Just Transportation through Transformative Planning: Another World is Possible
By Diana Benitez
The following piece is part of Progressive City's Planning for Just Transport series. Transport is fundamental to our existence – including access to key sources of livelihood, ranging from work to healthcare to educational institutions to childcare to stores. Yet, the right to accessible, safe and affordable transport – as a public good – is continuously denied on the basis of ability, race, gender, sexuality and class. With this in mind, authors have highlighted initiatives, strategies or actions that aim to secure more just forms of transit.
Built environments like public transportation have been physically shaped and enforced by intentional human-enacted policies and practices that have harmed low-income communities and communities of color. This harm has denied equitable access to not only public transportation to meet daily mobility needs, but safety, amenities and culture. Growing up in Los Angeles and living in the Bay Area, I have seen similar policies and practices that have been codified into zoning codes, policies and investments. As planners, it is our duty to acknowledge this harm, remove harmful policies and practices, and prevent any further harm from occurring in these communities. At Just Cities we’re working alongside community members and partners to do transformative planning to make this a reality in East Oakland and other Bay area cities. We are a policy and planning research organization that designs cities that recognize the human rights of all by advancing racial and policy justice with communities.
My colleagues and I conducted a racial equity and restorative justice analysis of East Oakland Displacement Status and Impacts from the East Bay Bus Rapid Transit (EBBRT) project for the East Oakland Mobility Action Plan (EOMAP). East Oakland is a sub-region in Oakland, California. We highlighted that Black/African American, Latinx, and Asian American people have been harmed by gentrification and racialized displacement, and experience safety and business displacement impacts from the EBBRT. During our analysis I saw hundreds of business licenses along the corridor that disappeared from 2014 to 2019. My colleagues and a Resident Advisory Council ground truthed this data through their lived experiences and identified what businesses in the displacement analysis were still on the corridor, how many legacy businesses remained and developed profiles on some of the displaced East Oakland staples like Perry’s Fine French Furniture Store and Thalia’s Jewelry shop.
Alameda County Transit Authority (AC Transit) spent 12 years pre-developing and constructing the 9.5-mile BRT from San Leandro to Oakland, including International Blvd in East Oakland. AC Transit promised improved bus service with decreased wait and ride times and a dedicated bus lane. However, the agency largely trivialized or ignored community concerns of impacts to business, traffic, and safety. This transportation improvement launched in August 2020 and led to East Oakland residents losing access to transportation, businesses, safety, and culture in the following three ways:
1) Prioritizing connectivity for people getting from downtown Oakland to downtown San Leandro, while removing 30 bus stops for East Oakland residents. Some of these residents must now walk longer distances to their home.
2) Decreasing safety and accessibility for pedestrians (+26% collisions within the first year of construction) with single car lanes and median bus stops along all of International Blvd, a high injury network street. This made it difficult for drivers to navigate and increased collisions both during and after construction, and
3) Decreasing the number of businesses by 37% (502) along International Blvd. from 2014-2019. Many were local mom and pop shops that could not survive the prolonged construction and reduced parking.
How do we prevent and not just mitigate harm in these projects? It requires a shift in planning frameworks, methodology, policies and practices, and the people who lead planning efforts. From 2019-2021, the Oakland Department of Transportation (OakDOT) co-developed the EOMAP with community partners, East Oakland Collective, TransForm, and Just Cities. It centers the mobility needs of lower-income Black East Oakland residents and outlines a 5-year action plan, projects and funding opportunities. These actions include centering racial justice in planning processes, hiring Black planners, and developing community partnership agreements with local community-based organizations. This plan that will be released in the Fall documents OAKDOTs intention to prevent harm and show us that another world is possible. In addition, Just Cities recommends that agencies like OakDOT must: center community safety, the needs and voices of most impacted populations, and integrate existing community-driven strategies.
Diana Benitez serves as the Urban Planning Justice Manager at Just Cities. Her research contributions have included health equity and racial disparities analysis, student equity need indices, early care and education gap analysis, climate hazards analysis, and greenhouse gas reductions. She previously worked as an Intermediate Planner/ Designer at Raimi + Associates, a planning consulting firm and as a Research Data Analyst at Advancement Project California, a next generation civil rights organization. Diana is the Chair of the American Planning Association (APA) California Planners4Health Initiative. Diana received her MURP from UCLA.