IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

New Caltrans Application Puts Equity on the Map

The Transportation Equity Index tool from the California Department of Transportation identifies key equity variables to aid in the evaluation of transportation projects. It's a web mapping application with several layers of data overlaid.

The Caltrans logo on the side of a large vehicle.
The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has unveiled a new digital mapping tool to help evaluate transportation projects against key equity concerns.

The Transportation Equity Index (EQI) tool, which the department developed, identifies a number of variables impacting transportation equity. The tool is a web mapping application with several layers of data overlaid to give transportation planners and others a view into how transportation projects may help — or harm — impacted neighborhoods.

“Transportation inequities can’t be addressed adequately without critical data to help identify priority populations most impacted by California’s transportation system,” said Toks Omishakin, the California Transportation Secretary, at a March 4 virtual press conference announcing the EQI’s release.

The Equity Index tool, which has been in development for about three years, identifies inequities from various angles in the transportation space, relying on publicly available and internal data sets. It includes three data screens: Priority Populations, Traffic Burdens and Access to Destinations.

Priority Populations, for example, takes demographics into consideration, identifying areas with low-income residents or tribal populations. The Traffic Burdens data layer calls attention to areas impacted by high traffic levels and accidents. The Access to Destinations layer looks at “how well can people access destinations? And in particular, we’re looking at multimodal access to destinations,” said Eric Sundquist, Caltrans sustainability coordinator, said at the press conference, indicating those destinations could include work and non-work.

“If that access is poor, then that is a sign that maybe it’s a disadvantaged population,” he added.

Combining all of this data leads to a “transportation-based priority population screen,” said Sundquist. This calls attention to where incomes are low and what areas have significant traffic, as well as to areas with poor access to destinations, which Sundquist described as “places that are most in need of remediation.”

The development of the EQI tool marks a definitive step by the state “to help create a true California for all,” Omishakin said.

“And while the state’s transportation network is essential, and an absolute necessity, it should not cause harm to its users in neighboring communities,” he added, a statement calling attention to decades of transportation planning and building that led to construction of freeways and other infrastructure through neighborhoods that were often disadvantaged.

That history is not unique to California. In an effort to put equity at the center of planning as the Austin, Texas, region embarks on the first phase of a massive expansion of the agency’s light rail and bus system, officials there have released a blueprint, known as the Equitable Transit-Oriented Development Study.

And the Justice40 requirement attached to a number of federal funding opportunities is part of President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative, to provide at least 40 percent of the overall benefits from certain federal investments to disadvantaged communities. Madeline Fraser Cook, vice president of community building and resilient solutions at Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), called Justice40 “a big deal” when she spoke to Government Technology in October. LISC, a nonprofit, provides financial, technical and other assistance to developers working in underserved communities.

It’s making planners, developers and others “think critically about what has worked and what hasn’t in terms of community engagement and community voice, and making sure that those dollars are flowing to underrepresented and underserved communities,” Cook said then.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.