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  • Writer's pictureKendra Ma

Black Life and Public Transportation: Your Voice Needed

Updated: Jul 21, 2022

1970s MacArthur Maze, photo courtesy of AC Transit
1970s MacArthur Maze, photo courtesy of AC Transit

We’re seeking participants in a unique opportunity to shape how transit agencies correct past and present harms to Black life in the United States. Can your voice make a difference? Read on.

Today’s transportation agencies inherit decisions shaped by and implemented with racism. From the management of transit governance to the day-to-day impacts of past service and infrastructure planning, systems operate amid racist policies designed to benefit white communities while Black communities shoulder the costs.

For instance, the opening of BART in 1972 — conceptualized by business and planning elites in San Francisco — laid the groundwork for a transit system mimicking freeways, primarily serving commuters in white suburbs while facilitating a major “redevelopment” and destruction of Black neighborhoods in West Oakland. While city administrators touted the efforts as restoration and community improvement projects, these processes became known nationwide as “Negro Removal.” The decimation of long-time Black neighborhoods due to racist transportation planning decisions is one of many examples that reflect how Black communities are still grappling with structural racism in public transportation. This raises important questions about how to address the harms to Black communities, and how to build more equitable and just public transportation systems in the United States.

TransForm is investigating the extent to which, historically and currently, Black people in the United States bear negative impacts of transportation systems and do not enjoy a fair share of the benefits. In partnership with Thrivance Group and researchers at University of Texas at Austin, we are exploring a better path forward. This project, sponsored by the Transportation Research Board, presents a critical opportunity to address inequities, putting research results on the desks of transportation practitioners, planners, engineers, decision makers, educators, and everyday community advocates. Together, we will produce action-oriented materials that will serve as a guide to improve transportation conditions for Black people throughout the United States, functioning as an educational tool that can be used to train people in the ways in which reparations and related concepts can be applied in transportation planning and decision-making, and as a way to begin redressing inequities.

Later this summer, TransForm and the research team will convene conversations where Black urbanists, architects, planners, scholars, and activists can interface with transportation officials, decision-makers, and implementers to discuss:

  1. Understandings and experiences of past/current transportation and land-use policies and practices, and the ways they have impacted health, economic, and social conditions for Black people and communities across the United States,

  2. The latest findings and recommendations to address harms as drawn from the research, and

  3. Garner feedback on the intervention strategies we develop for decision-makers and the community.

If you know anyone that would like to participate in one 60- to 90-minute focus group during late July or August, online or in-person, please contact Kendra Ma, lead researcher at TransForm at Your expertise is vital to this critical research project on racial equity and public transportation, with the goal of quantifying and beginning to repair historical injustices.


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