The following article originally appeared on
the site of
the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University.
In the United States, all communities do not
receive the same benefits from transportation advancements and
sprawl is in part driven by race and class dynamics. Transportation
spending has always been about opportunity, fairness, and equity," according
to Clark Atlanta University professor Robert D. Bullard.
The modern civil rights movement has its roots in transportation.
For more than a century, African Americans and other people of
color have struggled to dismantle transportation apartheid policies
that use tax dollars to promote economic isolation and social exclusion.
The decision to build highways, expressways, and beltways has far-reaching
effects on land use, energy policy, and the environment. Similarly,
the decisions by county commissioners to limit and even exclude
public transit to job-rich suburban economic activity centers have
serious mobility implications for central city residents.
Writing in the Foreword to Dr. Bullard’s and Angel O. Torres’s
Robbery: Transportation Racism & New Highways to
Equity, Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) states, "Our struggle
is not over. Today those physical signs are gone, but the legacy
of "Jim Crow" transportation is still with us. Even in
a city like Atlanta, Georgia, a vibrant city with a modern rail
and public transit system, thousands of people have been left out
and left behind because of discrimination. Like most other major
cities, Atlanta’s urban center is worlds apart from its suburbs."
The cash-strapped Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid
Transit Authority (MARTA) is the nation’s ninth largest transit system and the only
major transit system that does not receive any regional or state
funding. By comparison, the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority
(Boston) gets 20 percent of the state’s sales tax, or about $680
million dollars a year. Clearly, MARTA is regional only in name – covering
only Fulton and DeKalb Counties and the City of Atlanta. From its
inception in the 1960s, race blocked MARTA from becoming a five-county
regional system. For many suburban whites, MARTA stood for "Moving
Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta." Several suburban Atlanta
counties have set up their own "separate and unequal" bus
systems, some with the assistance of the Georgia Regional Transportation
Authority or GRTA, that are marginally linked to MARTA.
Follow the transportation dollars and one can tell who is important
and who is not. Between fiscal year 1992 and 1999, states had more
than $33.8 billion in federal funds available to spend on either
highways or public transit, but spent only 12.5% of that sum on
transit. Georgia and twenty-nine other states restrict the use
of the gasoline tax revenue for funding highway programs only.
Because Atlanta-area jobs have moved to suburbs, where public transit
is minimal, they are virtually inaccessible to non-drivers. Thirty-nine
percent of all black households in Atlanta do not have access to
cars, and in 2000, only 34% of the region's jobs were within a
one-hour public transit ride of low- income urban neighborhoods.
The current federal funding scheme continues
to be biased against metropolitan areas. Generally, states spend
less than 20 percent
of federal transportation funding on transit. Public transit has
received roughly $50 billion since the creation of the Urban Mass
Transit Administration over thirty years ago while roadway projects
have received over $205 billion since 1956. From 1998-2003, TEA-21
transportation spending amounted to $217 billion. This was the "largest
public works bill enacted in the nation’s history." Although
local governments within metropolitan areas own and maintain the
vast majority of the transportation infrastructure, they receive
only about 10 percent of every dollar they generate.
On average, Americans spend 19 cents
out of every dollar earned on transportation expenses. Transportation
costs ranged from 17.1
percent in the Northeast to
20.8 percent in the South – where some 54 percent of African Americans reside.
Americans spend more on transportation than they do on food, education, and
health care. The nation’s poorest families spend more than 40 percent of their
take home pay on transportation.
Only about five percent of all Americans use public transit to
get to work. Only 7 percent of white households own no car, compared
with 24 percent of African American households, 17 percent of Latino
households, and 13 percent of Asian-American households. Urban
transit is especially important to African Americans where over
eighty-eight percent live in metropolitan areas and over fifty-three
percent live inside central cities. African Americans are almost
six times as likely as whites to use transit to get around. About
sixty percent of African Americans live in ten metropolitan areas.
In urban areas, African Americans and Latinos comprise over fifty-four
percent of transit users (sixty-two percent of bus riders, thirty-five
percent of subway riders, and twenty-nine percent of commuter rail
Inadequate public transit services in many of the nation’s metropolitan regions,
which have high proportions of "captive" transit dependents, has
exacerbated social, economic, and racial isolation and aided in institutionalizing
transportation apartheid. Today, no other group is more physically isolated
from jobs than African Americans. Suburbs are increasing their share of office
space, while central cities see their share declining. In 2000, the "spatial
mismatch" between jobs and residence meant that more than 50 percent of
the nation’s blacks would have to relocate to achieve an even distribution
of blacks relative to jobs; the comparable figures for whites are 20 to 24
percentage points lower. The suburban share of the metropolitan office space
is 69.5 percent in Detroit, 65.8 percent in Atlanta, 57.7 percent in Washington,
DC, 57.4 percent in Miami, and 55.2 percent in Philadelphia. Getting to these
suburban jobs without a car is next to impossible. It is no accident that Detroit
leads in suburban "office sprawl." Detroit is also the most segregated
big city in the United States and the only major metropolitan area without
a regional transit system. Only about 2.4 percent of metropolitan Detroiters
use transit to get to work.
From New York to California, and a host of cities in between,
people of color and poor people are challenging unfair, unjust,
and illegal transportation policies and practices that relegate
them to the back of the bus. Transportation provides access to
opportunity and serves as a key component in addressing poverty,
unemployment, and equal opportunity goals while ensuring access
to education, health care, and other public services.
For more information on suburban sprawl and transportation
equity, please contact the Environmental Justice Resource Center
at Clark Atlanta University, 223 James P. Brawley Drive, Atlanta,
GA 30314, (404) 880-6911 (ph), (404) 880-6909 (fax), or E-mail
at email@example.com, or visit the EJRC's website at www.ejrc.cau.edu.