Transportation affects every aspect of our lives and daily routine, including where we live, work, play, shop, go to school, etc. It has a profound impact on residential patterns, industrial growth, and physical and social mobility. Roads, highways, freeways and mass transit systems do not spring up out of thin air. They are planned. Someone makes a conscious decision to locate freeways, bus stops, and train stations where they are built. Transportation is no less a civil rights and quality of life issue. Safety and accessibility are the most significant considerations in transportation planning. Zoning and other practices of exclusion result in limited mobility for poor people and those concentrated in central cities.
Over the past decades, automobile production and highway construction have multiplied, while urban mass transit systems have been dismantled or allowed to fall into disrepair. The end result has meant more pollution, traffic congestion, wasted energy, urban sprawl, residential segregation, and social disruption.
All communities have not received the same benefits from transportation advancements and investments. Some of the governmental policies in housing, land use, environment, and transportation may have even contributed to and exacerbated social inequities. Some communities accrue benefits from transportation development projects, while other communities bear a disproportionate burden and pay cost in diminished health. Generally, benefits are more dispersed, while costs or burdens are more localized. Having a multi-lane freeway next door is not a benefit to someone who does not even own a car.
The automobile-oriented construction and infrastructure projects cut wide path through low-income and destitute neighborhoods, physically insolated residents from their institutions and businesses, disrupted once-stable communities, displaced thriving businesses, contributed to urban sprawl, subsidized infrastructure decline, created traffic gridlock, and subjected residents to elevated risks from accidents.
Transportation is critical to healthy, livable and sustainable urban and rural communities. The transportation system influences, and in turn is influenced by, economical development decisions, land-use patterns, real estates investment decisions, and energy consumption patterns of the public and private sectors. The interests of those making transportation decisions, middle and upper class, educated professionals primarily, are served, while the interests, perspectives and needs of people left out of the decision-making process, people of color, poor, working and transit-dependent people, are not. The value of social justice and ecological sustainability are not major priorities in the existing transportation system.
Poor people and people of color are subsidizing our addiction to the automobile. They pay the highest social, economic and environmental costs and received the fewest benefits from an automobile-dominated transportation system. Highway cuts through inner-cities, creating environmental hazards and fracturing communities physically, socially and economically. Measurably higher levels of immediate and long-term toxic effects from air, water and noise pollution and debris degrade local land values and further destabilize urban areas. These same areas are challenged by low employment and economic opportunity, poor services, crumbling infrastructure and loss of tax revenues to the suburbs, which are now called ” edge cities” or “exurbs”.
Urban core communities become isolated. Their infrastructure decays and land becomes under-utilized as development goes elsewhere, duplicating infrastructure to support new urban sprawl and consuming ever more land, energy and other natural resources. The crumbling public transportation system is underfunded and neglected, directly contributing to the social, economic and environmental deterioration of our cities.
Many rural communities are not well served by the current transportation system. And those residents consist high number of people who are transit-dependent. Even for those with access to motor vehicles, roads are often not maintained in areas of most need, and the costs of maintaining a vehicle compete with resources needed to provide for other basic human needs, causing financial hardship.
Social justice, ecological sustainability, and principles of environmental justice must be at the heart of creating healthy, livable, sustainable communities, cities and regions. A socially just and ecologically sustainable transportation system has the potential to increase job and income opportunities, promote efficient and healthy land use patterns, create environmentally safe communities, decrease fossil fuel energy consumption and improve the overall social, economical and environmental resources, we must broaden and democratize the debate and policy-making process.