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PBOT Strategic Plan - Transportation Justice

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Sections on Transportation Justice in the Portland Bureau of Transportation's (PBOT) Strategic Plan "Moving to Our Future" (2019-2024). Includes definitions and what's new. Originally published 2019. Revised 2023.

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What's New - Transportation Justice Framework

When adopted in 2019, Moving to Our Future set out transportation justice as a north star for the bureau. But beyond advancing racial equity and reducing carbon emissions, what does transportation justice really mean? And how do we, as an organization and stewards of Portland’s transportation system, move toward a more just tomorrow?

Over the past few years, PBOT staff have been tackling that question head on through the Transportation Justice Framework Project. The goal of this effort is to create a toolbox of resources that will help:

  • Ensure all staff are familiar with existing transportation-related disparities in our communities;
  • Equip them with tools and prompts to advance and operationalize transportation justice across our work;
  • Empower PBOT teams to provide equitable services to historically underserved communities; and
  • Keep us accountable to our goal of becoming an anti-racist organization.

In short, the Transportation Justice Framework will be a compass for all to use in our pursuit of equitable and just outcomes.

In January 2020, PBOT’s Equity & Inclusion team, in collaboration with the Transportation Justice Steering Committee (TJSC), organized a retreat at the June Key Delta Community Center. Transportation Justice advocates and representatives from six Portland based community organizations including Coalition of Communities of Color, Play Grow Learn, Rosewood Initiative, Portland United Against Hate, Unite Oregon, Verde, Albina Vision Trust, and Seeding for Justice (formerly known as MRG Foundation) attended the event to discuss what transportation justice means in the Portland context and share their vision for a just and equitable transportation system. PBOT’s Equity & Inclusion team ran with and stayed true to community stakeholder’s vision and established a project team to advance project efforts.

That team dove into community wisdom, literature, and discourse around Transportation Justice, and in 2022, unveiled a working draft definition and set of principles that form the backbone of PBOT’s Transportation Justice Framework:

Transportation Justice refers to the elimination of disparities in our mobility and interconnected systems (equity) as well as a transformative and liberating redistribution of power, resources, and opportunities (justice) to those experiencing the greatest disparities today to ensure that all Portlanders use and enjoy the same access to safe, reliable, equitable, sustainable, and affordable transportation options.

In today’s transportation system, Portlanders who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), people with disabilities, households living on low incomes, as well as all those community members who are multilingual, immigrants, refugees, LGBTQIA+, and/or displaced all experience greater disparities and have historically been burdened by unjust and racist policies and decisions. Transportation Justice requires us to uncompromisingly condemn all forms of oppressive practices and racism, proactively reduce transportation disparities, address past harm, remove barriers, and measurably improve outcomes experienced by these communities.

We achieve Transportation Justice by eliminating disparities, redistributing power, and working towards the liberation of unjustly burdened populations in both our processes (how we do our work) and outcomes (what our work achieves or contributes to in community).

Transportation Justice principles:

  • Moving beyond equity (eliminating disparities) towards justice (redistributing power, resources, and opportunities)
  • Recognizing past and existing injustice and accepting that the past is never dead
  • Co-creating solutions with historically underserved communities and envisioning liberation through their lens
  • Addressing past harm and mitigating structural pains at all stages of our work
  • Acknowledging the interconnectedness of systems
  • Centering race and applying “targeted universalism” (in which we prioritize addressing the needs of those experiencing the greatest disparities, which in turn maximizes benefits)
  • Committing to intersectionality
  • Putting people first (adopting a human-centered approach)
  • Applying results-based accountability

The development of the Transportation Justice Framework is ongoing, and the materials staff developed are living documents. Staff know there are gaps in our knowledge, and will continue engaging community partners to validate, challenge, and co-create a deeper understanding of disparities and Transportation Justice principles.


What is Transportation Justice?

Transportation promises personal freedom, access, and connection. 

Freedom means a well-designed and well-maintained transportation system that gives people the ability to go where they want easily and safely. 

Access means safe, healthy, reliable, and affordable transportation that supports Portlanders’ access to jobs, education, culture, and recreation. 

Connection means good transportation options that make it easier to get from place to place and thus build community and the culture of the city. 

Unfortunately, our country, our city and our agency have not always delivered on transportation’s promise in an equitable or sustainable way. In fact, past policymakers and public officials made decisions that continue to disproportionately harm the most vulnerable users of our transportation system, including people of color and people with disabilities. 

Over time, these burdens and associated costs have unfairly impacted specific populations. Major infrastructure projects uprooted entire neighborhoods. Smaller projects were designed and built without adequate input from the communities they were supposed to serve. The needs and desires of underserved communities were often ignored in visions of Portland’s future. 

It’s a regrettable truth that deep systemic disparities exist in our transportation system. For example, pedestrians in East Portland, especially east of I-205, are more than twice as likely to be killed in a traffic crash than pedestrians in other parts of Portland. East Portland generally bears the burden of historic underinvestment in infrastructure, and has poor air quality and limited community resources. This is especially troubling because East Portland also has high concentrations of communities of color, low-income people, and communities with limited English proficiency (LEP). 

Knowing that disparities like this exist, transportation justice requires taking proactive steps here and now to ensure that all Portlanders enjoy the same access to safe, reliable, and affordable transportation options. Our roads belong to everyone. It is in these public spaces that we create community and decide together how best to make use of our shared right-of-way. It is our responsibility to remove any barriers to equitable and accessible mobility, wherever these barriers exist.

As part of Portland’s 2035 Comprehensive Plan, our city has pledged to take concrete steps to address the displacement of residents from neighborhoods. For our commitment to transportation justice, this means ensuring that when we invest in transportation infrastructure we do so in a way that supports more and better access for communities of color, low-income communities, and people with disabilities. Our investments should not repeat past injustices or contribute to new ones like displacement.

We have also not captured the true costs of our collective transportation choices, rarely accounting for how communities are affected by vehicle emissions and dangerous speeds. The ways in which we have traditionally delivered personal freedom, access, and connection have taken a heavy toll on our environment. We face a global reckoning with carbon emissions, its impacts borne most often by the communities that can least afford them. 

Portland’s leaders have made a radical departure from this past with the adoption of citywide Racial Equity Goals and the Climate Action Plan. 

In Moving to Our Future, PBOT will ask itself two critical questions in thinking through each aspect of our work:

  • Will it advance equity and address structural racism? 
  • Will it reduce carbon emissions?
questions

What's New- Equity and Climate Action

Clearly defined objectives and initiatives

To improve accountability toward advancing our overarching goals of Equity & Inclusion and Climate Action, PBOT adopted the following objectives and initiatives through the 2023 Strategic Plan refresh:

Table listing the equity and climate action objectives from the Strategic plan
Equity and Climate Objectives

Equity

Over the last five years, PBOT, along with the City of Portland as a whole, has strengthened its commitment to transportation equity. What does this mean? It means recognizing the harmful legacy of past decisions and moving decisively now to address these harms. Concretely, this means ensuring that communities of color and people with limited mobility, previously excluded from the decision-making process, have a prominent seat at the table and are centered in policy, investments, services, and programs. 

This is especially true given the scale of transformation that will be required to achieve our targets for reducing carbon emissions. Portland’s Transportation System Plan for 2035 calls for a complete inversion of current transportation choices and behaviors, with a massive shift away from driving alone. This cannot happen on the backs of those who can least afford it. Historically marginalized communities are already significantly more likely to walk, take transit, or share a car trip. We need to reward this and invest in these communities working together to build safe and effective transportation options that work for everyone.

Throughout Moving to Our Future, we note where we are putting our commitments to equity and climate into action. Guided by the city’s Racial Equity Goals and Climate Action Plan, we will use this strategic plan to refresh and refocus the bureau’s equity initiatives, programs, and investments by: 

  • Transforming PBOT’s relationship with underserved communities.
  • Developing a transportation equity framework to guide future equity initiatives, policies, and investments. 
  • Contributing to the resilience of communities that are the most vulnerable amid growth and change.
  • Increasing opportunity for historically underserved communities to participate in the development of policy and decision making.
  • Strengthening staff capacity to understand, utilize, implement, and contribute to PBOT’s equity framework.  
Transportation Justice

Over the course of Moving to Our Future we will develop a comprehensive framework for an equitable transportation system in the Portland metro region, helping us tackle critical issues that intersect with PBOT’s mission. These include gentrification and displacement, equitable service delivery, and access to jobs and opportunity. The work outlined in this strategic plan is inspired by the definition for equitable transportation introduced by the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ (NACTO) Equity Committee: 

Equitable transportation is the process and outcomes of ensuring that our transportation systems are inclusive of, meet the needs of, support, and prioritize marginalized or underrepresented communities (race, physical ability, geographic location) where institutional and structural barriers impacting mobility and access have been eliminated, enabling opportunity for both economic and social growth


Climate action

Climate change confronts us with profound equity challenges that are intergenerational. 

Goal percent reductions in carbon emissions by 2030 and 2050.

Our region is already experiencing the effects of forest fires and reduced air quality, flooding, and hotter summers. The impacts are felt disproportionately in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. As leaders in a global movement of cities working to create low-carbon urban environments that will support future generations, Portland’s City Council has committed to a 40% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, and a 100% reduction by 2050. We have a lot of work to do. Roughly 40% of our carbon emissions come from vehicle emissions and, as of 2016, Portland showed a 1% increase over the previous year. 

Moving to Our Future is guided by the vision of a connected future laid out in the Climate Action Plan, where:

  • Access to active transportation options continues to improve, including frequent-service transit to the city’s many employment centers
  • Pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit are prominent throughout Portland’s vibrant community centers, bustling corridors, and diverse neighborhoods
  • Vehicles are highly efficient and run on low-carbon electricity and renewable fuels

This strategic plan also coincides with Portland’s participation in the Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge. The initiative supports near-term actions to reduce carbon emissions while providing us with a guiding framework for our strategic plan, with clear outcomes and measures.


Download the full plan: