Detail of a map showing the distribution of walkable blocks (in yellow) and federally-subsidized affordable housing (in purple) around Denver's transit lines and stations. Image: Denver Regional Equity Atlas
As more cities look to revive or expand their transit networks in the face of rising gas prices and maddening congestion, planners have had to remain vigilant to ensure that underprivileged communities are not displaced or adversely affected by the same transit improvements that could offer them numerous benefits.
A few different techniques have emerged that could assist planners and policymakers in making sure the benefits of transit are equitably distributed. Just last January, for instance, Streetsblog reported on the Health Impact Assessment for St. Paul, Minnesota’s Central Corridor, which analyzed how a proposed light rail line could better serve disadvantaged areas along the route from a public health standpoint.
Last month in Denver, the national nonprofit Reconnecting America debuted the Regional Equity Atlas, a geographic encyclopedia of the Mile High City’s ambitious long-range transit plans – known collectively as FasTracks — and the anticipated effects on surrounding communities. The report, a project of the Mile High Connects coalition, is a visual compendium of how the proposed transit expansions will affect not just health but housing, education, and economic development in greater Denver.
“It should be immensely useful not only to city officials, advocates, planners and social scientists in Denver, but also to anyone looking for a state-of-the-art analytical model to assist the coordination of transportation, housing, jobs, and access to important services in other American cities,” Kaid Benfield, director of sustainable communities for the Natural Resources Defense Council, wrote last week. “It must have cost a fortune to underwrite.”
The impetus behind the Atlas, starting with the formation of Mile High Connects some 18 months ago, was the decision by the Ford Foundation to invest in Denver, said Catherine Cox Blair, Program Director at Reconnecting America.
“We have strong local foundations in Denver who came to the table,” including the Piton Foundation, which specializes in educational issues and is a co-author of the Atlas, Blair told Streetsblog. “Ford urged them to answer the question, ‘You are building this massive transit system, but how do your giving priorities align to support FasTracks? How can you augment access and opportunity for everyone?’”
The first step in making sure access and opportunity could be equitably distributed would be to make sure all stakeholders knew how their diverse range of issues — senior mobility, public health, education — connected to transportation. And the best way to do that turned out to be with maps.