Congratulations to soon-to-be Dr. Chelsey Palmateer for successfully defending her dissertation: ‘The Distribution of Access’ at the University of Minnesota campus on 28 August 2018.
In academics, transport planning, and transport project implementation there is growing interest in better understanding the justice associated with transport systems and projects. Considerable effort has been expended on understanding the negative unintended side-effects of transport systems and their disparate impacts on minority and low income populations since the establishment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and implementation of Executive Order (EO) 12898.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 established discrimination based on race, sex, color, religion and/or national origin as illegal in public accommodations. This bill was intended to provide against discrimination in public settings such as shops, schools and theaters, as well as to protect the right to vote. In addition Title VI of the bill outlawed discrimination by government agencies receiving federal funds, indicating that agencies found in violation could lose said funding. Despite the advances of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, instances of widespread and institutional discrimination continue to be observed.
In the 1980s a study performed by the United States Government Accountability Office found that minority and low-income neighborhoods were the sites of a disproportionately high number of toxic waste facilities throughout the South. As a result of the study, President Clinton signed EO 12898 which requires all federally funded agencies to identify and mitigate adverse health and environmental impacts of their programs, particularly as those impacts pertain to target protected groups. In practice the following groups are targeted in investigations of equity: African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, Native Americans, Alaskan Natives, Native Hawaiians, Other Pacific Islanders, low-income populations, the elderly, the disabled, and children.
In the 1990s the Los Angeles MTA began to prioritize the implementation of rail projects to the benefit of mostly white suburban commuters at the expense of the bus system which serviced the mostly black inner-city poor. This prioritization led to significant cuts to funding for bus programs resulting in proposals for a decrease in both the frequency and quality of service available via the bus network. In addition the MTA sought to increase fares to cover the gap in bus funding and as part of the fare increase to eliminate the bus pass, which provided for use of the buses at a reduced rate for regular bus riders.
As part of a federally mandated process, the MTA held a public hearing on its proposals for making up for the shortfall in bus funds. The bus rider community came to the meeting en masse and provided insight into the hardship that the service cuts and fare increases would generate within the community. Despite the turnout at the meeting, the MTA board voted to raise fares, eliminate passes, and cut service as planned in order to meet budget shortfalls, and a week later approved a plan which provided funds nearly matching the bus system funding deficit to a single light rail project. In the end the bus riders unionized and successfully settled a class action lawsuit against the MTA on the grounds of intentional racism, but the enforcement of the settlement continues into this
The experience of the Los Angeles Bus Riders Union demonstrates the prevalence of justice issues in a modern context and a need for a better understanding of justice and a means by which to systematically evaluate justice in the accrual of negative impacts, costs, and benefits of government projects among the populous. However the effort focusing on the distribution of the benefits of transport systems has not been as extensively addressed as the focus on the negative impacts of transport systems. Further the research that has been performed to date is varied in nature with little agreement about what the theoretical justice foundation is or much attempt to define it outside of the mention of a few leading economic theories, primarily Rawls’ Theory of Justice.
In addition, there is little agreement on what the operationalization of these concepts of distributive justice should be. Further, of the measures currently in use few are capable of addressing non-segregated populations, with much existing analysis being dependent on arbitrarily chosen concentrations of target populations as representative of the experience of all members of those populations. These issues make it difficult to understand the implications of transport policies on the distributive justice of transport networks.
This thesis systematically reviews justice as a standalone concept separate from law that guides the actions of individuals and states in the division of goods and labor as well as towards individuals and populations. In this chapter philosophical literature dating back to the times of Confucius and Plato is discussed and reviewed and followed through history to further the understanding of justice throughout human history and how it relates to various government structures. Within the context of a western government structure justice is then discussed as an economic concept specifically relating to the distribution of resources. Finally the chapter concludes with a review of the literature relating to justice in transport noting the tendency to utilize accessibility, which accounts for both land uses and transport networks, as a measure of the transport good.
This thesis further utilizes accessibility and four theoretical concepts of justice from economics to operationalize measures of justice which are based on the distribution of access. The four concepts of justice utilized are absolute need, equality of opportunity, maxi-min justice, and relative need. There is also a discussion of the meaning and measurement of accessibility as applied in this dissertation. The result is a series of multiple potential operationalized measures of justice. This thesis applies the measures of distributive justice developed to the Sioux Falls Network, a commonly used toy network in transport research, as a demonstration of the measures. This thesis also indicates other information, namely levels of segregation, that is useful to consider in conjunction with the accessibility data and distributive justice measures.
The measures are then applied to a case study. The case study is laid out as a before and after analysis of the Harris County Re-Imagined Bus Network, which was fundamentally a rescheduling of the entire bus network for the Houston metropolitan area which occurred shortly after the opening of two new light rail services. The thesis details the phases of the project itself, discusses the measurement of accessibility for the various phases of the project, applies the accessibility based distributive justice measures, and discusses the implications of each.
The distributive justice measures are used to compare 48 of the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the United States by population. This provides a description of the metropolitan areas and the accessibility in those areas. The distributive justice measures are calculated based on the access data, and predictive curves are developed for the measures to account for the impacts of some land use factors on the measurements. The results provide a basis for comparing the strengths and weaknesses of each of the measures as well as providing information on which metropolitan areas under/over perform relative to prediction in distributive justice. It is interesting to note that this varies depending on the distributive justice measurement applied.
Finally regression analysis is performed using network characteristics and land uses on distributive justice at the sub-county level. The thesis reviews graph theory and its implications for network analysis, particularly in its ability to simplify the inherently complex nature of transport networks. Further the thesis includes preliminary analysis of the various network characteristics, land use measures, and distributive justice measures developing a series of hypothesis for how the network characteristics might theoretically impact distributive justice. Applying these measures in a regression analysis with land use and network characteristic measures led to the preliminary conclusion that in order to improve justice without decreasing access and opportunities across the board policy should focus on increasing worker residential density, decreasing average circuity, reducing average edge length (the distance along a road between nodes), increase the number of edges in a network, decreasing average closeness centrality, and reducing the radius of networks. However in order to validate that the trends noted here are causal rather than merely correlated it will be necessary to perform a time series regression, which will require more data than is currently available.
I was interviewed along with Nicole Kalms and Libby Gallagher by Andrew Mackenzie. I have only included my quotes here.
The English mathematician and biostatistician Karl Pearson once said, “That which is measured improves. That which is measured and reported improves exponentially.” The question is, how do you measure a street?
The following conversation is an edited transcript from Foreground’s ‘The Street: design for people’ held at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney.
Andrew Mackenzie: David, in your recent Foregroundarticle you argue that we need to refit footpaths to meet current and future needs. This includes the co-location of pedestrians and robot delivery services. When it comes to the street there is a corresponding debate about when and if autonomous vehicles will ever be a thing. What are your thoughts – will we all be using AVs next year, in 50 years, or not at all?
David Levinson: Between next year and 50 years! My official timeline, and you can bank this, is that AVs will be available in the market in the United States and some other countries by 2020 or 2021. If you’re wealthy and you want to buy one, you will be able to. By 2030 autonomous mode will be standard on new cars. There might still be a steering wheel, but you will be able to push it into autonomous mode. And by 2040 human-driven vehicles would be prohibited.
AM: Presumably regulation for those AVs will need to keep up!
DL: Well, timing and sequencing will be critical, but frankly, until we get close to mostly autonomous vehicles, it doesn’t make a lot of sense changing how we use road space, because we still have to allow human drivers in between them. It then becomes a question of where it be fully autonomous first. Full autonomy will hit freeways, then campuses and parking lots, before it hits complicated environments such as the city streets. But remember, there are autonomous vehicles on the road right now in certain test sites around the US. It’s really a question of when, not if.
Once that happens we’ll see a lot of efficiencies. AVs can follow more closely behind each other, and function in a narrower lane. Most car lanes are currently 3.2 metres wide – much wider than cars, because humans are not very good drivers. Cars driven by robots will take up less space, allowing us to claw back a lot of street space for other uses. Parking spaces will also be smaller because AVs don’t need space for the door to open, so you’ll claw back space there too.
AM: The the reason I wanted to start this panel discussion with AVs, is because in different ways the question of regulation and standardisation was one underlying feature of each presentation today. Arguably automation, whether on the road or the pavement, carries some risks, not least because it represents a net increase in regulation. Yet informality, or the deregulation of the street, also has supporters.
AM. Leading on from the question of how streets are controlled or regulated, we have seen in recent years a marked increase in community engagement, when it comes to planning decisions that will impact our streets and cities. Libby’s work is a good example. But this becomes much more challenging when dealing with billions of dollars, or major street infrastructure. David, are there opportunities to improve how people might participate in city-making at the large scale.
DL Definitely. My impression here in NSW, is that there is an amazing lack of transparency in decision-making, when it comes to major infrastructure. The government spends billions of dollars on a project, whether the project is good or not, and they don’t release the business case until after they’ve already made the decision. It’s considered cabinet-in-confidence, even though someone’s clearly going to either leak it, or the Freedom of Information Act will cause it to be revealed. Why wasn’t it revealed along the way?
That said, the advantage of this system is that Australia is actually building things now in a way that the United States can no longer do, because Americans have grid-locked themselves with public participation processes and legal challenges to infrastructure. I’ll give you an example from my first job out of college. I worked for the Montgomery County Planning Department, which was in a very high income suburb in Washington D.C. where a lot of government bureaucrats lived, and understood how government worked. There was a proposal to put a light rail line there, between two suburbs, on an existing freight line and right of way. They stopped running the freight in 1984 and in 1989 they said, “maybe you should make this into a light rail”. In the interim, they turned it into a trail, while the proposal was studied. They finally started construction in 2017, because it was tied up in the courts for 28 years, while the legal challenges ran their course.
I believe that there is a happy medium somewhere between no public participation in large billion dollar projects, and the grid-locking of project development. We should probably try to find out what that happy medium is. We are too far to one extreme of opacity here in New South Wales, and too far to the other extreme in the United States. The response to the freeway revolts in the 1960s, and the environmental impact regulations of the 1970s has greatly slowed down America’s ability to accomplish infrastructure there now.
In the beginning was the path. It was undifferentiated, shared by people and animals alike, and eventually wheeled vehicles pulled by humans and animals. While dating the First Path is impossible — the very first First Path must have been a path that was reused once, and slightly better than the unimproved space around it — it operated both in early settlements and on routes connecting nearby settlements.
Today’s version of that is the sidewalk or footpath. It is now used for people walking, sometimes for people moving goods, and occasionally for people on scooters and bicycles. It should not be used for storing cars, though it is. New uses will include low speed delivery robots, as shown in the photo from Starship.
When we see a raised crosswalk, we know the First Path is given the pre-eminance its venerable status warrants. When we see shared spaces, we know those harken back to the early undifferentiated path-spaces of earlier centuries. When we see pedestrian-only zones, we see a First Path that has grown up.
The Second Path diverges from the first path with the emergence of the first street or roads with sidewalks (footpaths). Spiro Kostof (1992) dates it to about 2000 BCE in Anatolia. And it is clear many Roman and Greek cities separated sidewalks from streets, which the Romans called Semita.
Post-Rome, sidewalks were rare, making appearances in London after the Great Fire, and in Paris after Haussman.
But to be clear, today’s sidewalk is not the second path, it is the first. The second path is the road which is largely free of pedestrians, intended for the movement of vehicles. Originally these were animal powered vehicles, as well as human. Later fuel-powered machines took over the street and roads.
The Third Path actually emerged well before the Second Path was colonized by motorized vehicles. It is for bicycles, and initially was paved in contrast with the unpaved streets and roads of its time. Given the first Velocipede was only 1817, and the first bike chain (which we associate with modern bicycles) was 1885, these came relatively quickly compared with the First and Second Paths. While ascertaining the first bike lane or separated bike path is tricky (there are many claims, differing in nuance), I have compiled some claimed firsts and earlies here (thanks to people who replied on Twitter):
While bike lanes have now been around as a technology for well more than a century, throughout most of North America and Australia, bike lanes are not provisioned, so bicyclists have the Hobson’s Choice of driving in traffic with much heavier and much faster automobiles and trucks on the Second Path, the roadbed or illegally in many cases on the First Path, the sidewalk.
With the advent of the smart phone, new modes are becoming feasible, most notably dockless shared bikes and scooters.
Regulations in many places limit the use of bikes on footpaths. The reasons for this are clear from the pedestrian’s point of view, bikes are traveling up to 4 times faster than walkers, and collision can create injury. Dockless shared bikes emerged in Australia in 2017, after a few years on the road in China. Their main contribution has however not been transport (they are used about once every 3 days) but instead as a the recipient of complaint about sidewalk clutter (unlike say cars, which are always parked perfectly). As a consequences they have been targets of vandalism. The obvious solution will eventually get adopted, geofenced corrals for parking bikes (shared and private), taking away one parking space per block perhaps.
Given the disparities of speeds on the first (5 km/h) and second paths (30-120 km/h), there is a clear market niche for an infrastructure network for vehicles faster than foot and slower than cars. Physically, one imagines it generally lying between the existing kerb and removing a lane now devoted to the storage or movement of cars. And for many if not most urban places globally, this has been recognized and networks of third paths have been, or will be, built out.
This Third Path is important not just for bikes, but for electric bikes (which are becoming increasingly feasible with progress in battery technology) and electric scooters.
A Fourth Path for buses (and other high occupancy vehicles) is also now considered. The first bus lane emerged in Chicago in 1940. The reason for bus lanes again is in part operational differences compared with existing road users. Buses start and stop in traffic much more frequently than cars. But a second reason is in fact the opposite, not because buses would block cars, but because cars would block buses. Buses carry more passengers than cars, and so should move faster, and can do so if they are not stuck in queues behind cars.
The Kerb – Once a nondescript piece of concrete now forms the edge (both physically and metaphorically) of the sharing economy: taxis, Ubers, autonomous mobility services. The Kerbspace differentiates and separates paths, but we now have new questions:
Who manages kerbspace?
How is it regulated?
Is it even mapped?
The complete streets movement advocates for streets with sidewalks, bike paths, and are otherwise designed to promote safety and efficiency. The figure below is not exactly what they have in mind.