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1 Many metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) and transit agencies recognize that the benefits and burdens of the transportation system may not be distributed equitably among the persons in the agencyâs service area. Agency staff are improving their understanding of potential inequities so they can remedy them, but even the most well-intentioned agencies find it challenging to conduct meaningful analyses of disparate impacts and disproportionately high and adverse effects (DHAE). The laws and regulations relating to Title VI and E.O. 12898 (Exec. Order No. 12898, 59 FR 7629 [February 16, 1994]) require agencies responsible for federally funded pro- grams and activities to assess and address potential disparate impacts and DHAE generated by their activities. The FTAâs Title VI Circular 4702.1 defines terms related to disparate impacts and DHAE as follows: f. Disparate impact refers to a facially neutral policy or practice that disproportionately affects members of a group identified by race, color, or national origin, where the recipientâs policy or practice lacks a substantial legitimate justification and where there exists one or more alternatives that would serve the same legitimate objectives but with less disproportionate effect on the basis of race, color, or national origin. g. Disproportionate burden refers to a neutral policy or practice that disproportionately affects low- income populations more than non-low-income populations. A finding of disproportionate burden requires the recipient to evaluate alternatives and mitigate burdens where practicable. h. Disparate treatment refers to actions that result in circumstances where similarly situated persons are intentionally treated differently (i.e., less favorably) than others because of their race, color, or national origin (FTA 2012a). As defined in the circular, DHAE include individual and cumulative impacts, as well as âthe denial of, reduction in, or significant delay in the receipt of, benefits.â FTAâs Envi- ronmental Justice (EJ) Circular 4703.1 provides step-by-step guidance on determining DHAE consistent with the requirements of the U.S. DOTâs own âEJ Orderâ (U.S. DOT Order 5610.2(a)), which defines a DHAE as one that: (1) is predominately borne by a minority population and/or a low-income population, or (2) will be suffered by the minority population and/or low-income population and is appreciably more severe or greater in magnitude than the adverse effect that will be suffered by the non-minority population and/or non-low-income population (USDOT, 2012). The research team evaluated the state of the practice with regard to regional equity analysis by examining current and recent literature, including published agency plans, programs, and other documents, and by conducting agency interviews and discussions with technical panel advisors. This report discusses research findings and recommendations organized around a five-step equity analysis framework that is built upon a foundation of public involvement. Volume 1 of TCRP Research Report 214 (hereafter called the guide) opens with a chapter titled âLay the Foundation with Public Engagement.â The chapter describes the elements S U M M A R Y Equity Analysis in Regional Transportation Planning Processes
2 Equity Analysis in Regional Transportation Planning Processes of inclusive public engagement and discusses the important role of public engagement, which is critical to the success of all five steps that make up the equity analysis process (see Figure S-1). Subsequent chapters in the guide describe methods by which agencies can complete each of the five steps: â¢ Step 1 describes methods for defining and identifying populations of underserved persons and communities for which equity analyses will be conducted. â¢ Step 2 describes how public engagement and data analysis can be used to identify the needs and concerns of selected populations to help focus and measure the equity impacts. â¢ Step 3 describes options for selecting appropriate equity indicators and technical methodologies to assess the benefits, burdens, and relative impacts of transportation plans and projects. The analyses of plans and programs will determine whether the benefits and burdens they are expected to generate will be equitably distributed among underserved and non-underserved persons and communities. â¢ Step 4 describes methodologies for determining whether identified differences in the impacts generated by transportation plans and programs on underserved persons versus non-underserved persons are disparate or have DHAE. â¢ Step 5 describes approaches for addressing and mitigating equity issues identified in the analysis. Meaningful equity analyses, even ones that do not find disparate impacts or DHAE, often spur broader actions to address systemic disparities and needs of underserved persons, such as institutional changes in decision-making processes (e.g., equity-related project selection criteria and robust public engagement). As Volume 2 of TCRP Research Report 214, this Research Overview details the background, research approach, findings and applications, and conclusions of TCRP Project H-54, as well as suggestions for further research. Appendices to this volume document the literature review and interview case studies conducted during the research. Figure S-1. Public engagement and the five steps of the equity analysis process.
Summary 3 Research Findings and Recommendations Lay a Foundation of Public Involvement Engaging with local equity stakeholders early in the equity analysis process and continu- ing that engagement throughout the process can help determine reasonable thresholds and prioritize what characteristics and criteria are included in each measurement, which will help establish some legitimacy for the subjective elements of the process. Agencies can include outreach and feedback with underserved populations as part of their other public involvement activities, and standing committees of underserved persons or related stake- holders can be an invaluable resource for helpful critiques and validation of the agencyâs assumptions, methods, and findings. Many MPOs have detailed how they collect information on the needs of underserved persons (e.g., documenting the number of meetings held in underserved communities) or the practices they have used to engage underserved persons (e.g., providing materials in different languages or holding meetings outside of working hours). Such details may, however, leave unclear how the input from underserved persons influenced the equity analysis or other aspects of agency decision making. To ensure that the underserved personsâ input has been received and used effectively, agencies should adopt performance measures to capture their level of engagement, document the feedback received, and document how that feedback influenced the agenciesâ equity analysis or other aspects of agency decision making. Topics on which additional research and resources could enhance the state of the practice with regard to public involvement include: â¢ Methods for setting measurable public involvement objectives and evaluating progress. â¢ Indicators and measurement techniques for equity-related engagement variables that can have a profound impact on the success of outreach activities, and which may be difficult to quantify or assess, such as levels of trust with government decision-making processes or âbuy-inâ regarding proposed plans and programs. â¢ Facilitation and engagement techniques to engage diverse stakeholders in equitable decision-making processes. â¢ Techniques for, and examples of, documenting the input provided by equity stake- holders and describing how that input is being, or has been, addressed in the planning and decision-making process. â¢ Methods for tailoring public involvement approaches and related analysis techniques to planning and programming processes in ways that set the stage for subsequent NEPA-level project development. FHWA resources such as the Planning and Environmental Linkages Toolkit (www.environment.fhwa.dot.gov/env_initiatives/pel/implementation.aspx) and PlanWorks (https://fhwaapps.fhwa.dot.gov/planworks) could be useful tools for helping MPOs to understand the incremental levels of public involvement and analysis appro- priate to each stage. Step 1: Identify Populations for Analysis MPO equity analyses generally identify required populations, which include minority persons, low-income households, and persons with limited English proficiency (LEP). MPOs also frequently include other underserved populations in equity analyses, such as persons with a disability, zero-vehicle households, and older adults. Most of the MPOs identified the total number of persons within each of the required populations, but their needs assessments and comparative impact analyses almost always limited the focus to
4 Equity Analysis in Regional Transportation Planning Processes geographic areas that the agencies designated as having high concentrations of the required populations (e.g., minority areas, low-income areas, or LEP areas). Although the relative percentages of different populations in different areas is a useful indicator for understanding what areas might need attention from an equity lens, federal agencies do not support the use of a bright-line threshold (referring to the frequently seen practice of using a pre-selected percentage as a threshold) to categorize entire traffic analysis zones (TAZs) or census block groups as being either environmental justice (EJ) or non-environmental justice (non-EJ) areas. Rather than rely on bright-line thresholds to categorize entire TAZs or block groups, agencies are encouraged to study the complete regional distribution of underserved populations. For example, current documentation from many MPOs will state that TAZs that have less than the regional average percentage of EJ individuals are ânon-EJ TAZsâ (or some similar phrase), whereas TAZs with more than the regional average percentage are designated as âEJ TAZs.â Better options include using heat maps that assign color gradations to levels of underserved population percent- ages across geographic areas; using dot-density maps that show the numbers of under- served persons in each area; and attaching demographic information to TAZs in the travel-demand model. The best practice is to study the locations and characteristics of required populations in more than one way, andâmost importantlyâto work with equity stakeholders to develop a meaningful, complete depiction of underserved persons for analysis. Additional Research. Additional research could enhance the state of the practice regarding identifying required populations by (1) refining methods for mapping the locations of required populations that do not depend on setting bright-line population concentration thresholds and assigning entire TAZs or other geographic units with a broad, all-or-nothing EJ âstatusâ and (2) developing ways to tailor definitions of terms such as low-income and minority to meet the letter and spirit of equity-related laws, regulations, and directives while reflecting the unique socio-economic characteristics of a region. Step 2: Identify Needs and Concerns The MPOs studied for this project typically conducted Step 2 of the analysis by mapping and analyzing data to understand the accessibility and mobility needs of underserved persons. This step generally involved overlaying data on equity indicators with the locations of underserved persons to determine which issues were particularly prevalent in under- served communities. Many agencies also conducted targeted public involvement activities to gain qualitative insights on issues such as institutional barriers to civic participation. As with all stages of the equity analysis, a robust needs assessment requires input from equity stakeholders. Agencies must employ public involvement techniques to engage stakeholders in critical tasks such as identifying issues of interest; assessing exposure to the existing burdens of the transportation system (e.g., environmental and safety risks); understanding the receipt of benefits of the transportation system (e.g., access to destinations); and validating the agencyâs findings. Few MPOs, however, documented how the needs identified during Step 2 were ultimately addressed in the resulting plans or programs. It appears that the Step 2 needs assessment often stands alone, disconnected from the impact analyses (Steps 3 and 4) and strategies (Step 5). Failing to link the findings of Step 2 to the later stages of the analysis puts the agency at a risk of non-compliance with Title VI and EJ requirements, and it can make equity stakeholders feel that their participation in the process of identifying needs was not meaningful.
Summary 5 Additional Research. Additional research could enhance the state of the practice regarding identifying needs (Step 2) and measuring impacts (Step 3) by developing approaches and resources for developing and selecting indicators of current needs and of potential impacts that are relevant to both outputs and outcomes and applying them together to support a meaningful impact analysis. Step 3: Measure Impacts of Proposed Agency Activity To conduct an impact analysis for a plan or program, many MPOs overlay maps of proposed projects (and sometimes estimated project investment dollars) on top of maps of the locations of required populations identified in Step 1 (typically, TAZs or other geo- graphic EJ zones that meet an agency-specified concentration such as a standard deviation from the regional average). The analyses usually conclude that the impacts and effects are equitably distributed if the project locations are equitably distributed. This relatively simple approach can provide a broad-brush picture of potential equity implications, assuming the Step 1 maps of underserved populations are sound. By itself, however, simple proximity to a transportation project (and/or a dollar amount of invest- ments) will not function as an indicator of either benefit or burden. The broad-brush findings should be examined at some deeper level before conclusions are drawn. Toward this end, some agencies differentiate types of investments and associated actions, which can help to substantiate a finding of net benefits or burdens. A strategy to counter potential errors that could result from all-or-nothing allocations of benefits to âEJ zonesâ is to associate impacts and adverse effects with types of popu- lations rather than with defined geographic zones. One MPO that was studied for this project, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) used a population-based approach instead of the typical geographic-based approach to study impacts of forecast outcomes from the travel-demand model. Using this approach, the agency did not catego- rize TAZs into different types. Rather, the outcomes for each TAZ were seen as contributing to the production of a regional outcome for each demographic group being analyzed, based on that TAZâs share of the regionâs population for each group. About half of the MPOs in this study used a travel model (e.g., commute travel times and distances) to compare forecast outcomes of plans and programs for underserved populations compared to outcomes for control populations. Of the agencies that forecast outcomes, most used a geographic-based approach that compared the outcomes for desig- nated EJ TAZs to the outcomes for other TAZs. These studies can be useful if the Step 1 logic of designating EJ TAZs is sound. Transportation impact analyses of all sorts measure outputs (e.g., roadway level of service, multimodal connectivity, and other indicators of system performance) and outcomes (e.g., commute times, accessibility to destinations, and other indicators that reflect the experience of system users). With equity analyses, outputs include indicators such as the numbers and dollar amounts of transportation investments in areas with high concentrations of under- served populations, whereas outcomes include indicators such as comparative commute times and distances. A robust equity analysis would, ideally, examine a range of outputs and outcomes, but almost all of the MPOs studied for this project measure only outputs. Additional Research. Additional research could enhance the state of the practice regarding measuring impacts by developing methods and resources to encourage MPOs to adopt multiple approaches to assessing impacts and DHAE, such as developing both geographic- and population-based analyses, and examining indicators of outputs and outcomes.
6 Equity Analysis in Regional Transportation Planning Processes Step 4: Determine Whether Impacts Are Disparate or Have DHAE To determine whether their activities generate disparate impacts or DHAE, MPOs should first review the data collected in Steps 2 and 3 to identify differences among popula- tion groups in terms of their needs and concerns regarding agenciesâ existing and forecast outputs and outcomes. Displaying this data in tables and graphs helps decision makers and stakeholders visualize how impacts and adverse effects are distributed among population groups. After digesting the information developed through Steps 2 and 3, MPOs should use quantitative analysis techniques, such as benchmarking, statistical significance, and location quotients, to identify potentially disparate impacts or DHAE that may warrant additional investigation. Of the equity analyses reviewed for this study, none reported a Step 4 finding of disparate impacts or DHAE. Many documents studied for this project did not quantify the Step 3 impacts in enough depth to support a detailed Step 4 determination of potential dis- parate impacts or DHAE. Among the agencies studied, the most common Step 3 approach was to create a map of projects, overlay the project map onto a map of âEJ zones,â and determine that projects were equitably distributed. A few agencies prepared tables or line graphs comparing impacts or conditions for different populations under differing scenarios (e.g., current conditions, existing and committed projects for the forecast year, and the planâs scenario for the forecast year), and used these resources to identify a scenario under which no disparate impacts or DHAE existed. Regardless of the approach, the documenta- tion about the rationale, analysis process, and/or findings was usually brief. In some cases, potential impacts of proposed investments might have been identified and resolved before the Step 4 analysis was conducted, but the research team did not find narrative or analytical evidence to this effect in the documentation among the agencies studied. Additional Research. Additional research could enhance the state of the practice by (1) developing methods and resources for identifying needs and documenting existing and potential disparate impacts relevant to a plan or program (which is broader and more complex than determining disparate impacts for a single project and would include distin- guishing a difference from a disparity and documenting ways existing or potential disparate impacts were resolved before the adoption of the final plan); and (2) providing in-depth guidance on Steps 3 and 4, identifying impacts and determining if impacts are disparate and/or generate DHAE. Volume 1 of TCRP Research Report 214 (the guide) recommends approaches that the research team has observed in practice, but additional research and guidance to support Steps 3 and 4 would be helpful. For example, a wide body of case law relates to Title VI, some of which relates to transportation and some of which is from other sectors of public decision making. Transportation practitioners could learn a great deal from a synthesis of Title VI case law, including results that discuss approaches by other sectors. Step 5: Develop Strategies to Avoid or Mitigate Inequities Agencies can use the Step 5 process to pinpoint countermeasures for specific needs and concerns identified in Steps 2 through 4, and to adopt proactive approaches toward improving equity considerations throughout transportation planning, programming, and decision-making processes. A few MPOs documented mitigation actions in their plans and programs in relation to major projects due to disparities found during a NEPA review or because of a lawsuit brought under Title VI. Many MPOs have adopted equity goals and other generalized approaches that are clearly efforts to improve equity in the region; but if these approaches are an attempt to mitigate disparate impacts or DHAE, the agencies generally do not document the disparities found.
Summary 7 Transportation agencies face a variety of challenges for developing and implementing effective strategies to improve equity in planning, decision making, and system perfor- mance. Some agencies that include equity in project selection criteria, for example, simply award points for projects in underserved communities, whether or not the project promises to deliver specific benefits that address a documented need or concern expressed by the affected populations. Many agencies identify public involvement and stakeholder engagement strategies such as increasing diversity in advisory groups and participation in outreach activities. Implementing these strategies effectively and monitoring success can be challenging. Agencies must make long-term commitments and measure success incrementally to achieve objectives for building trusted relationships and providing hands-on support (such as leadership training programs) that increase the capacity of underserved persons to advocate their interests and needs effectively. Additional Research. Additional research could enhance the state of the practice regarding strategies and resources to mitigate impacts and address needs by (1) developing performance-oriented methods and examples that enable practitioners to estimate the potential positive impacts of a proposed strategy to address equity-related issues and to evaluate performance during and after implementation; and (2) discovering approaches and examples, including estimated levels of effort and technical resources, that enhance agenciesâ development and implementation of robust, ongoing qualitative and quantitative equity assessment programs that feature meaningful engagement and well-documented results.