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A short guide to ‘transportation health equity’

Posted by on March 17th, 2011 at 12:24 pm

This map, created by PSU researchers in September 2009, shows bikeway network gaps. Areas with green outlines have high minority populations.
(From Equity Gap Analysis of Portland’s draft Bicycle Master PlanPDF)


The concept of equity has been steadily gaining awareness and respect in the transportation field. In short, equity has to do with making sure that the transportation system serves all populations equally; but there’s much more to it than that. A new guide on the topic and an event in Portland next month are just the latest signs that equity in transportation is an idea whose time has come.

Portland-based non-profit Upstream Public Health has recently published Transportation Health Equity Principles, a helpful guide that explains the concept greater detail.

At the root of equity are people. Here’s Upstream’s description of who is impacted by “transportation inequity”:

“People of color, people experiencing poverty, people with disabilities, and people who experience language barriers are disproportionately impacted by burdens of the transportation system but do not receive an equal share of the benefits.”

And here are Upstream’s six key principles of transportation health equity:

    1. Ensure equal access to essential goods & services, jobs & economic opportunities, and healthy foods & places.
    2. Engage and empower impacted communities early and often, with opportunities to have real influence during all stages of decision-making.
    3. Implement transportation funding and investment policies that address historical disinvestment for impacted persons and for underserved neighborhoods.
    4. Promote access to jobs, including in the transportation sector.
    5. Prioritize transportation investments that ensure healthy and safe communities.
    6. Adopt transportation policies that promote environmental justice and sustainability.

Upstream is one of several local groups sponsoring a transportation equity event in Portland on April 6th. Who Gets Access? Transportation Equity from the National to the Local is being hosted by Smart Growth America and will include speakers from PolicyLink, T4 America, the Multnomah County Health Department, and the Service Employees International Union.

For further reading, check out this recent blog post from Plurale Tantum, Biking Advocacy and Race: Where’s the Disconnect?.

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  • Steve Hoyt-McBeth March 17, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    Important stuff.

    Our colleague Sara Schooley here at PBOT Transportation Options is penning a Transportation and Health Equity series for our Commuter Central blog. Check it out: http://www.portlandonline.com/transportation/index.cfm?a=339380&c=45195

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  • 9watts March 17, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    Those sound like very laudable goals, but it is probably worth pointing out that when we have an exponentially growing population–as we do in Oregon and the Portland Metro area–no municipality is going to be able to keep up. I believe it is financially, physically, and politically impossible to expand infrastructure (sewers, schools, roads, fire service, utilities, etc.) at a rate faster than population growth. if you think it’s possible I’d be curious for you to show me an example where this is being achieved.

    Here’s a long-winded primer on why CA’s infrastructure (schools, roads, and everything else) hasn’t kept up: http://www.latimes.com/features/printedition/magazine/la-tm-growth04jan25,1,5397335.story?coll=la-home-magazine

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  • Grain of Salt March 17, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    Quite interesting when you actually look at a real map and compare the areas with poor “transportation health”.

    The area to the east of Ross island is the railway yards.
    1. Yup poor people will live with them in their backyard, because the property values are in line with what those with limited fund can afford.
    2. You can’t run much of any transportation in the area due to the rail yards.

    The areas in north Portland parallelling the Willamette and looping back around,
    1. Almost no one lives in the area west of Lombard. A few under and to the north of the Hwy 30 bridge. Again not prime real estate.
    2. The area just north of that is the dock lands almost completely unpopulated, and not really in need or more transportation facilities.
    3. The section that loops back around is west of Columbia Blvd and is industrial and also another large rail yard.

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  • Alison March 17, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    Thanks for continuing the conversation, Jonathan, and offering new information to help us explore and better understand the intersection of transportation, health, and equity.

    I want to clarify that equity and equality are different. Equality means that the whole system is developed equally. Equity recognizes that some parts of the system are weaker and helps to prioritize efforts accordingly. Since we do have limited funding we have to make choices about investments. The equity gap analysis can help us see the gaps clearly (the green-outlined areas), so we can make investments to fill those gaps.

    But it’s not just about how the system is built. The other important point is that there are gaps in the central part of the city that are described as “high minority/low service.” The Transportation Health Equity movement is geared to focus time, investment, and energy in building a healthier, more connected community for so that everyone can benefit… eventually.

    Grain of Salt: The above map is a real map. It’s not a geographic map or a transportation map, but it is real.

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    • grain of salt March 18, 2011 at 6:49 am

      Yes it’s a real map, and by definition it uses geography to show what ever measurable demographics you want. Those measurements need further clarification, like population density. To declare dock lands, industrial areas and rail yards a combination of high minority and low service is disingenuous at best.

      As always a case of lies, damned lies and statistics.

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      • matt picio March 18, 2011 at 10:27 am

        “To combine…disingenuous at best” – how so? Presumably people work in those locations, and they also need access to transit. Additionally, the areas are included because there are residences there – fewer residences, certainly, and perhaps the graphics would paint a more accurate picture if they included the number of total dwelling units in each census block group. I’m not sure what you’re trying to say in your posts, however. There are areas of the city with high minority populations that are underserved. There are areas of poverty that are underserved. For decision-making, you’re right – we need more information to make decisions on funding and priorities. But for simply talking about the concept of transportation equity, and identifying that inequities exist, the data presented is accurate enough.

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  • John March 20, 2011 at 9:32 pm

    @Alison and Matt. Thank you for your comments. This is a real issue here (and in many other places) that deserves much more consideration and action. I’m glad that there are bike boxes now in inner SE pdx where I live, but everyone in Portland who bikes should have that kind of safety and thoughtful infrastructure.

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