On Investment and Inclusion

June 26, 2020
This past month has been particularly eventful for this country as well as for the transportation sector. And for the first time in what feels like ages, COVID-19 is not the focal point.

Nationwide protests in response to the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor have sparked conversations about equity, discrimination, and the best ways local governments can invest in their communities. These demonstrations have also prompted countless organizations—including the American Public Transportation Association (APTA)—to issue statements addressing racial equity and inclusivity in their respective industries.

“With humanity and dignity, we must continue to ensure true access, safety, and security to all members of our communities,” APTA’s Commitment to Racial Equity statement reads. “Now more than ever, public transportation’s commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity remains a fundamental part of who we are—as an industry, as an association, and as individuals.”

As all of this has unfolded, Congress has been busy drafting and marking up a newly proposed surface transportation bill. The House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee earlier this month introduced the INVEST in America Act—a 5-year, $494 billion investment in transportation infrastructure—which has now made its way out of committee onto the House floor. It includes $105 billion dedicated to the public transit sector, as well as provisions for funding highway safety programs under the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Funding for innovative technology deployments, green materials research, and green construction materials and practices are also mentioned in the proposed legislation. 

However, what caught my attention while perusing the section-by-section summary of the INVEST Act was Section 1107—which calls for complete and context-sensitive street design. The summary says this section would revise “roadway design standards ... to require consideration of all users of the transportation facility, including pedestrians, bicyclists, public transit users, children, older individuals, individuals with disabilities, motorists, and freight vehicles.” It also instructs “project sponsors to design in a manner that is tailored to the context of that facility, rather than a ‘one size fits all’ approach.”

Which brings us to one of our featured articles for this month—a Q&A conversation with Emiko Atherton, Director of the National Complete Streets Coalition. Our discussion on complete streets addressed this provision in the INVEST Act as part of a larger goal to make sure communities across the nation are working toward a more inclusive transportation system.

“We’ve really been advocating for the inclusion of complete streets, and to make sure that states and other agencies who use federal funding have to consider the needs of all users when they’re using federal dollars,” Atherton said in the discussion. “We were happy to see complete and context-sensitive streets be included in the INVEST Act, which the House released last week. But there’s still a lot of work to do to strengthen that.”

On top of this, the Q&A on complete streets also brought up concerns about race and equity in the transportation system. “On top of everything, we really have the most disinvestment in communities of color, and we’ve really had racialized policies and practices, such as the building of our highway system and redlining that created particularly unsafe areas for communities of color,” Atherton explained. 

She went on to explain the racial and economic disparities represented in pedestrian fatalities. “So what [the data] shows is that if you are black or indigenous in the U.S. or if you are walking in a lower census tract, you are more likely to be struck and killed,” Atherton said. “There’s also been some data that show that lower income communities and communities of color have historically received the least amount of investment in things like sidewalks, bike lanes, street trees, and safe crossings. With that said, I think there has to be a comprehensive approach to bringing resources to those communities and it needs to be co-led with the communities.”

You can read the entire conversation this month in the feature “Complete Streets Q&A: A Discussion about Inclusive Transportation Systems”. You can also read about modern roundabouts in “A ‘Roundabout’ Way to Slash Interchange Cost and Congestion While Boosting Safety” and learn more about how “Wet Retroreflective Pavement Markings Can Help Prevent Crashes” from this month’s features. 

Happy reading!

About The Author: Bruns is associate managing editor of Traffic & Transit.

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