Bridges and more: Meeting the network at the Transportation Equity Summit

By Erica Stephan
May 20, 2016

I’m new to ClimatePlan, where I’m helping out with the e-News and social media for the summer, and so it was a treat this week when I got to meet many partners at the Transportation Equity Summit, put on by TransForm and the California Bicycle Coalition in Sacramento.

It can be hard to explain the role of a network organization like ClimatePlan, but after the Summit I have a new metaphor: bridge builder.

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Josh Stark of TransForm and Chanell Fletcher of ClimatePlan prepare to greet the wave of advocates.

Here’s a brief update on the Summit—also see this excellent summary from TransForm—and the connections made there.

Connecting across old divides

In keeping with the timing of National Infrastructure Week, the Summit was full of calls for long-overdue repairs—for communities, not just for pavement.

USDOT’s Stephanie Jones spoke about the agency’s Ladders of Opportunity program, which aims to repair years of biased, divisive transportation policy (laying freeways across cities and isolating low-income communities and people of color, for example).

Now there are new funds for environmental improvements in disadvantaged communities, and that’s a great start—but how do people in these communities find out about them? Jones said it’s not just about theoretical access; it’s about actively helping the people who most need to participate get there.

Listening first

At a subsequent session, biking and walking activists asked for advice on working in communities where there is a strong car culture, or where many people who use bikes aspire to owning a car instead.

The response from the panel was unanimous: ask first what the community needs. If people’s top priorities are housing and displacement, do what’s possible to support them with that before connecting to bicycle infrastructure. The Los Angeles-based group, Multicultural Mobility, screened a brief video that beautifully portrayed that approach to organizing.

Many partners, many tools

Next up was the Sustainable Communities panel hosted by ClimatePlan’s own Chanell Fletcher. There, five partners talked about how their work on different issues is adding up, helping people make their communities more sustainable.

–        Public Advocates looks at whether transportation and other investments are equitable, and whether they actually meet the needs of disadvantaged communities, as

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Backwards: Gloria Ohland shows us where we definitely don’t want to be heading with transportation policy.

determined by experts—the community members themselves. Not only do they change policy, as a law firm, they can also help people sue for justice.

–        The Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ) works in the Inland Empire to shift the transportation story away from moving goods and toward moving people. In a region where developers and planners still have a last-century vision of growth, CCAEJ pushes jurisdictions to think beyond warehouse jobs and look at the new economic opportunities from climate investments.

–        The California Pan-Ethnic Health Network (CPEHN) is a public health and equity group that is currently supporting AB 2332, legislation to make sure California’s Complete Streets policies benefit the people who need them most—people with lower incomes and communities of color. These communities tend to be surrounded by high-speed streets without sidewalks or bike lanes, even when many people living nearby must walk and bike, making every errand perilous. (Another example of deeply unjust transportation policy.)

–        The Nature Conservancy made a connection that could have been overlooked: how land conservation tools, like growth boundaries, can support communities by focusing investment in existing urban areas, preventing resources from draining out into distant suburbs. Their recent report on best practices in conservation in Sustainable Communities Strategies offers benefits beyond open space.

–        Housing California, which advocates for more affordable homes all over the state, brought up the importance of networks—including ClimatePlan—as fertile places for ideas and connections.

These organizations do very different things, and they have busy staff who all have lots to do. They might not otherwise work together. But for them it’s worth it to be part of ClimatePlan, to connect to each other and build a better future for California.

There’s a lot more to do

At the Summit’s closing reception, Genoveva (Veva) Islas of Cultiva La Salud shared disturbing stories of young people—including her own son—arrested for “biking and walking while brown.” She talked about how hard it is to get active transportation projects built outside of affluent areas, and quoted a conversation with a Fresno city official who asked, “Do you really want me to do everything for this side of town that I do for the other side?”

“No,” said Islas. “Because of decades of neglect, I want you to do more.”

That’s what I’m ready to do, after a day of meeting with inspiring leaders like Veva—more. And that’s what ClimatePlan and its partners are doing—more, to meet the needs of people who’ve had to wait too long.

Thank you

Thanks to everyone who attended the Summit, and everyone moving this work forward. I’m grateful for the connections we’ve made and for networks like ClimatePlan that make it possible to do more, together.

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