We Need Antiracism in Transportation

We Need Antiracism in Transportation

June 05, 2020  | Alice Grossman

Transportation professionals need to better address the relationship between transportation and racism.

Transportation professionals have taken an important step by beginning to talk a lot about equity. Recently, departments of transportation have created new positions of Equity Directors, promising scholars have written dissertations on equity, and our annual international conference for tens of thousands of transportation professionals held by the Transportation Research board convened a theme including an “equitable future” in 2019. Important work. But this isn’t enough.

Racial equity is one type of equity that is often considered and analyzed by transportation planners and advocates. We should be specific and intentional about what types of equity are being addressed and make sure that race is one of them. Transportation scholars often analyze racial demographics; discuss gentrification; and sometimes even conduct in-depth equity analyses. However, none of these actions is the same as acknowledging and fighting against racism with antiracism.

Fighting racism is hard. The gap between policy that is “not racist” and policy that is “antiracist” is a topic of frequent (and vigorous) debate in the social sciences and humanities, as well as in activist circles. Have transportation professionals and institutions thought much about what it takes to move from one to the other? Even professionals explicitly in the field of racial equity seem sometimes at a loss. One of the most powerful and sad statements I have ever heard on addressing racism in Atlanta came from Nathaniel Smith, the founder of the Partnership for Southern Equity – an organization that promotes racial equity and helped Atlanta’s mass transit system (MARTA) expand for the first time in 40 years. He was speaking on a panel on transportation and equity at the then brand new National Center for Civil and Human Rights, and was asked by an audience member how to address the racism keeping public transit underfunded in the Atlanta region. His answer was to keep trying to fight it, but that ultimately, we may need to wait for new generation to rise up in order to see change.

It’s hard not to respect Smith’s cynical honesty. Coupled with the unending and repetitive violence against African Americans on streets and sidewalks, however, it offers little optimism for change. Yet Smith’s cynicism also implies hope, especially when recalled in the context of today’s protests. Many, if not most, of the people raising their voices in the streets are, after all, the next generation of policy makers – if we give them the opportunities and demonstrate that the current generation of transportation professionals has crossed the policy bridge to anti-racism.

In the field of transportation, we can take individual and personal action but also have the power to take institutional and structural action. We must continue to address equity considerations but also focus on the specific problem of racism in every analysis, implementation and assessment we conduct.

Share

Related Articles

Guest Op-Ed: America Needs to Invest in Universal Road User Education

Guest Op-Ed: America Needs to Invest in Universal Road User Education

As we continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic and over 800,000 lives lost in the U.S., the number of road user deaths could easily...

Guest Op-Ed: Alternative Traffic Enforcement to Re-Center Road Safety

Guest Op-Ed: Alternative Traffic Enforcement to Re-Center Road Safety

Transportation has become the most policed aspect of daily life in the United States. The most frequent interactions between police and...

Centennial Anthology: A Collection of Essays and Ideas

Centennial Anthology: A Collection of Essays and Ideas

Coming Out of the Crisis: A Look Past the Pandemic  The pandemic isn’t quite behind us, but every day the contours of the new normal...

Guest Op-Ed: Fairer Fares, Increased Ridership: Using Reduced Fare Programs as a Tool for Equitable Recovery

Guest Op-Ed: Fairer Fares, Increased Ridership: Using Reduced Fare Programs as a Tool for Equitable Recovery

In March 2020, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a few civic-minded New York City residents created CoronaMetro, a platform for...

“What Does Equity in Transportation Actually Mean?” Centennial Recap

“What Does Equity in Transportation Actually Mean?” Centennial Recap

Over the last two years of the pandemic, millions of essential workers, long identified as those most vulnerable during the pandemic, had...

Albuquerque’s bus system starts zero-fare experiment for 2022

Albuquerque’s bus system starts zero-fare experiment for 2022

More American cities are thinking about their transit systems that way, according to Robert Puentes, who heads up the ENO Center for...

How the House spending bill funds additional infrastructure

How the House spending bill funds additional infrastructure

The five years of funding in the infrastructure law, as tallied by Jeff Davis, would flow to states and be shaped by local needs, bringing...

Infrastructure Act Focus Shifts to Rolling Out the Funds

Infrastructure Act Focus Shifts to Rolling Out the Funds

Jeff Davis, Eno Center for Transportation senior fellow, says that $59 billion in apportioned 2022 highway funding—up $13.8 billion, or...

State and Local Traffic Enforcement Reforms Gain Traction

State and Local Traffic Enforcement Reforms Gain Traction

In the wake of the national reckoning with racial injustice and policing, states and cities began re-evaluating their approach to public...

Definition of

Definition of "Equity" Elusive at Senate Hearing

The buzzword "equity" is all over President Biden's American Jobs Plan, used in that context to refer to fair transportation outcomes...

Eno Releases New Mobility on Demand Reports with Data Insights and Recommendations

Eno Releases New Mobility on Demand Reports with Data Insights and Recommendations

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, public transit in the United States was going through a very dynamic period. The FTA's MOD Sandbox...

Webinar: Lessons Learned from the Mobility on Demand Pilots in the Los Angeles and Puget Sound Regions

Webinar: Lessons Learned from the Mobility on Demand Pilots in the Los Angeles and Puget Sound Regions

Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, King County Metro, and Sound Transit have been piloting mobility on demand (MOD)...

Be Part of the Conversation
Sign up to receive news, events, publications, and course notifications.
No thanks