October 12, 2012

Transportation Planning and Regional Equity: History, Policy, and Practice

Time

1:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m

Location

1065 Kemper Hall

Speaker(s)

Alex Karner, Postdoctoral researcher, UC Davis Center for Regional Change

Abstract

The creation of the California Department of Transportation in 1973 was thought to signal the beginning of multimodalism in state transportation policy. Opposition from the public and the legislature to this new direction led to an increased emphasis on regional transportation planning organizations whose authority actually resided at the local (city and county) level. The influence of these agencies remained relatively minor until federal legislation in the early 1990s signaled the region as the preferred level at which to undertake comprehensive transportation planning. The regional agencies established in the 1970s took on the additional federal responsibilities but did not change their underlying localism. For example, local elected officials generally comprise regional governing boards and the voting structure at regional agencies gives smaller governments outsize influence over outcomes. In this environment, policies that benefit the region as a whole are difficult to advance. The transportation policy goals embodied in California’s recent Senate Bill 375 are similar to those of the 1970s – reducing vehicle miles traveled through multimodalism and supportive land use planning – but the institutional arrangements established in the 1970s make progress difficult to achieve. Regional equity advocates are emerging as an important constituency in this fraught planning landscape. A key method by which advocates access the planning process is through the “equity analysis” of regional transportation plans, but the work of these advocates has questioned the suitability of commonly employed methods for identifying existing inequities. A critical review of equity analysis practice reveals a focus on future year forecasts, potentially misleading geographic aggregations, and little emphasis on mitigation. Improved methods are developed in collaboration with advocates that highlight existing inequities, employ disaggregate data from activity-based travel demand models, and focus on mitigation measures that are both equitable and achieve regional planning goals.

Biographical Sketch

Alex Karner recently completed his PhD in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UC Davis and is currently working as a postdoctoral researcher in the Center for Regional Change. He holds a BASc in civil engineering from the University of Toronto. Alex’s research interests include travel demand modeling, environmental justice in transportation planning, and transportation history.