On streets of injustice, here’s how we drive toward transportation equity for Latinos

New reports from Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio investigate the failure of investing in project-by-project transportation projects, and recommend systemic changes to reverse unfair planning practices that overlook Latino communities.

By Cliff Despres

Latinos face many transportation inequities, as years of unjust street planning practices have ignored them and cut them off from opportunities for health and wealth.

To promote transportation equity for healthier communities, our leaders must ensure that transportation policies and practices are inclusive of Latino needs, recognize and address existing disparities, and are responsibly evaluated and measured, according to expert recommendations in two new reports from Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio.

The two reports stem from Salud America!’s yearlong workgroup of transportation and planning leaders from across the nation that explored all aspects of equity in transportation for Latinos, thanks to an Innovation, Equity and Exploration grant from the Voices for Healthy Kids network at the American Heart Association.

The workgroup’s brief “Innovations in Transportation Equity for Latino Communities: Voices for Healthy Kids Grant Summary Report” highlights three central recommendations:

  • Fill in data and resource gaps to prioritize Latino experiences and needs in the planning process.
  • Dismantle racism and promote racially/economically mixed communities through land-use and transportation policies, regulations and laws.
  • Prioritize equity, safety and health in metrics used to determine impacts, establish targets, measure performance, and score and prioritize projects.

The in-depth “How to Address Transportation Equity for Latino Communities: Salud America!’s Workgroup Recommendations” takes a deeper dive into the inequities Latinos face, and makes a multitude of recommendations for solutions in community engagement, land use, and transportation planning, policies, performance and investment.

“These reports show us how we can take a systemic approach to address decades of unjust transportation planning practices that have segregated, isolated and displaced Latino and low-income communities and threaten overall health,” said Amelie G. Ramirez, DrPH, lead author of the reports and director of Salud America! and the Institute for Health Promotion Research at UT Health San Antonio.

Ramirez especially echoed the workgroup’s call to bring Latinos and Latino issues into transportation and planning conversations.

“Engaging Latino communities in the planning process and policymaking is an important step toward transportation equity,” Dr. Ramirez said. “Our transportation advocates and decision makers need a better understanding of the experiences, needs and aspirations of Latino and low-income communities, as well as their travel patterns and transportation expenses relative to access to health and opportunity.”

The workgroup’s recommendations are essential reading for those in transportation fields, Dr. Ramirez said.

“We hope every leader ─ urban and transportation planners, public health and planning scholars, policymakers, developers, and health, justice and housing advocates ─ can use these reports to support strategies to build more equitable, healthy and inclusive communities and transportation networks,” she said.

Workgroup members included: Paulina Baeza, Tulsa Planning Office; Allie Blazosky, Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization; Alva Carrasco, WSP; Flora Castillo, Pivot Strategies; Jay Blazek Crossley, Farm&City; Tara Goddard, Texas A&M University; Mae Hanzlik, Smart Growth America; Mauricio Hernandez, Alta Planning + Design; Marisa Jones, Safe Routes National Partnership; Lisa LaMantia, Central Ohio Transit Authority; Jovanna Lopez, City of San Antonio Metropolitan Health Department; Lynda Lopez, Streetsblog Chicago; John Osten, City of San Antonio Development Services Department; Joey Pawlik, Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization; Mario Pena, Able City; James Rojas, Place It!; James Sinclair, Alan M. Vorhees Transportation Center, Rutgers University; and Steve Yaffe, Yaffe Mobility Consulting. Amanda Merck, a researcher with Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio, organized and coordinated the group.

The workgroup convened nine times between September 2019 and June 2020, participated in trainings, and heard from industry experts Gil Penalosa of 8 80 Cities, Kristine Williams and Tia Boyd of the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida, and Greg Shill of the University of Iowa.

Access both Salud America! reports at https://salud.to/transportationworkgroup.

About Salud America!

Salud America! is a national Latino health equity organization that creates culturally relevant and research-based stories, videos and tools to inspire people to start and support healthy changes to policies, systems and environments where Latino children and families can equitably live, learn, work and play. Latinos are a rising U.S. powerhouse, but they face barriers to be their healthiest and suffer high rates of obesity and other health disparities. Salud America! and its award-winning multimedia communications help our social and online network — more than 250,000 moms and dads, providers, and community and school leaders — push for healthy changes in schools and communities for Latino and all kids. Salud America! is led by health disparities researcher Amelie G. Ramirez, DrPH, and supported by a passionate team of communicators at UT Health San Antonio, thanks to funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Visit Salud America! at salud-america.org or on social media @SaludAmerica.

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