Early this July, six local transportation organizations from across the country gathered in D.C. for the Transportation Equity Caucus (TEC) first national equity convening – a two-day event of trainings, story-sharing, strategizing, and Hill visits with key transportation stakeholders. Each of the organizations in attendance —MORE2, Puget Sound Sage/Tacoma-Pierce County Equity Network, Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, Urban Habitat, Services for Independent Living, and WISDOM—had received grants of up to $25,000 from TEC in April to support projects that advance affordable and accessible transportation in their communities, making this convening an opportunity to share successes, learn from each other, and plan for the months of advocacy ahead.
On the first day of the convening, grantees presented the details of their organization’s transportation equity work.
- In Springfield, Mass., the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission is hosting local activities to engage and empower local leaders within communities of color to be advocates for transportation equity at the local and federal level.
- In the Fox Valley region of Wisconsin, WISDOM has developed a new alliance of community and public health organizers that is advocating for equitable investments in transit, safe sidewalks, and bike lanes.
- Services for Independent Living in Euclid, Ohio, is leveraging a new coalition of people with disabilities and members of the aging and faith communities to advocate for greater transportation accessibility for people with disabilities.
- In Seattle, Puget Sound Sage and the Tacoma-Pierce County Equity Network are advocating for regional equity investments related to transportation accessibility, affordable housing, and a clean environment.
- Urban Habitat of Oakland, Calif., has convened a transportation working group to help bring local voices and priorities to transportation policy
- MORE2 in Kansas City, Miss., is working with its Kansas City Regional Equity Network to incorporate equity considerations into local and national transportation legislation.
The grantees also shared the challenges facing their communities and their transportation work. Among the challenges discussed were state and local budget cuts, gentrification and displacement, scarce transit options, a devastating lack of safe sidewalks and bike lanes, inadequate disability accommodations, and a disconnect between rural and urban areas.
The situations the grantees describe are not unique to their states or regions of the country. Rather, they are indicative of a national problem where far too many Americans can’t access the safe, affordable transportation options they need to get to jobs, educational opportunities, affordable housing, health care, and other basic needs. As ongoing research at Harvard has shown, this link between transportation and opportunity has widespread implications for communities and can be a crucial factor in escaping poverty.
The need for sustained, robust, and equitable national investments in transportation was the focus of discussion when the grantees met with U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. In the meeting, Secretary Foxx emphasized the importance of thoughtful transportation planning that is inclusive of all communities, and the need for better communication between local groups and Washington so the federal government is aware of transportation needs in different communities.
After two days of peer sharing, fostering connections, and roundtable discussions, the grantees concluded the equity convening by outlining next steps in their transportation work. These included creating an urban and rural transportation equity coalition, ensuring that individuals with disabilities are included in transportation decision-making, and developing new partnerships with housing and environmental organizations. While the equity convening may have ended, the grantees’ work and the fight for opportunity continues.