Thinking about equity in transportation planning…

Mariia Zimmerman, a transit-oriented development expert, writes this two-part introspective about her own journey towards racial equity in transportation planning:

We wrote a lot about the potential economic development impact of [Transit-Oriented Development], and that of streetcars in particular. Not surprisingly, we found that once the idea caught on and development began, much of it was designed for affluent households. TOD was rarely built for those already in the community or who relied upon transit. The processes were never designed to optimize racial equity, but rather to create a market for those not currently living in these communities. Income and race were large factors ignored, undervalued, or devalued. Little attention, if any, was given to historic spatial injustice, redlining and the lack of community leadership in early TOD planning and projects. We are working to correct these oversights in our work today on equitable TOD.

Big, new transit should come with big, new equitable housing policy (assuming you don’t already have it) to keep/create places to live nearby for folks who aren’t making several times the area median income. Richmond attempted to do this by pairing our new BRT with the Pulse Corridor Plan, which upzones some things, discourages surface-level parking, and allows for some density bonuses with the inclusion of affordable housing. But—due to a lot of things, including state laws—I wouldn’t call it “big, new housing policy.” We’ve got a lot of work to do at both the state and city levels to make progress toward equitable development—transit-oriented and otherwise.

But a focus on equity shouldn’t be limited to newly-built rapid transit, either, but should be a priority when making any kind of transit service improvements (or reductions). Earlier this year, frequent, 15-minute service in Richmond’s Fulton neighborhood was cut back to 30-minute service with low ridership cited as the reason. If ever there was a Richmond neighborhood that has consistently been on the losing end of historic spatial injustice and redlining, it’s Fulton. In the face of decades-long injustice, is ridership the only metric we’re willing to look at when deciding an appropriate level of transit service for a neighborhood? How does that conversation change (if at all?) when your transit agency is incredibly strapped for cash and chronically underfunded? I have a lot of questions that I don’t know the answers to, but they are questions worth asking and conversation worth having. I’m grateful we have folks like Zimmerman leading the way.