2017 - Research

Understanding the Role of Equity in Active Transport Planning in the United States

Equity in active transportation is under-researched within academic scholarship and inconsistently applied in practice, but that is changing as it gains more salience in research and practice.

Key takeaway:

  • Equity in active transportation is under-researched within academic scholarship and inconsistently applied in practice, but that is changing as it gains more salience in research and practice.
  • Equity must be prioritized in planning processes to enable all people to access and benefit from active transportation, and to maximize the environmental and health benefits for society. 

Results:

  • There are two broad ways to think about transportation equity:
    • Social equity: Analysis along socio-demographic lines, i.e., race, gender, age, income, etc., that targets vulnerable or disadvantaged populations.
    • Spatial equity: Analysis along geographic areas, which assesses the distributional effects of transportation policies and projects on specific physical locations. There are fewer examples of spatial equity perspectives in active transportation literature.
    • Increasingly, social and spatial equity are combined for a more holistic perspective on active transportation equity. This dual-pronged analysis has helped researchers identify disparities in pedestrian travel and bike share usage.
    • Two other approaches to conceptualizing equity that haven’t gained as much traction are:
      • Procedural equity: Focuses on equity in the decision-making process. Researchers and practitioners tend not to evaluate procedural equity since they are more concerned about equitable outcomes than processes.
      • Modal equity: Focuses on equity in safety and transportation access. A modal equity approach would identify pedestrians and cyclists as vulnerable road users with higher mortality rates from vehicle accidents compared to drivers, and therefore propose reducing or restricting vehicular traffic.
      • Clearly defined indicators are integral to effectively incorporate equity in active transportation planning. Availability and/or accessibility of active transportation infrastructure are typical indicators used. However, more indicators can be useful, too, such as quality of active transportation infrastructure (i.e., quality of sidewalks and bike lanes) and walkability to essential services (i.e., public transit stations, parks, grocery stores, housing, etc.).
      • There are three main ways to think about the distribution of active transportation costs and benefits:
        • Equality rule: Seeks to provide the same level of service and accessibility to all travelers. For instance, new bicycle lanes would be installed in neighborhoods with the poorest bicycle infrastructure, regardless of level of need or demand.
        • Equity rule: Seeks to distribute transportation costs and benefits proportionally. For instance, new bicycle infrastructure would target areas with the highest demand or highest tax revenues.
        • Needs rule: Seeks to level the playing field by providing the greatest benefit to those who are most disadvantaged. For instance, new bicycle lanes would target travelers who are mobility-deprived, low-income, or disadvantaged in other ways.
        • The existing research on active transportation equity tends to focus primarily on pedestrian equity and bike share equity. There needs to be more research on bicycling inequities beyond bike share.
        • A review of pedestrian and bicycle master plans from 13 major US cities reveals significant variation in the understanding, integration, and prioritization of equity in active transport planning. Some cities, like Louisville, KY and Atlanta, GA, mention equity but don’t provide specific, concrete strategies. Other cities, like Denver, CO, and San Diego, CA, incorporate equity in active transport planning processes, but from a travel demand perspective rather than a prioritization of equity. Meanwhile, some cities exhibit a stronger prioritization of equity. For example, the City of Seattle, WA, has made equity a primary goal in its bicycle and pedestrian master plans. The Chicago Pedestrian Plan incorporates mobility-deprived users, such as people with disabilities and people who don’t own vehicles, in its equity analysis.
        • Surveys of transportation planning agencies reveal that equity-oriented planning derives largely from a fear of legal liability and repercussions. The authors suggest that stronger government oversight is needed to provide more impetus for equity-oriented active transportation planning. 

 

Implications:

  • The disparities in the manner and extent to which cities incorporate and prioritize equity in active transportation planning processes can be attributed to vague conceptions of active transportation equity, lack of data, and lack of metrics. This underscores the need for more research on equity, clearer indicators to establish consistency, and more buy-in from local governments, private sector bodies, and the public.
  • Availability and accessibility are two key criteria to active transportation, but not the only ones. Active transportation planners need to think more holistically, beyond just transportation, and consider how other elements of the built environment, i.e., land use and housing, as well as social services, like health and welfare, impact active transportation access. 

 

Methods:

  • The researchers examined pedestrian and bicycle master plans from 13 major US cities (Atlanta, GA; Austin, TX; Chicago, IL; Denver, CO; Houston, TX; Louisville, KY; Minneapolis, MN; Nashville, TN; Raleigh, NC; Sacramento County, CA; San Diego, CA; Seattle, WA; and Tampa, FL) to assess how municipalities and planners understand and address active transportation equity.
  • The researchers acknowledge that this review is more illustrative and less of a rigorous analysis. They also acknowledge that while it isn’t representative of the entire country, it provides a useful snapshot of the current state of how equity is understood and implemented in active transportation planning in major metropolitan areas.  

 

Lee, R.; Sener, I.; and Jones, N. (2017). Understanding the Role of Equity in Active Transport Planning in the United States. Transport Review, 37(2).