Racial Equity, Black America, and Public Transportation

In the United States, the gap between Black Americans and White Americans in terms of wealth, health, and social equity is wide. Many historians and social experts in the fields of sociology, social justice, and now transportation are beginning to understand the magnitude of the role transportation policy, urban planning, and public infrastructure construction - as well as both private and public financing - have played in contributing to these gaps and inequitable outcomes for Black Americans. Over the past decades, publicly funded transportation projects have had negative impacts on certain segments of the community. In some cases, whole communities have been destroyed, their buildings razed, and their inhabitants forced to relocate. As a Vanderbilt Law Review article put it in October 2020, "In states around the country, highway construction displaced Black households and cut the heart and soul out of thriving Black communities as homes, churches, schools, and businesses were destroyed. A June 2020 Politico article emphasized the point that, "This is not just an obscure social critique: It's a finding endorsed by economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. In a 2019 research paper that examined the reasons and impact of the Freeway Revolts against urban highway construction, the researchers concluded that the American history of road development systematically shifted prosperity from inner cities to suburbs. Any approach to evaluating equity concerns needs to consider the institutional or organizational structure that contributes to disparate economic and opportunistic outcomes. This component includes both the public and private sectors. Public and political institutions both create the disparities and attempts to rectify them. Without an understanding of the framework that affects social equity from the public sector perspective, any attempt to rectify past, present, and future inequities is going to be difficult. This extends to the private sector as well, including non-profit philanthropic and advocacy organizations. Some relevant questions are: (1) How does the private sector affect delivery of services and facilities? (2) How has public policy contributed to maintaining the status quo? (3) Where are the opportunities for structural changes and how can those changes be implemented? Public transportation agencies in the 21st Century are increasingly committed to the pursuit of new values and principles, including the following: Policies: Social equity policies for the planning and operations of public transportation systems. This includes the use of technologies in the planning and operations of public transportation systems that ensure each and every user of the system and their communities receives equitable benefits. Funding: Policies, principles, recommendations, and guidelines for the funding of transportation projects include those focused on the reversal of damage done through public funding of infrastructure projects that severely impacted historically Black communities; through the practice of "redlining" by private financial institutions; and through the siting of hazardous facilities for transit (such as bus maintenance facilities) and other transportation modes where they would inflict damage on Black communities. Public-private-partnership decisions are made far up-stream by those who possess property, capital, and access to power. Public agencies are seeking approaches to redress legacy impacts and shape future prospects of privately controlled public transportation investment decisions. Systems of accountability: Metrics and standards are being developed to internally and independently ascertain whether progress is being made on approaches, planning, and funding. Such systems of accountability are being developed to be applicable for long range planning, to Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), to statewide agencies, and at both regional and national levels. At the national level, for example, a January 2021 Executive Order "a government-wide Justice40 Initiative with the goal of delivering 40 percent of the overall benefits of relevant federal investments to disadvantaged communities and tracks performance toward that goal through the establishment of an Environmental Justice Scorecard." Statewide, MPO, and public transportation agency service areas might use an accessibility-based policy evaluation framework for transportation; "access poverty" (defined as the ratio of destinations accessible by public transportation and destinations accessible by automobiles) might be used to measure the inequality of a transportation system. An overall objective of the transit community is to help develop an enhanced and more inclusive approach to public transportation planning and decision-making that takes into account and acknowledges that public transportation systems of the 21st century have a critical role in addressing and correcting many of the problems caused by a 20th and 21st century transportation sector that severely impacted and in some cases destroyed Black communities in the building of today's transportation systems and network. The public transportation community recognizes the need to address leadership and implement policies and practices to redress the harm from the past through policies, funding, and systems of accountability. The objective of this research project is to understand and document the extent of the damage that has been done to Black communities as a result of transportation decisions and actions, demonstrate a methodology to estimate how much it would cost to redress those damages, and provide tools for elected officials and other stakeholder groups to engage effectively in the arena of transportation policy, planning, and funding at all levels of government.


  • English


  • Status: Active
  • Funding: $249883
  • Contract Numbers:

    Project H-59

  • Sponsor Organizations:

    Transit Cooperative Research Program

    Transportation Research Board
    500 Fifth Street, NW
    Washington, DC    20001

    Federal Transit Administration

    1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
    Washington, DC  United States  20590
  • Project Managers:

    Parker, Stephan

  • Performing Organizations:

    Thrivance Group LLC

    ,   United States 
  • Principal Investigators:

    Thomas, Destiny

  • Start Date: 20211115
  • Expected Completion Date: 20230216
  • Actual Completion Date: 0

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01758958
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: Transportation Research Board
  • Contract Numbers: Project H-59
  • Files: TRB, RIP
  • Created Date: Nov 23 2020 5:31PM