The Intersection of Equity and Planning
It’s important to consider equity in everything, including transportation planning. Daily movement is a fundamental need for everyone, meaning that access to transportation to get to work, school, and other places is a quality-of-life issue. That’s why planners at Foursquare Integrated Transportation Planning, Inc. (Foursquare ITP) believe that transportation planning is only successful when it is equitable.
I’m drawn to transportation planning because when done correctly, sustainable transportation helps everyone, including the people who need it the most. The data backs this up. We have seen, for instance, that when transit agencies go fare-free, they find that their existing low-income customers will utilize the bus much more on a given day or week. Through Foursquare ITP’s work every day, I’ve seen how much transportation can fundamentally enhance people’s quality of life. We can create many simple changes that result in huge gains for many people, such as providing better service to historically marginalized communities. Additionally, making transportation more equitable is a net gain for society. When everyone can access reliable transportation, they can access more jobs and destinations, and people can move in a more sustainable manner.
It is our responsibility as planners to deliberately address equity in our transportation plans by recognizing how our plans can affect persons of color and vulnerable populations. Recognizing the long history of inequity in transportation planning is the first step. At Foursquare ITP, we take it further by recognizing that planning based on previous analysis and recommendations is not enough. In fact, it can be myopic. Perhaps the original plans never considered the needs or desires of the community, or perhaps the neighborhood demographics have changed faster than the data has. A fresh look through an equity lens is imperative for every project.
Being Intentional and Objective
Planners must tell the whole story when developing recommendations and rely on an array of data. We don’t just look at census data, for example, but instead build upon that data by designing surveys for specific communities because we know getting that local perspective is crucial to developing successful transportation plans.
The goal of in-person outreach should be to understand what people care about, how they currently travel, and how they want to travel in the future. Foursquare ITP staff understands that to accomplish this, our planning process needs to be inclusive, which includes providing simple messages, translating materials, and actively valuing community feedback. We are also deliberate in who we talk to and where and when we reach them. It’s critical that our engagement matches the demographics of the community across all metrics, including race, ethnicity, abilities, age, language, household income, and travel modes.
Analyzing data and producing an initial assessment about a given community is a natural first step in any process, but I’ve appreciated that our planners strive to be objective in their approach to each project. To the best of their abilities, the Foursquare ITP team begins each project without preconceived ideas about what the community needs. Of course, there are established methodologies we follow when developing plans, but these processes don’t – and shouldn’t – counteract the need for equity as an integral piece of the analysis. From the junior planner fresh out of undergrad to the most senior project manager, our team is careful to intentionally view equity through the lens of that particular community within the initial planning process. That may mean investigating how accessible transit is for marginalized populations in that community and determining what the quality of that service is.
Measuring Equity in Transit
There are specific measurements Foursquare ITP planners use to identify how equitable transit is. For example, we can look at how far a service can get you within 45 minutes and the number and type of jobs and destinations there are within that distance. We rely on census data for many of our analyses but understand that it’s often not enough due to changing demographics, needs, and travel patterns. We also know these datasets and analyses won’t tell us everything. It’s crucial that we understand more community context by identifying the transportation needs of underrepresented groups within a neighborhood – such as persons of color, low-income individuals, and those with disabilities – perhaps by completing an equity analysis. For this reason, the Foursquare ITP team asks about local perspectives, tests new methodologies, and explores new datasets.
For example, in our work with the moveDC 2021 Update, the Foursquare ITP team helped create an innovative transportation needs index that combined the analysis of walk access to high-frequency transit, accessibility to jobs and destinations by all modes, and safety concerns. We then overlaid this with historically disadvantaged populations, including persons of color, low-income households, limited English proficiency populations, and people with disabilities to identify priority areas across the District.
Telling the Complete Story
In our work with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG), we looked at COVID-19 and Transit Equity Impacts in the DC Region. We evaluated demographic groups that are within .25 miles of a bus stop and the quality of that service (schedule, span, frequency by time of day). Additionally, we assessed existing services in comparison to MWCOG’s own Equity Emphasis Areas and identified the travel needs of essential workers in the region as well as those of all bus operators; all of this information is viewable in a publicly accessible dashboard for full transparency with regional stakeholders.It can be a challenge to ensure that equity is included in transportation planning, but by using the aforementioned tools, we can provide a richer and more accurate story. It also helps to rely on our stakeholders, who will usually provide information that may not be obvious in the data. This is another reason why meeting people where they are through thoughtful engagement is so important.
Throughout my career, I’ve seen how by viewing our communities through a more holistic lens we can all help write a fuller narrative in transportation planning. For more information about equity in planning, you can read Evaluating Transportation Equity from the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, APTA’s Racial Equity Action Plan, and the Planning for Equity Policy Guide from the American Planning Association.