Minnesota Department of Transportation

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Advancing Transportation Equity Initiative

Advancing Transportation Equity Initiative

Transportation equity labs

MnDOT planners and project managers are grappling to understand the transportation system’s impacts on equity, and how to make planning processes and programs more equitable. With the Transportation Equity Lab, MnDOT’s Office of Transportation System Management would help other MnDOT staff examine and experiment with planning and programming issues surrounding equity in a structured and productive way. The product would be plans and programs that have been carefully and rigorously tailored with equity in mind.

The Transportation Equity Labs are flexible facilitated processes through which MnDOT advances transportation equity in its internal planning processes. The program has three primary goals:

  • Improve understanding of how transportation planning and programming affects equity
  • Identify transportation strategies and approaches that will meaningfully reduce disparities
  • Build capacity within MnDOT planning and programming to meet those needs

Highlights from recent transportation equity labs

MnDOT’s Office of Transportation System Management (OTSM) recently collaborated with the Office of Traffic Engineering (OTE) to review a draft Request for Proposals (RFP) for the 2022 District Safety Plans (DSP) and suggest ways to incorporate transportation equity into the RFP process. Some of the recommendations from this process included the following:

  • Reword Equity in project goal suggestion in order to reinforce MnDOT’s transportation equity definition.
  • Humanize people who are the victims of crashes by highlighting the human cost of traffic crashes (for instance, including the names of victims or personal stories).
  • Conduct inclusive public engagement that is deliberately designed to be inclusive for underrepresented communities in order to identify local issues and priorities.
  • Disaggregate data to the fullest extent possible in order to identify and understand disparities in outcomes.
  • Identify safety disparities through data analysis.
  • Evaluate the equity impact of past investments by comparing the location of safety improvements to the neighborhoods with the highest concentrations of people facing safety disparities.

The MnDOT Office of Sustainability and Public Health partnered with the Office of Transportation System Management to facilitate a Complete Streets Policy Equity Lab in November 2021. The Lab, conducted as a two-part series, provided a structured environment to:

  • Improve staff understanding of how a Complete Streets approach affects equity
  • Identify opportunities to reduce disparities and maximize equity outcomes through the Complete Streets Policy and implementation guidance

Staff examined the intersection of transportation equity and a Complete Streets approach by applying the MnDOT Equity Lens to focused areas within the Complete Streets Policy. As a result of the Lab, the new Complete Streets Policy integrates the MnDOT Priority Areas for Walking (PAWS) mapping tool and will track the annual percentage of MnDOT programmed projects that benefit high-priority areas for equitable walking improvements. The new Complete Streets Policy also now incorporates equity and community need resources at the beginning of the process to better understand user priorities and advance transportation equity.

External partners and MnDOT staff reviewed the ongoing strategic planning process underway for the Safe Routes to School program. Findings include

  • The SRTS program is up against major disparities based on race and income when it comes to safety, access and air quality. To better address equity, we need to track these on the state level. The SRTS program has detailed maps and data about investments around the state. However, most of the disaggregated data about disparate outcomes in safety and health are on the national level.
  • The SRTS definition of equity is broad. One of the values under the vision statement is: “All students have the opportunity to walk and bicycle no matter their race, ethnicity, income level, age, ability, or geographic location.”  Note that this statement does not include some of the specific populations mentioned in the national partnership’s definition but includes one factor not in that definition (geography). Also, meeting participants stated that generally, local partners are allowed to create their own definition of equity that is tailored to their community.
  • When it comes to equity, the partnership model of SRTS is both a strength and a challenge. Its strength is that it is grassroots, so it enables the program to be in touch with community needs and priorities. It can be customized to their unique context. The challenge is, since it relies on community capacity, those with fewer resources are less likely to be able to engage and compete for resources.
  • SRTS staff and partners have taken proactive steps to create more equitable processes and outcomes, but without specific, measurable goals, we don’t know the impact of these changes.

This work was completed in 2020 in partnership with Bellwether Consulting.

As a result of the Transportation Equity Lab, MnDOT staff developed the Student Transportation Equity for Priority Populations (STEPP) Tool to support equitable scoring during the Safe Route to School grant application process. The STEPP tool uses a variety of metrics related to reaching priority populations and allows grant applicants to quickly look up the equity score for schools identified in their application.

Evaluation of the use of the STEPP Tool is expected in early 2021.

MnDOT staff completed a retrospective equity review of public engagement completed for the 2017 Minnesota State Highway Investment Plan (MnSHIP).

The following are some high-level findings:

  • Transparency of process is essential. Regardless of changes made (or not made) to MnSHIP next time, it is important to provide more clarity about the process to internal and external stakeholders.
  • Engagement is an important part of making an equitable process and plan. This plan is big and complex, even for transportation professionals. To get meaningful input from stakeholders, MnDOT will need to go beyond one-off surveys to build relationships and knowledge.
  • The ideal engagement approach is not clear at this point, and that’s ok. There wasn’t a consensus among MnDOT staff about the appropriate level of public participation, with whom and at what decision points. That’s ok, and to be expected. It’s probably the type of question that needs input from leadership and community.
  • Equity in MnSHIP goes beyond engagement. Some of the key opportunities to incorporate equity are in how the plan is defined and structured. This includes the definition of the investment categories and strategies.
  • The process revealed some additional topics to explore. Some example topics included: location-based allocations or direction within the plan, listing specific projects, and including equity language and goals in the plan.

This work was completed in 2019 in partnership with Bellwether Consulting.