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New research looks at a city with a legacy of racial and income segregation to explore ways transportation agencies can work with the public to provide better and more equitable service.
Cities that want to fix persistent problems in how they deliver transportation services could see improvements by consulting more regularly with—and perhaps even paying—residents who rely on the services, according to a new report.
The Urban Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C., focused the report on how to get better transportation options to the residents of South Dallas, a predominantly Black neighborhood near downtown. Interstate highways isolate the area from job centers, and decades of segregationist policies have sapped its economic prospects.
The result, according to the Urban Institute, is that the Dallas region has some of the worst racial and income segregation in the country.
About a dozen nonprofit groups in the area joined an effort in 2018 to improve transportation services in South Dallas. They found that residents don’t use Dallas Area Rapid Transit service because the bus stops were too far away, transfers and connections were inconvenient, and the buses or other infrastructure were either unsafe or unsanitary.
DART and the city of Dallas have tried to address some of those concerns. For example, the transit agency recently redesigned its bus routes to make them more straightforward and to extend the reach of its service. It also launched an on-demand ride service, called South Dallas GoLink, to make short trips in the area, but it is currently only available from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday.
For other ideas of how to improve transportation options, the researchers at the Urban Institute looked at efforts in four other metro areas that had made improvements: Portland, Oregon; King County, Washington; Columbus, Ohio; and Las Vegas.
The authors suggested several steps the Dallas region could take, based on those examples, such as:
- Creating a mobility council, like ones used in Portland and King County, made up of residents and leaders from low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. Those councils, the Urban researchers said, should be given decision-making power and be paid for their time. (In King County, members of the Mobility Equity Cabinet earn $75 an hour.)
- Making equity concerns a central mission of the transportation agency. That work could be led by the mobility council, and it should shape major policies for the transportation agency, including strategic plans, service guidelines and climate action plans, the Urban authors said. “Although the City of Dallas has a strategic mobility plan, it is not focused on equity exclusively; rather, it covers mobility more broadly. The suggested framework would center equity in all transportation work and expand upon the equity project evaluation criteria noted in the city’s strategic mobility plan,” they explained.
- Improve community engagement. The Urban team said DART should prioritize outreach efforts to low-income people and people of color, by hosting events in places they regularly gather, by offering many different ways to provide their feedback and by following up with participants as plans progress. Agencies can also pay people in key leadership roles and encourage participation by providing travel vouchers, child care and food at meetings, the Urban researchers said
The authors also highlighted other efforts that could be explored in South Dallas. In Columbus, for example, the city partners with downtown businesses to issue free monthly transit passes for workers. Portland has improved an especially dangerous corridor for pedestrians—a particularly relevant issue for low-income neighborhoods—by lowering speed limits, replacing a turn lane with landscaping and improving lighting.
“This is a pivotal moment for equity in South Dallas. Leaders in the Dallas region have the opportunity to dismantle racist infrastructure systems and restructure in a way that increases inclusion and access to opportunity for historically oppressed residents,” the Urban researchers wrote.
“Individual policies and programs can help to address short term inequities, but to fix the structural problems that created these inequities in the first place, the region needs to change the structure within which decisions are made,” they added.
The Urban researchers are Christina Stacy, Karolina Ramos, Donovan Harvey, Sonia Torres Rodríguez, Jorge Morales-Burnett and Sabina Morris.
Daniel C. Vock is a senior reporter for Route Fifty based in Washington, D.C.