Accessibility,  Equity, and the Journey-to-Work

Recent working paper:

Inequality in transport provision is an area of growing concern among transport professionals, as it results in low-income individuals travelling at lower speeds while covering smaller distances. Accessibility, the ease of reaching destinations, may hold the key in correcting these inequalities through providing a means to evaluate land use and transport interventions. This article examines the relationship between accessibility and commuting duration for low-income individuals, compared to the general population, in three major Canadian metropolitan regions, Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver using multilevel mixed effects statistical models for car and public transport commuters separately. Accessibility measures are generated for jobs and workers both at the origin (home) and the destination (place of work) to account for the impact of competing labor and firms. Our models show that the impacts of accessibility on commuting duration are present and stronger for low-income individuals than for the general population, and the differences in impact are more visible for public transport commuters. The results suggest that low-income individuals have more to gain (in terms of reduced commute time) from increased accessibility to low-income jobs at the origin and to workers at the destination. Similarly, they also have more to lose from increased accessibility to low-income workers at the origin and to low- income jobs at the destination, which are proxies for increased competition. Policies targeting improvements in accessibility to jobs, especially low-income ones, by car and public transport while managing the presence of competition can serve to bridge the inequality gap that exists in commuting behavior.

Disparity of Access: Variations in Transit Service by Race, Ethnicity, Income, and Auto Availability

Percent zero-car household elasticity
Percent zero-car household elasticity

Recent working paper:

This study explores the relationship between transit-based job accessibility and minority races and ethnicities, low- and middle-income households, and carless households at the block group level for the 50 largest by population metropolitan regions in the United States. A log-linear regression model is used to identify inequities in transit-based job accessibility across the US using data collected from the American Community Survey, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Smart Location Database, and the Access Across America database. The intra-metropolitan analyses reveal that accessibility is unevenly distributed across block groups that have different densities of race and levels of income. The differences in accessibility are especially apparent where there are denser pockets with higher percentages of African Americans, Hispanics, low-income households, and zero-car households. The inter-metropolitan analyses show that accessibility is unevenly distributed across metropolitan regions across the US when considering various sociodemographic populations. Different metropolitan regions provide different levels of accessibility for all investigated sociodemographic categories, whether considering racial minorities, levels of income, or car ownership. The results may inform recommendations for equitable transport planning and policy-making.

Dr. Chelsey Palmateer: The Distribution of Access

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.


A Pedestrian Bill of Rights

A Pedestrian Bill of Rights (v.0.1)

  1. Pedestrians have the right to safely and conveniently walk along and cross any public right-of-way without regards to who they are, with whom they are associating, when or why they are traveling, or where they are coming from or going to. #NoPoliceStops
  2. In the event of a conflict with vehicles, pedestrians automatically have the right-of-way. Where no dedicated footpaths are available, any pedestrians have the right-of-way over any other traffic and speeds shall be limited to that traveled by those pedestrians. Pedestrians shall never be required to give way to self-driving vehicles. #Right-of-Way #Footpaths #SharedSpace #StopForNoBot
  3. Any pedestrian may cross roads at any point at any time where they will endanger neither themselves nor others by doing so. #JaywalkingIsNotACrime.
  4. In the event of a collision with a pedestrian, the controller of the vehicle is always liable. #TheCarIsAlwaysWrong
  5. The space on a right-of-way allocated per pedestrian shall be no less than space allocated per traveler by vehicle. #SpatialEquity
  6. Any place accessible by vehicle must remain accessible to pedestrians on a route no less direct.  In the event of blockage due to weather or other causes, pedestrian paths shall be cleared before vehicle paths. #SnowPriority #AccessEquity #Connectivity #MinimizeCircuity
  7. Speed limits on streets shall be established both to minimize total pedestrian collisions and to minimize total injury and loss of life in the event of a collision. #SlowTraffic
  8. Every intersection of two, or more, rights-of-way contains crosswalks. There is a crosswalk on every side of every intersection. Such crosswalks must remain unimpeded when pedestrians have right-of-way.  #EveryIntersectionIsACrosswalk
  9. All at-grade road crossings shall be at the elevation of the pedestrian way. #BowToNoCar
  10. Every traffic signal shall have automatic pedestrian phases that allot at least as much green (“walk”) time for pedestrians as is allotted to vehicles, and is long enough to ensure pedestrians safe passage. At least one such phase per cycle shall ensure pedestrians may cross diagonally unimpeded by vehicles. #EndSignalInequity
  11. All pedestrian routes shall be designed such that wheelchairs may pass at all times. No temporary or permanent signs or utility posts or parked vehicles or other temporary or permanent street furniture shall obstruct this minimum passage width. #FreePassage #Inclusion
  12. Previous or current rate of use must not be used to determine future use, or proposed infrastructure. #HistoryIsNotDeterminative
  13. Should traffic levels, the built environment, and topography topology warrant, paths for pedestrians may be grade separated when that is safer and more convenient for pedestrians. #KeepThemSeparated
  14.  The air quality for pedestrians along roads shall be no more dangerous to health than the level experienced in the absence of vehicles, and the noise level experienced by pedestrians along roads shall be no louder than the level that would be experienced in the absence of vehicles. #NoNoise #NoEmissions #EVs.
  15. Pedestrian paths shall be buffered from high-speed vehicles. Footpaths and the adjacent environment shall be designed to bring joy rather than dread to the act of walking. #WalkingIsAGood #Verges


Definition: A pedestrian is a person traveling by foot and is inclusive of those using assistive devices.

Definition: A vehicle includes any road-worthy vehicle including car, truck, bus, and bicycle capable of traveling at speeds faster than a pedestrian could sustain, and includes electric or motorized vehicles, excluding assistive devices traveling at pedestrian speeds.


This was compiled with input from the Twitter community in response to a request, and most of these ideas were identified by others.  It is aimed to advance pedestrian rights and design environments that encourage walking and improve safety and public health.

PBoR (dragged)

Justice, Exclusion, and Equity: An Analysis of 48 U.S. Metropolitan Areas

Recent working paper

Injustice in transportation services experienced by disadvantaged demographic groups account for much of these groups’ social exclusion.

HoustonOppUnfortunately, there is little agreement in the field about what theoretical foundation should be the basis of measures of the justice of transportation services, limiting the ability of transportation professionals to remedy the issues. Accordingly, there is a need for an improved measure of the justice of the distribution of transportation services, which relates to the effectiveness of transportation services for all members of disadvantaged groups rather than for only segregated members of these disadvantaged groups. To this end potential measures of distributive justice, based on the accessibility to jobs provided by various modes, are evaluated in 48 of the top 50 largest metropolitan areas in the United States. The purpose of the study is to inform recommendations for appropriate use of each measure.

Measuring the transportation needs of people with developmental disabilities: A means to social inclusion (free version)

“Measuring the transportation needs of people with developmental disabilities: A means to social inclusion” is now available online. The “free” link provides free access, and is valid until May 31, 2017

Recently published:



One of the major causes of social exclusion for people with developmental disability (PDD) is the inability to access different activities due to inadequate transportation services.


This research paper identifies transportation needs, and reasons for unmet, but desired untaken trips of adults with developmental disabilities in Hennepin County, Minnesota. We hypothesize that PDD cannot make trips they want to make due to personal and neighborhood characteristics.


A survey measuring existing travel behavior and unmet transportation needs of PDD (N=114) was conducted. The survey included both demographic and attitudinal questions as well as a travel diary to record both actual and desired but untaken trips. Logistic regression analyses were conducted to determine reasons associated with their inability to make desired, but untaken trips.


Most respondents did not live independently. More than half of the surveyed population worked every day and recreation trips occurred at least once a week for about two-thirds of the population. About 46 percent were unable to make trips they needed to make. Public transit posed physical and intellectual difficulties, however the presence of public transit in neighborhoods decreased odds of not making trips. Concerns about Paratransit services were also reported.


Findings from this study can be of value to transportation engineers and planners interested in shedding light on the needs of a marginalized group that is rarely studied and have special transport needs that should be met to ensure their social inclusion in society.

The cost of equity: Assessing transit accessibility and social disparity using total travel cost

Recent working paper

Number of jobs accessible by transit based solely on travel time and solely on fare
Number of jobs accessible by transit based solely on travel time and solely on fare

Social equity is increasingly incorporated as a long-term objective into urban transportation plans. Researchers used accessibility measures to assess equity issues, such as determining the amount of jobs reachable by marginalized groups within a defined travel time threshold and compare these measures across socioeconomic categories. However, allocating public transit resources in an equitable manner is not only related to travel time, but also related to the out-of- pocket cost of transit fares, which can represent a major barrier to accessibility for many disadvantaged groups. Therefore, this research proposes a set of new accessibility measures that incorporates both travel time and transit fares. It then applies those measures to determine whether people residing in socially disadvantaged neighborhoods in Montreal, Canada experience the same levels of transit accessibility as those living in other neighborhoods. Results are presented in terms of regional accessibility and trends by social indicator decile. Travel time accessibility measures estimate a higher number of jobs that can be reached compared to combined travel time and cost measures. However, the degree and impact of these measures varies across the social deciles. Compared to other groups in the region, residents of socially disadvantaged areas have more equitable accessibility to jobs using transit; this is reflected in smaller decreases in accessibility when fare costs are included. Generating new measures of accessibility combining travel time and transit fares provides more accurate measures that can be easily communicated by transportation planners and engineers to policy makers and the public since it translates accessibility measures to a dollar value.

Keywords: Equity, Job accessibility, Transit fare, Travel time. Cost

Using principles of justice to assess the modal equity of regional transportation plans

My friends Karel Martens and Aaron Golub just published: Using principles of justice to assess the modal equity of regional transportation plans. Journal of Transport Geography
Volume 41, December 2014, Pages 10–20


While equity has been an important consideration for transportation planning agencies in the U.S. following the passage of Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI specifically) and the subsequent Department of Transportation directives, there is little guidance on how to assess the distribution of benefits generated by transport investment programs. As a result, the distribution of these benefits has received relatively little attention in transportation planning, compared to transport-related burdens. Drawing on philosophies of social justice, we present an equity assessment of the distribution of accessibility in order to define the rate of “access poverty” among the population. We then apply this analysis to regional transportation plan scenarios from the San Francisco Bay Area, focusing on measures of differences between public transit and automobile access. The analysis shows that virtually all neighborhoods suffer from substantial gaps between car and public transport-based accessibility, but that the two proposed transportation investment programs reduce access poverty compared to the “no project” scenario. We also investigate how access and access poverty rates vary by demographic groups and map low-income communities within access impoverished areas, which could be the subject of further focused investments.

Now only if we could do that for the whole country, hmm?

Road Fees Don’t Hurt the Poor as Much as You Might Think

Eric Jaffe at The Atlantic Cities says: Road Fees Don’t Hurt the Poor as Much as You Might Think – :

“Altshuler bases his position on a couple surveys conducted in metro areas that have adopted HOT lanes in the recent past. One was done in San Diego circa 2001. At that time, about 80 percent of low-income respondents agreed with the concept that people should be able to use an express lane on Interstate 15 for a fee — a greater percentage of agreement than people from high-income brackets (70 percent). Additionally, two thirds of people who didn’t even use the lanes still supported them.

A similar survey was done in 2006 in Minnesota. That work showed a 60 percent approval rate for HOT lanes on Interstate 394. A stronger analysis of this corridor, done by Tyler Patterson and David Levinson [PDF], found that income levels did predict use of the express lane (with higher-income drivers using them more often), but that lower-income drivers could also benefit from the shift of traffic out of the free lanes (as well as always having the express option in a time crunch).

(And a far more recent survey, released in April, showed that two-thirds of people making less than $50,000 a year said they’d use express toll lanes — the same percentage as people making more than that.)”

My comprehensive review of the topic is: Levinson, David (2010) Equity Effects of Road Pricing: A Review. Transport Reviews 30(1) 33-57.

The NCHRP had a report on this as well: Equity of Evolving Transportation Finance Mechanisms.

A key point is that HOT lanes also enable freeway BRT where it might otherwise be unaffordable to construct. The express lanes are uncongested and can be used by buses to maintain speed. An example is the I-35W corridor (Orange Line) south of downtown Minneapolis, which is not complete (Lake Street Station is still missing, e.g.), but has a BRT station at 46th.