Thursday, August 4, 2016

Defining transportation equity in Los Angeles County.

This week, we convened our Transportation Equity Technical Work Group to help define transportation equity in Los Angeles County. We’re excited to bring our partners together on September 12th at The California Endowment to discuss and review our transportation equity recommendations for Metro’s Long Range Transportation Plan. Hope you can join us.

Background on our Technical Work Group

As you may know, Investing in Place formed a technical work group with Metro staff and expert partners to better define transportation equity as it relates to Metro’s investment decisions and to propose metrics that advance more equitable mobility options. Working together, we hope that the ballot measure (aka Measure M), Metro’s Quality of Life report, and Long Range Transportation Plan update can target investments in areas based on a shared definition of high-need opportunities.

Our policy paper makes the argument that Metro can leverage its investment of public funds to advance social equity and help communities overcome historical barriers to opportunity. A strong equity planning tool would allow Metro to anticipate and capitalize on the opportunities associated with changing demographics and regional growth. By targeting investments in the most under-resourced communities, Metro can strategically maximize its return on investment while creating better outcomes for the region.

What is Equity?

For some, equity is a buzzword — a catch-all phrase to use when trying to influence entrenched transportation agency practices to invest in low-income communities and communities of color. From bus shelters to sidewalks, the allocation of transportation resources currently favors a geographic equality perspective — rather than need.

But what does equity really mean? For many, equity is not just about calling out the problem up front (we have reams of data and studies done already) — equity, for us, is about shifting institutional practices, policies and investments, and bureaucratic decision-making to benefit historically under-resourced communities who’ve been shut out of transportation decisions in the past.

It also must be said that equity does not mean equality. While almost all parts of the county have communities that could be considered historically marginalized, they are not distributed evenly across all cities and subregions. Focusing resources in the most under-resourced communities lifts all boats, as our partners at USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (USC PERE) have shown in their research.

Defining Equity

Our definition of transportation equity captures both the responsibility and opportunity inherent in the “just growth” framework developed by USC PERE. “Just growth” is an approach to macro-economic development that focuses on economic growth and a commitment to equity and fairness.

Building on USC PERE’s definition of transportation equity, our technical work group tentatively defines equity as:

  1. Equitable access to safe, reliable, and affordable transportation options, and employment, services, amenities, education and health centers, and cultural destinations;
  2. Shared distribution of the benefits and burdens of transportation systems and investments, especially for communities historically impacted by racial injustice, disinvestment, pollution, and unsafe streets;
  3. Partnership in the planning, investment, and implementation processes that results in: shared decision-making; more equitable health and quality of life outcomes for high priority areas while strengthening the entire region and serving existing residents; and, equitable policies to achieve development without displacement.

Racial disparities, income inequality, and environmental justice are complicated issues, but public investment plays an essential role in addressing them. Metro can contribute towards reducing disparities, however closing these gaps necessarily starts with measuring them.

We hope you can join us on September 12th! We’ll have copies of our transportation equity policy brief. See you then.

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