This issue picks up from our last newsletter on integrating equity into transportation, with a focus on delivering equitable outcomes. The following builds upon the first steps typically taken in a transportation process: defining the problem and identifying needs.
Goals and objectives
As discussed in the last newsletter, community engagement is essential for all steps of the process, and possibly none more so for setting goals. Goals and objectives respond in part to the needs identified in the previous step. If you’ve identified the needs of a variety of community members—not only the office commuters—then you are ready to consider how to develop goals to address these challenges. This may require developing goals for supporting essential workers’ travel needs, safe travel for disabled populations (which populations are in your study area? The needs of a blind person and someone with a mobility disability are different), and reducing vehicular pollution exposure in areas with high asthma rates.
Performance measures and evaluation criteria
It is becoming more common to adopt performance measures as part of a transportation plan or project. Performance measures can be a way to increase transparency and accountability in decision-making. Some of the most successful (i.e., meaningful, well-used) performance measures emerge from the engagement process. Rather than isolating the development of performance measures in a technical committee, consider them as an extension of the goal-setting process.
Performance measures can be used in a variety of ways, in part depending on whether the transportation effort is a plan or a project. In some cases, when performance measures are reported on an annual basis, they serve to help practitioners and decision-makers “course correct” over time. Performance measures may be used as evaluation criteria for the prioritization or selection of projects. This often requires a qualitative assessment to determine which projects are most likely to help agencies meet their goals (see this newsletter for a discussion of how evaluation could build the evidence base to improve this process).
Many cities are exploring equity performance measures and tools to help prioritize projects. For example, the Portland Bureau of Transportation developed an Equity Matrix to help prioritize investment. In the Denver Blueprint planning process, health equity was an important point of discussion and analysis. Their Neighborhood Equity Index also serves as a prioritization tool.
A final note about performance measures: they are successful when there is organizational support and capacity to measure and report them. Many transportation professionals focus on the data: Do we have the right data? At the right scale? While questions about the availability and validity of the data are important, this is not the primary barrier for making performance measures useful. Agency capacity and political will are critical.
Develop and evaluate alternatives
As practitioners develop alternatives that respond to the goals (and perhaps use performance measures to evaluate their impact), how the benefits and burdens of the transportation plan or project are distributed across geographies and populations should be evaluated. Don't forget land use and zoning as part of alternatives development; land use can significantly change travel behaviors and patterns over time. In terms of equity, consider how racist land use practices have shaped landscapes and how it affects access opportunities today.
Practitioners can use tools to quantify the health and climate benefits of transportation plans and projects. Health Impact Assessments, often focused on health equity, can be used to evaluate alternatives. For regional analysis, the Integrated Transport and Health Impact Model (ITHIM) Tool calculates the health and climate benefits of active travel. ITHIM is available in the United States through this online tool. The WHO Health Economic Assessment Tool (HEAT) can estimate the value of reduced mortality from regular walking and cycling.
The final step in this process is identifying the preferred alternative, after listening to the community, understanding their needs and goals, and evaluating who benefits from and is burdened by the transportation alternatives.