Guidance for Implementing Equitable Transportation Decision-making

Institutional racism is widespread, infiltrating transportation planning and decision-making. By examining systemic racism in transportation historically and today, injustices can be identified with the intent to provide pathways for strategies to be adopted to eliminate racism and injustice from planning and decision-making. Transportation decisions made in the past, such as in the period of the development of the interstate highway system, still contribute to inequities and adverse impacts to low-income and minority communities. Freeways constructed through the heart of communities destroyed social fabric, divided spaces physically, or created barriers to access for low-income and minority communities with profound and lasting impacts. Also, land use and housing policies at all levels of government, including redlining and exclusionary zoning, played an important role in limiting access to opportunities for minority communities. To not repeat these mistakes, it is necessary to understand the lessons of the past and to then mitigate the negative outcomes, particularly as transportation decisions are made concerning the rehabilitation of aging transportation infrastructure and deployment of new mobility options. As transportation decision-making is an ongoing practice of planning, evaluating, implementing, and measuring, new policies and practices can become best practices over time. This research is intended to identify the most effective ways to incorporate equity into ongoing transportation practice at all levels. Beyond statewide and regional planning, sometimes local decisions on operations and maintenance or where to add bus shelters, crosswalk improvements, and other infrastructure, as well as traffic calming, are structured in response to public concerns raised about needs. However, this approach often disadvantages low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, who are not always actively engaged in the decision-making process. This research will also identify how and why current decision-making practice fails to consider equity appropriately, across all aspects of transportation decision-making—planning, project selection, project design and development, operations, and maintenance—and how this outcome can be changed. For example, rapid transit lines have been shown to cause displacement through gentrification. Additionally, operational issues like those employed in policing strategies of mobility (for all modes, in cars, in active transportation with harassment of bicyclists and pedestrians, and even the criminalization of transit fare evasion). The decision of where to build infrastructure and how to operate it has had positive or negative long-term outcomes for the affected neighborhoods. The research objective is to understand transportation infrastructure’s intentional or unintentional role through history in enabling systemic inequities, failure to close access gaps for all users—both in urban and rural communities—and causes of long-term community impacts such as gentrification and displacement. Additionally, the research will identify practices and policies that enabled mobility injustice in transportation policy and investment decision-making. Finally, the research will identify effective policies and strategies that evolve from well-intentioned policy gestures and toward actionable mechanisms to eliminate systemic racism, reverse impacts, and ensure equity in future transportation investments, both operational and capital, and for new mobility and innovative technologies. Although this is a complex problem and will require extensive effort, it is important to start immediately as the understanding of transportation’s role in the history of racism and inequity is foundational to other research. This information will inform transportation policies and decision-making to hopefully end systemic racism in transportation decision-making and reverse impacts for communities of color and low-income individuals and households. The research will develop a historical summary of racism and inequity related to transportation planning and decision-making, including practices and policies that enabled mobility injustice, and identify strategies to overcome this history. Institutional racism will be described in transportation sufficiently to underpin this research. Patterns of structural racism and inequities in both urban and rural contexts will be articulated, matrixed over capital and operational policies and practices to provide a sufficiently informative illustration of the magnitude of the issue impacting communities of color and low-income mobility users. How racism is different for Native Americans will also be documented and describe how equity issues are different from those affecting other minority and underrepresented racial groups in the transportation planning and decision-making process. The research will identify the best approaches to adopt and implement new practices related to equity and develop strategies to address and mitigate injustice and harms caused by past transportation decisions, particularly about community disruption and barriers to access. Actions that are needed to dismantle institutional racism in the transportation sector will be identified. Lessons learned from equity research that can be more effectively translated into practice will be articulated. Additionally, effective approaches to enhance access and quality of life in areas adversely impacted by past infrastructure projects will also be identified. They will elaborate on how these strategies can be integrated into and prioritized in infrastructure rehabilitation. Finally, a demonstration of clear connections for when policies and practices have been established between equitable transportation policies, priorities, decision-making, and investments will be evaluated and shared.


  • English


  • Status: Proposed
  • Funding: $750000
  • Contract Numbers:

    Project 08-162

  • Sponsor Organizations:

    National Cooperative Highway Research Program

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

    American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO)

    444 North Capitol Street, NW
    Washington, DC  United States  20001

    Federal Highway Administration

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

    Wadsworth, Trey

  • Start Date: 20211122
  • Expected Completion Date: 0
  • Actual Completion Date: 0

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01772926
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: Transportation Research Board
  • Contract Numbers: Project 08-162
  • Files: TRB, RIP
  • Created Date: May 24 2021 3:14PM