Phase III – Literature Review

The FHWA and FTA jointly published this compendium of case studies to provide support to others engaged in EJT studies or assessments. The expressed intent of the booklet is “to put environmental justice at the center of transportation decision making”, and to demonstrate that “when properly implemented, EJ principles can improve all levels of transportation decision-making – from the first thought about a transportation plan through project development, right-of-way, construction, operations and maintenance”. The premise is that “pursuing environmental justice is not a simple task, but one that stretches the imagination of the transportation agency, calling upon the practitioner to explore new methods and new partnerships”. It further posits that “eliminating discrimination, and the appearance of discrimination, often requires probing analysis of transportation issues, broad-based community outreach, and a particular sensitivity to the needs [sic] of people who have not traditionally been participants in the decision-making process”.

The case study booklet does not attempt to provide structured guidance, per se, but rather an illustration of how 10 different areas independently approached EJ aspects in a variety of planning, project or impact resolution contexts. The intent is to present a “story” of how a given area recognized an EJ problem or need and dealt with it – usually documenting the process from beginning to end in an attempt to illustrate the “learning curve” for the given agency. The essential characteristics of the 10 case studies are illustrated in Table 1. Clearly, the studies cover a wide range of planning activities, setting, techniques used and organizations involved.

The value of the case studies as “guidance”, per se, is mixed. There is no question that the examples in the booklet that can provide assurance to the agency or practitioner – or even the community – that others have faced similar problems or circumstances and developed an approach to deal with it. There are good insights in this book on public participation methods, analytic approaches, and institutional mechanics, all of which add to the knowledge base and awareness of the dimensions of environmental justice. The limitations of the case study booklet as “guidance” are:

· The examples are somewhat random in topic coverage, and while interesting, require the user to ascertain which studies and which aspects are relevant to their particular situation.
· It is not always clear that the path chosen by the particular case study agency is either optimal or inclusive of all important considerations, nor that they necessarily reached an effective solution. This situation requires the user to try to decide how much of the particular process to replicate in their respective situation.

Case Studies in Environmental Justice and Public Transit Title VI Reporting

This study was jointly funded by TCRP and the National Center for Transit Research at the University of South Florida for the purpose of identifying examples of environmental justice solutions and Title VI reporting and implementation that demonstrate commitment to equitable distribution of public transportation resources. In an earlier study by NCTR, Title VI reporting was identified as a tool for assessing the impacts of transportation decisions, particularly as related to environmental justice.

This is one of the comparatively few EJ case studies emanating from the transit sector, and hence has value in taking a slightly different view of EJ requirements. A theme echoed in the study is that persons of color and with low incomes tend to walk, bike and use transit more than the general population, are more likely to be victims of auto-pedestrian incidents, and are more likely to be affected by decisions that direct transportation resources into suburban highway improvements over urban transit. The study suggests that five topics encapsulate many of the facets of environmental justice issues in transportation: (1) justice in decision making; (2) the siting of transportation facilities; (3) public transit access to government services; (4) equity in transportation investments; and (5) transportation, land use, economic development, and social equity.

The study is built around five case studies, each of which provides an example of actions taken by transit agencies to respond to environmental justice and Title VI concerns, and documents techniques used to achieve community buy-in and support. Four of the case studies entail metropolitan areas (Atlanta, Chicago, Denver and Miami), while the fifth is a national assessment of EJ issues facing native Americans and Alaskans. The study report concludes with a section on “Suggested Guidance” for transportation agencies addressing civil rights and environmental justice issues, which includes the following elements:

· Improving agencies’ public outreach and involvement efforts
· Providing access to the decision making process at all levels, from the MPO long range planning process through service delivery and maintenance.
· Impacts associated with the siting of transportation facilities, with goals for ensuring equitable distribution of benefits and burdens.
· Fragmented government authority problematic in dealing with multi-faceted problems
· Equity in transportation investments, and financial and other implications of these investments
· Disconnect between land use and transportation decisions and authority
· Use of Title VI program guidelines to support collection of data which supports identification of minority/low-income populations and analysis of service standards and policies in these areas.
· Consideration of the differential effect of cuts in bus service, routing changes, location and maintenance of stations and equipment on minority populations, who are more likely to be impacted.

The value of this study as a guidance tool is primarily in its shaping of issues and practices that relate to transit and non-motorized transportation, both of which have greater impact on the EJ community. This would be important in the areas of public involvement, access to the decision-making process, and awareness of differential impacts. Where this study may fall short in its guidance potential is that it has relatively little information on specific performance measures, analytic approaches, and step-by-step guidance on process.

Existing Research Studies and Technical Assistance Guides

Atlanta Transportation Benefits & Burdens Study

This project was the result of a 1997 agreement between the USDOT and a coalition of non-government agencies (Environmental Defense, Southern Organizing Committee for Economic and Social Justice, and Georgia Coalition for a People’s Agenda) to conduct a study of environmental justice in the Atlanta region. The work was to be performed in two phases – a Phase 1 assessment of public participation followed by a Phase II assessment of the distribution of transportation benefits and burdens on minority and low-income populations. Phase I was completed during 1999 and 2000, tied to the solicitation of comments and opportunities for change in participation in the 2000 Regional Transportation Plan update. FHWA’s Office of Human Environment, its Office of Metropolitan Planning, and FTA’s Office of Planning participated in this review, for which the Phase I report concluded that the Atlanta Regional Commission needed to be more proactive in engaging minority and low-income populations, better documenting their public involvement activities, increasing their capacity to sustain outreach to local communities, and removing institutional and logistical barriers between the public and decision makers.

Given the focus of the Phase II study effort on “measures”, and the objective of FHWA to identify measurement tools that could be used in a variety of planning scenarios, RTP updates or focused planning studies, the research team evaluated a rather lengthy list of measures. Each of these measures was derived from the Phase I outreach process, including input from both the community and transportation agencies. The key measures that were recommended by the study were:

· Population within walking distance of transit
· Percent of employment accessible within 60 minutes by transit for lower income groups
· Average congested travel time by income
· Potential impact to historic areas

Other measures that were evaluated included: transit load factors (as surrogate for service quality); effect of congestion on neighborhood safety; quality of transportation system maintenance; proximity of population to point source emissions (represented by bus yards); proximity to mobile source pollution (population near major highways as proxy); effect of taking property for transportation on community cohesion; distribution of crashes; incidence of transportation costs. For each measure the study documented:

· Description and importance of the measure
· Measurement tools
· Lessons learned/areas for further consideration
· Important technical considerations
· Alternative approaches not taken, and why

Lessons Learned:

Value of this case study for EJ guidance purposes would be in the following areas (as summarized in Table 2):

· The major value of this study is that of a technical aid in understanding the challenge of defining and measuring benefits and burdens, and in particular trying to effectively measure these commodities (performance measures) in relation to the impacted populations.
· Starts addressing the issue of tradeoffs – what is benefit to one may be a burden to another. Question is how to balance.
· Provides assistance in identification, appraisal and manipulation of data (how to work in an imperfect information world, although some issue as to how the Atlanta situation compares to other areas)
· Health impacts are approached, with good reference information

NCHRP Project 8-36(11): Technical Methods to Support Analyses of Environmental Justice Issues

This project was undertaken as a special study for AASHTO’s Standing Committee on Planning to provide assistance to state DOTs, MPOs, transit agencies and others attempting to address environmental justice requirements in planning and project studies. The primary focus was on identifying and developing an inventory of technical approaches that could be in both systems-level and corridor/subarea planning to quantify benefits and burdens and their distribution across individual population groups. To perform this review, the study both articulated and offered interpretation for the array of existing environmental justice laws and policy directives, and also collected information on current practice and challenges from a large number of practicing agencies. Based on interviews with 15 state DOTs, 21 MPOs, and three transit agencies, the study determined that there is considerable uncertainty among agencies as to the appropriate level of analysis that is necessary, the correct mix of public involvement and technical analysis, and the manner in which environmental justice should be treated during systems planning. The existing practice review confirmed that the approaches in use for project planning are much better defined and accepted than they are for statewide or regional systems planning.

The report describes methods, including examples, for defining and identifying population groups, conducting public outreach and involvement, defining measures of benefit and burden, defining disproportionate impacts, and responding to environmental justice issues. Its primary strength, however, is in its description of methods for identifying and examining the distribution of risks, benefits and burdens. It provides both a solid overview of the definitions of benefits and burdens, and the procedures for assessing disparate benefits. Lists of each type of measure are provided, along with descriptions on how they may calculated, agencies which have used the measures and their experiences. An emphasis is placed on currently available methods that can be applied immediately without further research, but the study also makes note of other methods that are currently in use which may be valuable in environmental justice applications, but which are not being routinely applied in that context.

Lessons Learned:

As a guidance tool, NCHRP 8-36(11) has considerable value in the following areas:

· Improving understanding of the legal issues driving environmental justice evaluations, and the guidance given or not given by the various statutes and directives.
· Offering a sense of what other transportation and planning agencies are doing to address EJ in their different levels of planning and project activities.
· An inventory of and orientation to measures of benefit and burden, their meaning, value and methods of computation.
· Solid grounding in the definition and assessment of disproportionate impacts.

Where NCHRP 8-36(11) falls somewhat short in its guidance is in the following areas:

· Illustrating application and actual use of these measures in real world situation
· Incorporation of public outreach and involvement
· Nuance of introducing these measures within the institutional planning and decision-making process.

IV. Environmental Justice and Human Health

One of the major “missing links” in environmental justice studies and analytic capabilities is the ability to evaluate the relationship between transportation activity and human health. Developing transportation-related indicators to measure public health impacts is actually a requirement under Title VI. While transportation may impact health in many ways, for example vehicle/pedestrian conflicts, noise and exhaust odors, one very tangible connection is through transportation’s contribution to poor air quality. Poor air quality has a detrimental effect on persons with asthma or other pulmonary health problems, children and the elderly. An ever-increasing body of empirical research is able to demonstrate an epidemiological link between the proximity of exposure to air pollution concentrations and higher incidence rates of a variety of health abnormalities. Not surprisingly, there is also a body of evidence which indicates that minority and low-income populations tend to live and work closer to sources of air pollution than does the general population, and hence face greater health risks. , ,

Chapter 3 of NCHRP Report 532 provides the most current and comprehensive review of the role of air quality in environmental justice assessments among current guidance materials. It is particularly on point in laying out the issues, the tools and the challenges with regard to air quality impacts. It points out that transportation-related air pollution’s effect on communities can occur in two primary ways:

· Through increased ground-level concentrations of pollutants like carbon monoxide (CO) or particulate matter (PM) caused by motor vehicle traffic and congestion
· Atmospheric concentrations of ozone and particulate-causing pollutants like VOCs, NOx, SOx, and also CO.