Moving From Equity to Justice in Transportation in a Time of Crisis. Dr. Sarah McCullough, Principal Investigator. C. Sequoia Erasmus, Graduate Student Researcher

Preliminary Results of Research on Equity and Diversity in Transportation

Associate Director Sarah McCullough and ITS graduate student C. Sequoia Erasmus recently released preliminary results of the research study, “Accounting for Sociocultural Factors and Assessing Equity in Active and Sustainable Transportation.” This study assesses the status and impact of equity work in active and sustainable transportation in California.

What is equity? "...having the freedom to define what health and thriving is for you and your family. Equity is being invited to the process or the process coming to you, but also there being a real sense of agency attached to your voice, not performative inclusion... I think equity, really equity in this field is goint to have to mean intentionally removing power from where it is within transportation field and redistributing it or recreating it collectively"

This interview-based study looks at the success and challenges of equity and diversity initiatives in active and sustainable transportation in California. COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color, exacerbating existing systems of inequity, including in transportation. Protests against police violence emerged in response to high levels of surveillance and force used against the Black community, including in our transit systems. This study specifically seeks the expertise of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) planning professionals and professionals who work primarily with these communities. This group is well-positioned to assess the status of equity work due to the combined expertise developed by living as a BIPOC in an inequitable society and by working in transportation planning.

Equity demands complex solutions. Focus on process rather than quick techno-centric fixes

The goals of this project are to:

  1. identify key areas of strength and areas for improvement in equity work in active and sustainable transportation emphasizing biking, shared mobility, and automated vehicles,
  2. examine the efficacy of current planning practices designed to engage disadvantaged communities,
  3. learn how these professionals respond to the emerging concept of “mobility justice” in their work, and
  4. provide recommendations for how to enhance equity work in active and sustainable transportation.

Challenges:  Disconnect (Community-->Organizational-->Regional and State Level Power); Policing (Communities want solutions beyond policiing)

Preliminary Findings and Presentation Links

Link to presentation slides

Link to presentation video

Dr. McCullough and Ms. Erasmus presented their preliminary findings to Caltrans and the American Planning Association on July 29, 2020.  Three key findings include:

  1. equity work is being slowed by disconnects at all levels of interaction including between community and agencies, within organizations, and between levels of advocacy and power;
  2. current policing practices create unsafe conditions for already marginalized and vulnerable communities and creating safer streets requires significant transformation; and
  3. equity work requires redistribution of power, must be well funded and needs to be integrated into all aspects transportation work.

Policing practices create unsafety: Black communities and communities of color experience disproportionate surveillance, arrests, and police violence
There is a robust body of research emerging that demonstrates how Black and communities of color receive a disproportionate amount of citations and fines, which can be disastrous for families living paycheck to paycheck. Photo: Chad Davis, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Why Interview BIPOC Professionals?

We hypothesize that the life experiences of BIPOC combined with their expertise as transportation professionals gives them a unique and highly valuable lens through which to assess what aspects of equity work are most impactful and where shortcomings exist. This theory draws upon a long and rich history of critical race theory and feminist research that describes a sort of “double vision” that is necessary to survive living in oppressive social conditions due to racism and sexism (Mcclintock, 2013; Rawls, 2000).

A group of people posing for a photo in front of a crowd
We have also been conducting ethnographic research with the Untokening, a multiracial collective that centers the lived experiences of marginalized communities to address mobility justice and equity.  Photo: Argenis Apolinario from Untokening Atlanta.

Feminist scholars have called this “situated knowledge” or “strong objectivity” (Haraway, 1988; Harding, 2001). They argue that by recognizing one’s specific perspective in the world and taking that into account as part of the research process, one produces more accurate knowledge. Thus, the experience of marginality becomes a source of expertise that provides unique insight into how knowledge and practices may unwittingly continue to perpetuate histories of injustice or bias (Anzaldúa, 1999). This perspective is vital for active and sustainable transportation practitioners who seek to make healthy and environmentally-friendly mobility accessible and safe for all.

Slide of Preliminary Recommendations: Invest in Experts; Learn Local Histories of Transportation and Planning Inequities; Reassess community safety needs in dialogue with marginalized communities

Next Steps

For the second half of our study, we are examining how transportation planning is responding to COVID-19 and popular uprisings against police violence, both of which highlighted long-standing inequities. Final results will be released in January 2021.  Join the FRI listserve or follow us on social media to be informed.

This project was inspired by the work of the Untokening network. Funding for this project comes from a Caltrans grant run through the Pacific Southwest Region University Transportation Center.

Logos for Caltrans, UC Davis Feminist Research Institute, Pacific Southwest Region University Transportation Center


Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands - La Frontera: The New Mestiza. 2nd ed., Aunt Lute Books, 1999.
Harding, Sandra. "“Strong objectivity”: A response to the new objectivity question." Synthese 104.3 (1995): 331-349.
McClintock, Anne. Imperial leather: Race, gender, and sexuality in the colonial contest. Routledge, 2013.

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