woman at bus stop ( By Andrey Burstein/Shutterstock.com)

How data can help reduce transportation inequity

To comply with President Joe Biden’s executive order on racial equity, the Department of Transportation requested information on best practices, data and assessment tools that could help analyze whether its transportation-based policies and programs enable equitable access to services.

Factoring in existing information on race, income, gender and similar identifiers is necessary for understanding patterns of inequity, the National Association of City Transportation Officials said in its comment.

However, NACTO also stated that crash data could be improved by “additional data points and granularity … to fully understand the equity dimensions of road safety.” Often, traffic-related accidents are concentrated in lower income communities where larger percentages of residents do not have access to a single-occupancy vehicle and rely on other modes of transport, such as bikes, public transportation and pedestrian walkways. Despite higher fatalities among bike riders and pedestrians, current crash data needs more specificity to address factors such as vehicle speed, site-specific issues and the mechanics of a pedestrian or bicyclist crash, NACTO said.

It recommends the DOT “fund and support the creation of datasets that evaluate physical access to transit such as prevalence of sidewalks, safe crossing points, and bike lanes, stop accessibility and lighting, sign and information clarity, and presence of shelter and seating.”

In one example of the benefits such efforts can yield, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency added qualitative measurements for modal, race and disability statuses to its police crash reports and was able to create a High Injury Network map of its city. Cross-referencing this with another map displaying other inequity indicators allowed the agency to pinpoint unsafe areas within San Francisco.

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning also responded to the RFI, noting that existing assessment tools tend to aggregate “disadvantaged” groups into one, but their experiences and travel behavior are often more varied. CMAP also suggested that while using the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey data can be beneficial in measuring person-level data about commute mode and travel time, its excludes those who are unemployed.

“To enable effective data collection, the Department should provide standards, guidance on best practices and funding to states and to facilitate the collection and analysis of equity data at the regional scale,” CMAP said. “Reporting of equity data could be operationalized through transportation planning products such as state/regional transportation plans and state/regional transportation improvement programs,” the agency suggested.

Data-driven assessments of whether “its programs and policies perpetuate systemic barriers to opportunities and benefits for people of color and other underserved groups  .. will better equip the Department to develop policies and programs that deliver resources and benefits equitably to all,” DOT said in its RFI.

About the Author

Shourjya Mookerjee is an associate editor for GCN and FCW. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, and has written for Vox Media, Fandom and a number of capital-area news outlets. He can be reached at [email protected] – or you can find him ranting about sports, cinematography and the importance of local journalism on Twitter @byShourjya.


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