On the U.S. Transportation System's Structures of Inequality

The tendency of transportation planning of the 20th and 21st centuries to negatively impact poor and minority populations received deep attention on national media outlets over the past few days.

2 minute read

March 4, 2015, 2:00 PM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Wrong Way

Alan Turkus / Flickr

Corinne Ramey writes a long and thorough account of the inequity built into the U.S. transportation system. Ramey notes early in the article that race and transportation "have long been intertwined, whether it be federally funded highways that plowed through, or isolated, minority neighborhoods; Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott; or segregated streetcars and trolleys." Despite the progress made in recent decades, according to the article, discrimination is still built into the transportation system of the United States.

The article begins by citing the example of Buffalo, New York, where the Peace Bridge connecting the United States with Fort Erie in Canada. "In the shadow of the bridge sits a small neighborhood called the West Side, where the asthma rate is more than four times the national average, and residents report a host of other health issues." Rather than heading local concerns about the health impacts of the bridge, "[a] proposed expansion of the bridge’s on- and off-ramps will further encroach into the neighborhood’s streets."

But Buffalo only provides the first example of the inequity that is built into every corner of the country. Here, Ramey reveals the larger focus of the investigation: "Based on recent complaints provided by the Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Authority through Freedom of Information Act requests, as well as older complaints and several lawsuits, I closely examined about 40 cases of racial discrimination in transportation planning, many from the past 15 years." 

The remainder of the piece delves into many examples from all over the country, with references to the prevailing scholarship on the subject.

Of note regarding the article: At some point, Slate changed the headline from a more inflammatory title "America's Transportation System Is Racist" to the current "America's Unfair Rules of the Road."

Kevin D. Williamson follows Ramey's reporting with a response in National Review. Although Williamson recommends the Slate article but pivots to describe the transportation system as "royalist" rather than racist.

Friday, February 27, 2015 in Slate

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