Wednesday, August 5, 2020

What if Metro treated addressing race and equity as a major capital project?

Investing in Place has been a longtime advocate for bringing equity into consideration as part of the transportation planning process. Over the past several years, we have encouraged Metro, in its role as Los Angeles’s transportation commission, to elevate equity concerns and to make equity a front row concern in its transportation development work. It has been encouraging to see Metro take some steps toward this end. They have adopted an Equity Framework (2018), defined and mapped the Agency’s Equity Focused Communities (2019), and hired their first Executive Officer on Race and Equity (2020).  

However, as the region is grappling with two pandemics – COVID-19 and systemic racism – we must consider whether this progress is adequate to address the challenges that Angelenos from underserved communities face. This is a matter of particular urgency as we know that both pandemics are impacting Black and brown Angelenos with an intensity that threatens to further erode their economic position and their access to opportunities within the county.

As such, it is time for Metro to go further than merely having one dedicated staffer tasked with addressing Race and Equity issues out of an annual budget of $7 billion dollars. Last month, Executive Officer of Race and Equity KeAndra Cylear Dodds joined our July Better Buses for LA work group. She presented on Metro’s Rapid Equity Assessment tool to evaluate projects from the COVID-19 Task Force and walked the group through the projects she is working on. It is an exhaustive list to say the least for one person. 

KeAndra Cylear Dodds is leading:

  • Developing a program for Internal Race and Equity training 
  • Developing a “rapid equity assessment tool” (for the COVID-19 Task Force projects and proposals)
  • Supporting “equity fluent leaders” – a strategy to create an equity liaison in each department
  •  Working with internal and external partners to respond to June’s Community and Safety motion (which is being led by Metro’s Security Department) 
  • Developing an Equity Advisory Board
  • Advising on Metro’s Community Based Organization strategy 
  • Advising on specific projects/programs (eg 710, congestion pricing, goods movement)
  • Participating in panels, public presentation and other public communications related to Metro and Equity 

The Executive Officer of Race and Equity is operating without staff, and without a budget to resource this critical work. All of this during two pandemics with consistently higher and more dangerous impacts for Black Angelenos, Indigenous Angelenos, and People of Color. This demands a response from the agencies of the stewards of public funds to address community needs. Transportation has a legacy of historic disinvestments and negative impacts on Black, Indigenous, People of Color; vulnerable road users; and underserved groups as they travel through and inhabit public space. It is now time for Metro to resource this work and fully fund it like it would be taking on any significant project.

What if Metro treated addressing race and equity as a major capital project? Or even a pilot study? Take for example Metro’s Congestion Pricing study – which totals more than $5.5 million to assess how and where it would be possible to pilot a package of mobility improvements, including congestion relief pricing in L.A. County. Addressing Race and Equity at Metro requires legitimate resources, internal staff, professional external consultants and more. Metro’s current approach of one full time staff for such a critical component of Metro and the Regions work is clearly one of its current shortcomings. 


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