The Black Lives Matter protests and national uprisings this summer reinforce how anti-Blackness and structural racism are deeply rooted in the foundations of American institutions. Racist outcomes are often reproduced without deliberate intent and beyond traceable decisionmaking, making it difficult to combat these disparities without structural change. Policymakers now have an opportunity to confront the ways racism guided the development of transportation policy (PDF) and combat the racist norms that continue to inform modern transportation planning.

Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and Executive Order 12898, “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations,” mandate that transportation agencies such as metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) and state departments of transportation conduct analyses to evaluate whether planned infrastructure will negatively affect low-income communities, communities of color, and other groups the government classifies as “minorities.” These groups are often called “environmental justice communities.” However, history has shown that government regulatory action alone cannot actualize true transportation equity or justice.

Our new brief highlights approaches that transportation agencies are taking to conduct environmental justice analyses and explores their effectiveness.

The environmental justice movement seeks to not only protect all people from environmental degradation and toxins but to also provide equal access to environmental benefits across demographic groups. Research shows environmentally hazardous facilities and infrastructure, including highways, have been intentionally and disproportionately located in low-income communities and communities of color, where residents are exposed to elevated levels of air, water, and noise pollution. This results in racial health disparities and economic disinvestment in the surrounding area. It also means that low-income communities and communities of color benefit less from transportation system improvements and, as a result of inequitable planning, have less access to certain destinations and amenities.

Read the full article about transportation and environmental justice by Gabriella Velasco at Urban Institute.