind of underrepresentation of urban areas can have profoundly negative effects — fueling road widening and sprawl at the expense of better transit and safer walking and biking.

Ironically, the popular conception within CAMPO is that suburban interests aren’t getting a fair shake. In fact, the agency is currently considering proposals to reapportion seats away from Travis County. As you can see in Crossley’s analysis of the proposals below, they would make an already egregious problem even worse. (“One person, one vote” is a hypothetical scenario that the agency is not currently considering.)

Proposals to reapportion CAMPO's board seats would make the already anti-urban organization more so. Graph: Crossley
Click to enlarge.

7 thoughts on How Unrepresentative Is Your Regional Planning Agency?

  1. Until recently I worked for this MPO. Have to say that the supposed racial/gender disparities on the board are not CAMPO’s fault and do not indicate this type of bias. Since 85% of the board is comprised of elected officials, any beef should be directed at the voters who put them in office. Also please note the director of CAMPO is AA, despite the low AA population in Austin.

    Now the second issue is the real heart of the matter. The suburbs around Austin are much more conservative and family-oriented than those in Austin proper and have a very labored orientation towards the capital city. The interest of the suburbanites is to get to jobs in Austin as quickly and cheaply as possible, regardless of any detriment to its inhabitants. They would gladly double and triple deck the interstate and other major highway (Loop 1) along with frontage roads if they could skim a few minutes off their commute. This being the case and having the likes of Will Conley from Hays County as the chair means they are taking steps to consolidate power.

    First step is to remove CAMPO from under city of Austin (they were its fiscal agent) so any influence from city gov’t can be removed. Of course these influences were imaginary – as city staff and the planning and development review department was very hands off – but paranoia does not have to be base in reality after all.

    Now the second step is to further wipe away voting power on the board but diluting Austin’s share even more. This was started years ago by the inclusion of Burnet County, an are that added a meager 2,500 daily trips into the CAMPO region, and outside of the MSA (it was in the CSA). With these two measure Conley, Long and their ilk have a super majority that can outgun the principal city for any measure that comes up.
    The Texas lege does a lot of Austin bashing but the suburbs around the city are equally prone as evidenced by the workings of the CAMPO board.

  2. Beyond the geographic distribution, or things such as gender or race, is their any distribution in the type of transportation they use? Do any of them walk, bike, or use transit for their commute or in any significant way?

    Without any board members that regularly walk, bike, or use transit, you end up with a bunch of drivers considering staff proposals in these areas without any real world experience to help guide them.

  3. That how it is with most transportation agencies: the vast majority of them are made up of folks whose main (or sole) form of transportation is driving.

  4. An important study. This bias has been persistent and general, well before the MPOs. That is how “good roads” became a program to transfer resources to rural areas, and eventually make inroads (sic) into their centers. Those center projects appear like the “unfair” share for the cities but hardly serve them. The report just highlights an example of the problem of a pernicious anti-urban bias in US apportionment generally. And with that cones the rest of the demogrpahic and ideological bias.

  5. As far as the tech advisory boards go, based on my experience, a majority of the transportation planners and engineer types that would be part of these boards are male based on the way people gravitate into their subgenres as students/recent graduates. While there are many female transportation planners out there, most of them tend to be in the private sector.

  6. Well I can tell you from years of hard experience that one unintended source of the bias is that many of the important meetings are held in locations that are utterly inaccessible to people without cars, or the extra money to pay for cab fare. If you match this with the demographics of who does and does not have access to a car, you will get the point. I serve on a transportation advisory committee that says it explicitly wants to have transit-dependent members, but chooses to have its meetings in a place inaccessible to transit. And on and on.

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