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?
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.
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 of 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 an opportunity for both economic and social growth
Climate change confronts us with profound equity challenges that are intergenerational.
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.
More information about PBOT’s equity and inclusion initiatives can be found at portlandoregon.gov/transportation/equity.
More information about Portland’s participation in the American Cities Climate Challenge can be found at portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/700679.