Tag Archives: transportation

Highways And Civil Rights.

I typically do not link to media sources that are obviously partisan (unless that partisanship is what I’m highlighting), but I was fascinated by a recent post from Daily Kos about the Biden Administration’s recognition of the impact of transportation policy on civil rights.

I first became aware of that connection when my husband and I became involved with (largely unsuccessful) efforts to keep the state from rebuilding the Interstates that had carved up neighborhoods in our downtown fifty years ago. I pointed out that the routing decisions made at that time not only divided historic neighborhoods, but exacerbated public safety problems and delayed the ensuing commercial and residential redevelopment of our downtown. Those decisions also decimated Black neighborhoods, and evidence suggests that particular result was not accidental.

Since being confirmed as Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg has been emphasizing the role played by transportation in civil rights.

In an interview with Politico, Buttigieg again repeated that saddling Black communities with the pollution and bifurcation associated with highways was “not just a matter of halfway accidental neglect” but “intentional decisions that happened.” He’s vowing reforms; much of the rest of Politico’s article consists of former Obama administration officials expressing their own wary hopes that the time is now right for more sweeping changes.

The post goes on to connect the dots, pointing out that environmental policy is also a civil rights issue. The U.S. highway system is just one example, but it’s a powerful one.

Moving swiftly to electric vehicles would alleviate the thick soot buildups recognizable to anyone who has lived next to a major artery. Restructuring mass transportation networks so that more Americans can use them to get to more places both lessens the climate impact single-person transportation and allows residents of currently isolated neighborhoods access to far more jobs and services than they currently have. Removing highways to replace them with smaller surface roads and more green space not only stitches together now-divided neighborhoods, but lessens urban heat island effects that magnify heatwaves and further strains our electrical grids.

Those of us who live in Indianapolis understand the extent to which the Indiana legislature’s animus toward our efforts to improve the city’s inadequate mass transit is motivated by a belief that transit is used predominantly by “those people.”

The post also had a good explanation of the problem with spending a disproportionate share of tax dollars on highways rather than environmentally-friendly transit.

It is akin to the elevator problem in urban high-rises: The more floors are added, the more elevators are needed to transport people from one floor to another, and the more space those elevators take up on each floor. After a certain threshold, so much space must be devoted to the elevator shafts on each floor that there is little to no room left on each floor for actual living or office space; there is nowhere left for the people in the elevators to actually go.

In American metropolises, the space devoted to roads, highways, garages, parking spots, setbacks and related structure takes up so much space that it makes the islanding of each neighborhood a fiat accompli. You could not walk to a grocery store or other services even if you were motivated to do it, but need a car simply to drive past all of the infrastructure devoted to cars between you and it. Mass transit becomes less viable because the roads and parking spaces have imposed a cap on population density surrounding each stop, stretching out the fabric of each city and forcing transportation planners to either put an interminable number of people-collecting stops on each line or to decide that the majority of each neighborhood will simply not be served.

The situation we face with transportation is evidence–if more were needed–of Heather McGhee’s premise in The Sum of Us: decisions based on racism and the desire to disadvantage “those people” end up hurting all of us.


An Interesting Observation

I attended a small political gathering yesterday, and during the “mixing and mingling” had a conversation with a member of the Indiana House. We were discussing the legislature’s refusal to allow Indianapolis to hold a referendum on public transportation, and she noted that the same people who don’t believe Indianapolis residents can be trusted with that vote are among the most vocal proponents of “letting the people decide”  whether Indiana should constitutionalize its ban on same-sex marriage.

Evidently, we aren’t capable of deciding whether to pay for better bus service, and it would be dangerous to put such a serious matter to a vote; however, we are perfectly capable of deciding whether other citizens should be denied equal access to a fundamental human right.

Tell me again–how did we elect these people?

The Road to Hell is Paved

Food for thought: In Amsterdam, over 50 percent of all trips are taken by bike; in Los Angeles, that percentage is under 1%.

It’s hard to believe now, but L.A. was an early pioneer in public transportation.  There evidently used to be a 9-mile dedicated bike pathway connecting LA and Pasadena that had electric lights the entire way—in 1897. That pathway became a freeway in 1940. The same thing happened to original bikeways in Hollywood and Santa Monica.

Here’s a data point that should make us all stop and think: the percentage of surface area in Los Angeles dedicated to automobiles (roads, parking, gas stations, etc.) is more than 70 percent, while the percentage devoted to parks and open spaces is 5 percent.

As the article from which I took those figures asked, “Is your city designed for you, or for your car?”

Yesterday, a colleague whose opinion I value commented on a previous post about the need for public transportation by saying that it would never happen–that thanks to a combination of low density and the American love affair with the automobile, we have established a “car culture.” If he is correct, our cities will continue to be designed for, and dominated by, automobiles–and increasingly inhospitable to people and parks.

I’ve been to L.A. several times. There are nice areas, but it fails as a city. It’s not a place I’d want to live–or emulate.


Charlotte vs. Indy

My husband and I have been wanting to visit Charlotte for some time. During our annual trip to South Carolina, we always read the Charlotte Observer, which (unlike the Indianapolis Star) is still a real newspaper–perhaps not as excellent as it once was, but one of the few remaining examples of actual journalism. The Observer piqued our interest well before the DNC chose the city for its convention, and since Charlotte is about the same size as Indianapolis, we were curious to see how the two cities compare.

We are staying downtown, in a historic Hotel, the Dunhill. Very nice. There are a lot of hotels in the center city–including a pretty posh Four Seasons. There are also a lot of corporate headquarters, mostly but not exclusively bank headquarters. (Being a banking center right now is probably not an asset.) Lots of restaurants, too–although, like in Indy, most are chains.

What I have seen that I like/envy: the scale of the downtown is wonderful. It is dense. The  streets aren’t too wide. The sidewalks–paved with very attractive concrete brick pavers–are immaculate (the hotel concierge tells me they are swept daily–something we used to do when Hudnut was Mayor, but not since). There are lots of trees and plantings, and the streets are lined with benches that invite you to sit a while. There are kiosks where vendors sell flowers and produce. While few buildings are architectural gems–most are “corporate inoffensive”–some are very nice, and the scale and trees combine to make strolling downtown Charlotte a very pleasant experience.

The transit has me green with envy. There is a free trolley that circulates downtown every few minutes. There are real buses that appear to be frequent too. But the star is the train. We rode it to the end and back; it was clean and quick and the stations were well-designed and attractive. The train and bus systems are integrated, with bus service “feeding” the train in what appears to be a very efficient transportation system. My only quibble was the automated machine from which we bought our tickets–it wasn’t intuitive to people like us who hadn’t used it before, and in the bright sunlight, the screen with instructions was hard to read.

That ticket dispenser reminded me of the confusing parking meter system we have just installed in Indianapolis. Charlotte has a similar system, but it is much, much more user friendly–and it dispenses a receipt. A real, genuine paper receipt, unlike ours. Their version sits on streets lined not just with the benches I’ve mentioned, but lots of nicely-designed bike racks. In addition, like NYC, Charlotte is in the process of introducing a bike-sharing program; rows of sparkling new bikes were being set out at various busy intersections as we walked around. Most impressive of all–there were free “quickie” charging stations for electric and hybrid vehicles. (In fact, there were many signs that Charlotte is trying hard to be green.)

There is abundant downtown housing. I walked through a historic district a couple of blocks from our hotel, where lots of multi-family housing–both original and infill–was intermingled with the same sorts of charming old houses, virtually all restored, that we have in the Old Northside neighborhood. Once again, the scale of the neighborhood compensated for some fairly pedestrian architecture. There were “pocket parks” everywhere–delightful little oases that appear to be well-maintained. Downtown also has multiple high-rise apartment buildings, condo and rental. I would guess that even with Indianapolis’ surge lately, Charlotte has a considerably greater range of downtown housing choices. I wonder how much of that is due to the fact that Charlotte has one consolidated, county-wide school system and excellent public transit (including 8 Amtrak trains a day to destinations like New York and New Orleans).

In short, this is a place where people appear to care about their city.

All is not perfect in Charlotte, of course, and there are some gaps that ought to worry the city fathers and mothers.

There is virtually no retail in the center city. No shopping streets. There’s a library, a “Discovery Center,” several very nice museums (I can’t speak to the collections, since I didn’t go in–only so much you can do in a day.) But no street had shops to browse. I didn’t even see grocers–especially surprising given the amount of housing. (Turns out I missed a food market, but the absence of other shopping was confirmed in a conversation with our lunch waitress.)

There is also no obvious arts community. I asked the hotel concierge, and he admitted that Charlotte had nothing like Asheville’s vibrant arts community. He hastened to say that there is a lot of corporate support for “the arts”–but it was clear he was referring to museums, concerts and the like, not to the sort of robust arts scene we have in Indianapolis.

So there’s my snapshot, after one hot and muggy day. There’s a lot to like here, and some important missing elements.

I’d kill for their transit….