Maps provided by Allison Homer
Environmental Justice (EJ) has a slightly misleading name. It is more of a social justice and fairness concept. It does have a connection to the physical environment through emphasizing that traditionally underrepresented communities, low-income and minority communities, should not be adversely affected by disproportionate exposure to pollution, or other adverse impacts, from transportation projects. However, the central meaning behind EJ is more about not disrupting the social fabric, cohesion and development of traditionally underrepresented communities. Disruption could occur by separating communities with large thoroughfare transportation projects that don’t directly serve the communities and may serve as barriers. At its core EJ seeks to learn from the mistakes of the “Urban Renewal” era of the 1960s and 70s in which vibrant and successful urban neighborhoods were divided by freeways and highways subsequently harming the economic health and social fabric of the neighborhoods. More information about the official history of the EJ concept with its origins in Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Executive Orders 12898 and 13166 in the late 90s and early 2000s can be found in the RVTPO Title VI, Environmental Justice and Limited English Proficiency (LEP) Plan.
EJ concepts extend beyond the planning phase through the project development, engineering and construction phases. For our purposes as a federally recognized Metropolitan Planning Organization (We go by the name Transportation Planning Organization in our region), EJ concepts will primarily be implemented at two separate levels:
- In the long-range plan at the planning level to the financially constrained list of projects; and,
- When RVTPO implements long-range plan by applying for SMART SCALE High Priority funding (the Virginia Prioritization and Programming system) over successive application cycles. SMART SCALE is the effective link between the long-range transportation plan and the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).
These two levels, separated in time, allow us to use a “canary in the coal mine” approach in the long-range plan. The EJ Framework will primarily identify red flags and screen out any patently inappropriate projects from the long-range plan. Later, before projects are actually applied for in SMART SCALE, we can use the framework again, in a more robust manner, to modify the scope of the SMART SCALE application to address any additional EJ concerns that arise.
In order to evaluate EJ impacts, both positive and negative, we will use our new EJ Benefits and Burdens Framework that was developed for the RVTPO in the form of a Master Degree Thesis by Allison Homer at Virginia Tech. We are fortunate to have this up-to-date framework that can incorporate new tools such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s EJSCREEN and go beyond these tools for a robust planning level implementation of EJ concepts. Please look forward to more news on the applying EJ through the new Constrained Long-Range Multimodal Transportation Plan 2040 in the coming months.
It can be difficult to craft a long-range transportation plan. As you can imagine, much of the feedback we get from citizens and stakeholders involves day-to-day questions such as; “Who will pay for all of this?” This natural question helps to illustrate the basic challenge that we have as long-range planners; “How do we develop and communicate a long-term vision, when many people naturally think in terms of day-to-day decisions?”
The ultimate goal is to craft a long-term leadership vision that can be implemented through prudent and strategic day-to-day decisions. It is the old “Eat the elephant one bite at a time!” proverb. However, we live in a world of complex social and economic interactions that defy “one size fits all” approaches. One way to think through this tension between long-term vision and day-to-day decisions is to use economic frameworks. I do a lot of personal study and reading in economics. It is a deep interest of mine, and I think it helps inform our work as planners. I especially think that Behavioral Economics will prove to be very informative to planners in the coming years.
That said, many people think of economics in terms of Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand . Although this is a useful metaphor for many basic day-to-day market interactions, there are times when it doesn’t necessarily hold. For instance, imagine that you are at a football game and everyone is comfortably seated and can see the game. Then a few people stand up to get a better view, then more and soon the whole stadium is standing. The end result is that everyone pretty much has the same view as before; however, they are less comfortable. If an announcer communicated the “vision” to request everyone to please sit down over the loudspeaker, or if stadium rules didn’t permit standing during the game then the cycle could be broken.
Long-range plans are similar in this regard. In essence they are just trying to point out that everyone is standing, when they could be better off being comfortably seated and watching the game. Popular leadership and business books espouse this idea when it comes to individual career development and organizational development. In essence they tell readers to craft a personal vision (or organizational vision for leadership books) and then act on that vision through day-to-day workplace decisions. This advice is well received by the majority of professionals in the workforce as evidenced by how big the business, management and leadership category of books is in bookstores or on Amazon. All we are saying is to think of regional long-range transportation plans as crafting a vision for the community and then encouraging leaders to act on that vision through day-to-day decisions. Most of us already accept this advice in our professional lives via business books. Why not accept the same approach for the community through long-range plans?
The RVTPO is currently working on a long-term Transit Vision Plan that will help shape future investments and planning for the Roanoke Valley’s transit services in the urban portions of Bedford County, Botetourt County, Montgomery County, City of Roanoke, Roanoke County, City of Salem, and the Town of Vinton.
In November, members of our regional community attended our first Transit Vision Plan Workshops, where we focused on identifying critical transit connections and citizen’s general service preferences.
Building on the November sessions, the next phase will begin Thursday, January 21 and will focus on obtaining public input on draft short, medium and long term recommendations for regional transit. There are 2 locations. The open house style workshops will have short formal presentations at 12:30pm and 1:30pm (Campbell Court) and at 5:15pm and 6:15pm (Vinton Library). Refreshments will be provided.
The workshops will be offered at two locations in the Roanoke Valley.
CHOOSE 1 OR BOTH MEETINGS
Both locations are wheelchair accessible.
Thursday, Jan. 21, Noon–2pm @
Thursday, Jan. 21, 5pm-7pm @
the Vinton Library (Directions)
If you are unable to attend, please see meeting materials and provide comments via: www.rvarc.org/transit
Media inquiries contact: Cristina Finch email@example.com | (540) 343-4417
Video courtesy of Dale Saylor on Vimeo.