Federal regulations and requirements under the ISTEA, TEA-21, SAFETEA-LU, and NEPA require early and continuous public involvement. Effective community engagement addresses the needs of and incorporates input from a broad spectrum of interested parties including residents, businesses, and transportation system users. Within the context of a broad public involvement process, transportation agencies need to focus extra effort on outreach to and engagement of traditionally underrepresented populations.
Full and fair participation of all potentially affected communities is one of the three core environmental justice (EJ) principles. Ensuring the participation of traditionally underrepresented communities in the transportation planning process allows communities to identify the benefits and burdens associated with the proposed activity, and suggest alternatives to mitigate impacts based on their concerns. This input helps transportation agencies comply with another core EJ principle-avoid, minimize, or mitigate disproportionately high and adverse impacts. As demonstrated through context-sensitive approaches, the most effective community engagement processes incorporate a broad range of community input long before planning and project-level decisions are made.
Many transportation agencies have developed a wide range of innovative public involvement strategies to break down the barriers to public involvement. Examples include public meetings at the offices of trusted community-based organizations (CBOs) or common gathering locations like malls or senior/community centers. Also, transportation agencies regularly tailor public service announcements, (PSAs), a conventional mass media strategy, to reach out to underrepresented communities by broadcasting announcements in multiple languages through language-specific media outlets.
Demographics of Internet Users
|Percentage of Internet users by demographic details in national survey conducted by the Pew Research Center. Source: Pew Internet and American Life Project, 2009.|
|Hispanic (English- and Spanish-speaking)||64%|
|Less than $30,000/yr.||60%|
|Less than High School||39%|
While transportation agencies are encouraged to continue exploring innovations in emerging media and online tools, it is important that agencies also understand the limitations of high-tech tools and approaches. For example, although the Digital Divide is shrinking, it still exists to a degree. A national survey of adults conducted by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project finds that households at the lowest income and educational attainment brackets have limited access to the Internet. In addition, online activities amongst users vary significantly. The discrepancy suggests that despite the burgeoning options for sharing and receiving information, the simplest modes of online communication may reach the broadest audience: email for providing information and receiving comments, simple Web sites that maximize hits on search engines, and accessibility so hardware sophistication or Internet connectivity do not hamper use. As such, agencies must not rely exclusively on the use of online tools for community outreach and participation.
Some agencies are exploring innovative advances in online technologies, particularly Web 2.0 (i.e., social media and social networking), to expand their outreach and engagement strategies. Examples of such efforts include those implemented by Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), Denver's Regional Transportation District (RTD), and LA Metro:
Source: Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, 2010.
Source: Los Angeles, California Metro, 2010
By using traveling kiosks and online communications platforms like Facebook and YouTube, transportation agencies expand options for stakeholder participation: through an online interactive tool, users are encouraged to obtain information and provide input and feedback on meeting events and proposed meeting locations. This is an important development because community members have varying interests, access, and abilities to attend public meetings. As such, the efforts to engage community members at their homes, worksites, or various neighborhood locations permits agencies to reach members of the public who are traditionally underrepresented at public meetings. These populations include, but are not limited to, low income, minority, Limited English Proficiency, youth (10-17 years old), young adult (18-35 years old), senior (65 years and older), and persons with disabilities populations.
Effective public participation requires an organized, strategic, and culturally sensitive effort, since members of underrepresented or marginalized communities experience a variety of barriers to participation. For example, based on prior negative experiences working and interacting with public agencies and officials, individuals and communities are sometimes suspicious of an agency's outreach motives. Low income and minority communities also frequently experience language and literacy barriers, as well as differences in cultural mores and preferences in communication. In addition to these cultural barriers, accessibility for persons with disabilities can also pose major challenges to full community participation. Other common barriers include a lack of knowledge about the overall transportation planning process, an incomplete sense of the role and relevance of participation in the planning process, and skepticism that public comments and feedback have an impact on the outcome of planning processes.
Transportation agencies face additional challenges when implementing a participation process for a particular planning effort, including:
Case Study 1: Buford Highway (DeKalb County, GA)
When DeKalb County, GA, announced the beginning of preliminary engineering on a sidewalk and streetscape plan to improve Buford Highway's appearance, the announcement generated a number of articles by pedestrian advocacy groups in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. The articles highlighted Buford Highway's pedestrian safety problems and questioned the use of funds for beautification rather than for improving pedestrian safety. Realizing that DeKalb County did not have resources available to address this larger undertaking, Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) proposed a joint initiative and provided additional funding to address Buford Highway's pedestrian safety issues.
When GDOT expanded the landscape improvement project to address pedestrian safety concerns, the new project design included a number of measures such as a continuous raised median to provide a refuge for pedestrians crossing Buford Highway at mid-block locations. When corridor merchants learned of these plans, many went to DeKalb County elected officials and expressed concerns that the median would limit left turns and restrict access to their businesses. Community advocacy groups identified similar median constructions on nearby Memorial Drive as a cause of that area's decline. Whether the decline resulted from the median improvements or other factors, many of the businesses on Memorial Drive had closed. DeKalb County officials advised GDOT that they would be unable to support the raised median concept without the backing of the merchants, and suggested that GDOT re-evaluate the design.
As part of the re-evaluation, GDOT initiated a public involvement process. Originally, the public participation effort called for a series of design charrettes, which are typically multiple-day, collaborative design workshops. However, the agency abandoned this idea due to the logistics of accommodating the wide array of communities (Latino, Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese) and languages in the project area. In order to remedy issues and concerns brought forward by the community GDOT crafted an effective public participation process that was tailored to the cultural norms of each community., GDOT's contractor identified and surveyed community stakeholders, and using the information from the stakeholders, conversations with community members, anecdotes, and demographic information, designed two parallel public involvement plans. One of the plans aimed to engage Latino merchants and residents; the other targeted the Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese community members. See further details on the two plans below.
Public Involvement Plans for Buford Highway
The following features were unique to the involvement plan for Latino merchants and residents:
The following aspects were unique to the involvement plan for the Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese merchants:
Source: PBS&J, 2010
GDOT incorporated recommendations from the special event survey and interviews into the project design and prepared display boards for two public information open house events. The project display boards in each language (Chinese, English, Korean, Spanish, and Vietnamese) featured:
Source: PBS&J, 2010
Comments received from the Plaza Fiesta and Center for Pan Asian Community Services public information open houses were analyzed and incorporated into the design plans. Phase I was completed in January 2007 and construction on Phase 2 is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2012.
The project was transformed from a sidewalk and streetscape beautification project into a more comprehensive project that also addressed improving pedestrian safety. Some of the concerns raised and design solutions to address those concerns are listed below.
Source: PBS&J, 2010
Incorporating stakeholders into the planning process is critical to developing culturally sensitive outreach and engagement events. Stakeholders located appropriate venues and times to meet with the target communities, identified interpreters that were well-known in the community, and provided materials and resources needed for the event. For example, the Plaza Fiesta representatives suggested the mall as a place to survey Latino customers on a Sunday between 4:00 and 8:00 p.m. because they knew more than 1,000 shoppers would be present. In addition, the mall provided four set-up spaces with tables and chairs, giveaways from mall merchants (e.g., toys, balloons, coloring books and crayons), eight bilingual interpreters, and translation of project materials into Spanish. A Latino member of the DeKalb County Police Force recommended small soccer balls for giveaways, since soccer is the national sport of Mexico.
Source: PBS&J, 2010
In another example, for the Center for Pan Asian Community Services, a stakeholder identified critical cultural issues and proposed solutions to effectively engage community members. The center's executive director suggested surveying business owners/operators at their individual business locations to minimize inconvenience to them. The executive director knew that many business owners were concerned about interacting with Immigration and Naturalization Service and Internal Revenue Service personnel; therefore, it was imperative that owners/operators be contacted by someone they knew and trusted. The executive director agreed to provide Korean, Chinese, and Vietnamese interpreters who were well known within the corridor and business community. Each interpreter was responsible for making appointments with four business owners/operators, translating the survey, conducting the survey, and providing a summary of the survey results. In addition to the interpreters, a member of the staff from the Center for Pan Asian Community Services accompanied each interpreter. The center also agreed to translate project materials into each of the three languages.
CASE STUDY HIGHLIGHT
To serve Limited English Proficiency and low-literacy populations, the Buford Highway planners used multiple approaches, supplementing the conventional methods of making information available in multiple languages with visual aids, design considerations, and age-appropriate take home materials for school children. For example:
Case Study 2: Baltimore Regional Environmental Justice Toolkit (BREJTP)
The BREJTP project in Baltimore, MD, was designed to explore a community-based, bottom-up approach to addressing EJ issues in the transportation planning process. The goals of the project included:
To implement these goals, the project devised a three-phase program. The first phase was a large-scale community outreach program to ascertain public concerns. The BREJTP project team conducted an intense public outreach effort to community groups and community leaders throughout the Baltimore region. Eight listening sessions were conducted from May 19, 2004 through June 9, 2004. After compiling the listening session findings, the project team conducted two community dialogues. The community dialogues were designed to allow participants to discuss EJ as it relates to transportation problems and to brainstorm solutions in small group breakout sessions. The breakout sessions were divided into four sub-group discussions. The BREJTP project team used these listening sessions to identify the key EJ concerns that the project would address.
The second phase, initiated in 2006, focused on developing analytical tools and methods for validating the range of EJ concerns articulated by underrepresented communities. Community participants from four selected communities worked with the project team to identify EJ concerns and potential causes, validate the community experience by quantifying impacts, and seek solutions. The EJ concerns were:
Members of the four communities worked with planning specialists and agency officials to study the causes and impacts of the EJ concerns raised. Community members actively participated in planning the studies and gathering the data. Technical specialists on the study team compiled the data and developed the appropriate analysis tools. With results of the analysis in hand, community members could weight near-term and long-term solutions, and work with agency planning and programming processes to implement the results. The BREJTP project team presented the validated findings to community members in a community workshop in 2008 and published and posted a report to the Baltimore Metropolitan Council Web site. Additional reports are also available on the project Web site.
The final phase, which is currently underway, is the development of practical, systematic, multi-user guidance on implementing a bottom-up approach for both practitioners and community members. This third phase envisions national dissemination of the toolkit for use in university curricula and practitioner training.
The listening sessions and community dialogues in Phase I of the BREJTP project identified a wide range of issues, implying that a broad base of analytical tools and measures would be required to validate the concerns identified and evaluating potential solutions. Investigations related to the four communities studied in Phase II confirmed that assessment. Each community required the BREJTP project team to assess available models and data sources and adapt existing models or develop new ones to complete the investigation.
As a result of the investigation, the BREJTP project team was able to confirm and in some cases, allay EJ concerns, help communities and transportation agencies address challenges identified, and suggest concrete follow-up actions. For example, MTA is locating hybrid buses at the Kirk Avenue bus yard instead of diesel fuel buses. In addition, new operational procedures are in place, and a new maintenance facility structure will replace the old structure. Another example is related transit access to Lexington Market. The BREJTP project team found that, despite reductions in bus service to the area, overall transit access to Lexington Market appears to have actually improved.
Scope of Analysis: Investigating Concerns of Four Communities in Baltimore, MD
Scope of analysis for the Kirk Avenue Bus Yard (Midway Community) included:
Scope of analysis for the Cherry Hill Community and Transit Access included:
Scope of analysis for the West Baltimore "Highway to Nowhere" Community included:
Scope of analysis for the Lexington Market Pedestrian Safety included:
Source: U.S. EPA and FHWA, 2004.
Transportation agencies can demonstrate how community feedback and concerns impact project planning and design by adopting goal-oriented performance measures. These measures should reflect the concerns articulated by underrepresented communities so that the agency and community members can assess how the agency is doing relative to community concerns. From the experience of working with four communities, the BREJTP project team provides some examples of performance measures directly related to the concerns raised by the community.
The BREJTP project team also assessed at what stage in the planning process performance measures could be utilized. As cited in the EJ Toolkit Technical Document, the team envisioned four different applications:
Investigating programming activities, in which funding priorities and allocations are established, typically in conjunction with the regional Transportation Improvement Program.
The BREJTP project has published a report documenting the technical tools they employed for replication and adoption by interested transportation agencies. The project will also include these tools as part of the forthcoming procedures manual on a comprehensive community-based approach to EJ for transportation agencies and practitioners.
Community Driven Public Participation
|Community Issues||Community Driven Public Participation|
|Goal||Objectives||Performance Measure Measures|
|Job Access||Economic Vitality and Competitiveness||Encourage Employment Opportunities in Urban Communities|| Work opportunities within 15, 30, and 45 minutes by car and transit door-to-door.
Percent of transit dependent riders who can access jobs with 45 minutes of fixed route of transit
|Maintenance||Safety and Security (Motorized and Nonmotorized)||Stop the Use of Old Equipment in Low Income Neighborhoods|| Percent and characteristic of out-of-service buses coming into an area Pedestrian/bicycle injuries and fatalities
Age of fleet
|Increased Accessibility||Increase Accessibility and Mobility Options||Access to Jobs|| Proximity to transit
Level of service
Accessibility to health care facilities
Accessibility to education facilities
|Reduce Air and Noise Pollution||Protect Environment, Conserve Energy, and Improve Quality of Life||Clean Environment|| Air pollution concentrations
Incidence rates of respiratory disorders
Number of households exposed to noise
Asthma rates in communities adjacent to large transportation facilities
|Improved Transit Route Structure||Enhance Connectivity and Integration Across Modes for People and Freight||Access to Shopping and Services||Location improved per million passenger miles|
|Need Assessment||Manage and Preserve Existing Transportation System||Advocate for Project Funding to Improve Local Conditions|| Condition of roads and streets
Condition of sidewalks
Ratio of uncontested travel times between origins and destinations
Source: U.S. EPA and FHWA, 2004
Community Driven Public Participation
|Performance Measures||Application||Analytical Method|
|Economic Vitality and Competitiveness|
|Accessibility to regional jobs||C||PL||F||RM||GIS|
|Accessibility to entry-level/semi-skilled jobs||PL||F||RM||GIS|
|Employer accessibility to workers||PL||F||RM||GIS|
|Number of jobs by type and location||PL||DA||GIS|
|Business receipts by location||PL||DA||GIS|
|Property values by location|
|Safety and Security for Motorized and Nonmotorized Travelers|
|Pedestrian/bicycle injuries and fatalities||C||PL||F||PR||DA||GIS|
|Increase Accessibility and Mobility Options|
|Proximity to transit type (bus, rail, etc.)||C||PL||F||PR||RM||GIS|
|Level of service (headways, days/hours of service)||C||PL||F||PR||DA||RM||GIS|
|Average travel times for selected origin/destination pairs by mode||C||PL||RM||GIS|
|Accessibility to regional educational institutions||PL||F||GIS|
|Average age/condition of buses by area served||C||F||DA||GIS|
|Protect Environment, Conserve Energy and Improve Quality of Life|
|Number of households living within X feet of busy highway||C||PL||F||PR||DA||GIS|
|Air pollution concentration by type of pollutant||C||PL||PR||RM||GIS||EM|
|Incidence of respiratory disorders||C||PL||DA||GIS|
|Number of households exposed to noise exceeding X decibels||C||PL||PR||DA||RM||GIS|
|Number of households living within X feet of a bus terminal||C||PL||DA||GIS|
|Percent of buses servicing area that use alternative fuels||C||PL||F||RM||GIS|
|Percent of takings, household displacement, access restrictions||PL||F||PR||DA||GIS|
|Enhance Connectivity and Integration Across Modes|
|Number of transfers required for transit trips between select origin/destination pairs||C||PL||RM||GIS|
|Percent of travel time accounted for by transfers in select origin/destination pairs||PL||RM||GIS|
|Manage Existing Transportation System for Maximum Efficiency|
|Percent of congested to uncongested travel time between select origin/destination pairs||PL||RM||GIS|
|Preserve the Existing Transportation System|
|Condition of roads and streets||PL||F||DA||GIS|
|Condition of sidewalks||PL||F||DA||GIS|
|Transportation capital expenditures per capita||PL||F||PR||DA||GIS|
|Transportation operating expenditures per capita||PL||F||PR||DA||GIS|
|Identity of users benefitting from new project or program||PL||F||PR||DA||GIS|
Source: U.S. EPA and FHWA, 2004
C = Current Concern, PL = Planning, F = Programming, PR = Project, DA = Data Analysis, RM = Regional Travel Models, GIS = GIS-aided, EM = Emission Models
Community concerns are highly context specific and cannot be assumed or generalized across traditionally underrepresented communities. Transportation agencies may encounter multiple underrepresented communities within the same project area. Variations in the modes of transportation used may result in differing access to facilities and services and thus divergent needs. The populations may also have distinct cultural mores and preferences for communication that will require sensitively tailored public participation plans. As such, agencies need to explore a broad range of strategies to engage with and validate community concerns.
Community outreach should proactively engage underrepresented communities in their preferred settings, instead of expecting the community to come to the agency with feedback. Direct community outreach can enhance participation by visiting impacted community members, meeting one-on-one to solicit their feedback, holding special events, and convening meetings at non-traditional places. Innovations in technology can advance and extend agencies' outreach by offering community members who cannot participate in public meetings alternative options for obtaining information and providing feedback. However, technologically advanced outreach methods should not be used to the exclusion of other methods.
Transportation planners should address suspicion and skepticism directly by incorporating community concerns into planning and programming efforts. Transportation agencies must demonstrate how the concerns articulated by community members are explicitly addressed by project plans. Outreach materials should highlight community concerns as they have been articulated in the public participation process, and provide details about the agency's efforts to address community concerns and incorporate them into project plans and construction designs. These materials can be disseminated in a number of ways. As discussed in this chapter, agencies with an online presence use email newsletters, status updates on their Web sites, and videos. The Buford Highway case study created display boards of the revised plans featuring the measures adopted to address pedestrian concerns and exhibited them at open house information meetings. The BREJTP project team presented findings during community meetings at locations proposed by community members. They also included community members in the development and dissemination of the final report community members helped to develop. In addition to incorporating mitigation and improvement suggestions, agencies can also involve community members in analyzing the concerns that they raise. As demonstrated, community members can be involved in selecting appropriate metrics for validating their concerns, as well as in gathering data.