Anti-Racism Topic of the Month
This article series was published in the 2020 InMotion Newsletter (July - December) and focuses on anti-racism work in transportation planning. The series is meant to build a deeper understanding and awareness of the history of racism in transportation planning—both on a national scale and within our local community.
- July: Black Lives Matter
- August: Racism in Planning
- September: environ. Racism
- October: Wiley Griffon
- November: Walking While Black
- December: Mobility & Transit
Black Lives Matter
The City of Eugene’s Transportation Planning team acknowledges the history of racial injustice in transportation and city planning. In recent years there has been an increased public and professional interest in safe streets, micro-mobility, and healthy, active transportation options. While these recent priorities are exciting, we must recognize that none of them focus on correcting the experience of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). Transportation and systemic racism are historically intertwined, and we cannot expect change to occur without structural change to our planning practices. These transportation innovations are only meaningful for communities if intentional anti-racism work is done first. As a city, community, and as transportation professionals, we have a lot of work to do to correct the injustices of the past.
We fully support and want to echo the following statement made by Eugene City Councilors: “The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery were enabled by a culture of oppression and dehumanization that has deep roots in our society. Dismantling this culture will require us to think about what people with privilege, especially White Privilege, should be doing to change this culture, and challenging systemic bias in our neighborhoods, businesses, and our city government.”
The transportation team is dedicated to doing the personal and professional research to educate ourselves and the community on transportation justice. To begin, our team has organized an internal series of racial equity and history sessions to better understand how the work we do impacts the experience of people living and traveling in Eugene. We are committed to looking closer at how projects disproportionally impact BIPOC communities and will put more concentration on racial equity going forward. In the coming months, the InMotion Newsletter and social media pages will feature articles on racial equity and the history of racism in Eugene. When the Breakfast at the Bike Bridges event series resume, we will include discussions of the background of racial discrimination associated with our bridges and other transportation infrastructure.
Our goal on the City of Eugene Transportation Planning team is to lead with compassion and understanding so that all people feel safe in the community, regardless of skin color. Black Lives Matter, and we encourage you to check out these articles for further reading on the intersection of transportation and racism.
- CityLab Article "Safe Streets Are Not Safe for Black Lives" https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-06-08/-safe-streets-are-not-safe-for-black-lives
- Talking Anti-Racist Transportation Policy (25 min podcast) https://gspp.berkeley.edu/news/podcast/episode-306-talking-anti-racist-transportation-policy
Racism in Transportation Planning
This article is the second in a featured series on anti-racism in transportation planning; a new article will be posted each month through 2020. The point of this article series is to provide an introduction to the history of racism in transportation planning-- internationally and within our own community.
The City of Eugene Transportation Planning Team is participating in ongoing education about the racial history of transportation planning and how our work impacts the lives of Black, Indigenous people of color (BIPOC) in our community. We recognize that traditionally-used practices within planning can, and do, create inequalities in land ownership for BIPOC community members. Widespread housing displacement is one such practice.
One example of widespread housing displacement employed in Eugene is the 1949 razing of the “Across the Bridge Community,” also known as Ferry Street Village, which was located outside of city limits where Alton Baker Park now stands. With an informal agreement from Lane County, Black residents relocated to this site and established an independent community during a time when housing laws and practices excluded them from purchasing their own homes. Low income whites who could not afford housing within the city also lived in the Village. Although many Black residents held jobs in Eugene, there were no Black businesses in Eugene and many existing businesses barred Black residents from entering. The Oregon Constitution officially contained exclusion laws that explicitly stated that African-Americans could not legally settle within Oregon. This language was not officially removed from the Oregon Constitution until as recent as 2001 because white Oregonians repeatedly resisted and prevented its removal.
The Across the Bridge Community was destroyed in July 1949 in order to allow for the construction of the Ferry Street Bridge. Community residents received only 10 days notice to evacuate and were relocated to three different neighborhoods around the outskirts of Eugene. Families were split up, which caused loss of personal and economic connections. Through this devastating process, the vital cultural identity, relationships, and economic activity was ignored by government. Furthermore, the preservation of the community wasn’t considered as a part of the razing, nor were the residents of the Village given the opportunity to recreate the community they had built. Today we think of Ferry Street Bridge as a key connector to get across the river for our transportation network, but we have not given the necessary acknowledgement to the local Black culture and community that was destroyed.
Although we can’t undo the racist history of transportation planning in Eugene, we are committed to learning from it and identifying ways in which today’s current transportation system in Eugene underserves BIPOC residents and other underinvested communities. Some examples include the location of train and bus routes and who benefits from these services or the construction of highways and high-traffic streets through predominantly low-income neighborhoods. In our future work as the City’s Transportation Planning Team, remedying the injustices of previous government officials will be at the forefront of our projects.
As we continue learning and identifying racist practices in our work, we hope you will also take the time to understand how a history of racist planning practices has shaped our city today. Below are the resources used to prepare this article, which contain more detailed information about the history of racial inequities in Oregon and Eugene. We encourage you to do further research beyond this article.
- “Cultural Demolition: What Was Lost When Eugene Razed Its First Black Neighborhood” by Chrisanne Beckner
Environmental Racism in Planning
This article is the third in a monthly featured series focusing on anti-racism work in transportation planning. The series is meant to build a deeper understanding and awareness of the history of racism in transportation planning—both on a national scale and within our local community. This month’s article features the roles of environmental racism in transportation planning and local environmental justice communities.
What is environmental racism?
Greenaction.org defines environmental racism as the “disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color.” Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities are disproportionately affected by poor environmental stewardship such as improper waste disposal, toxic dumping, and industrial sites. The term environmental racism now comprises human-caused environmental damage, as well as natural disasters, and the disproportionate harm they cause to BIPOC communities (The Century Foundation).
In transportation specifically, highway construction and railway placement often occur through low-income and BIPOC communities. The process for planning transportation infrastructure creates potential for environmentally racist decisions with long-term impacts for BIPOC communities. For example, highways constructed through thriving BIPOC communities effectively destroy those communities and stifles economic growth opportunities.
Locally, research conducted by Beyond Toxics and Centro Latino Americano identifies that residents in West Eugene, including sections of Bethel, Trainsong and River Road neighborhoods, are disproportionately exposed to air toxins and noise pollution from cumulative “train idling, groundwater pollution, and diesel particulates due to their proximity to the Union Pacific Rail Yard” (Beyond Toxics, 16). These areas also have higher percentages of minority and low-income residents, high rates of self-reported asthma in children, and lack access to education materials and public decision-making processes (Beyond Toxics, 5).
What is environmental justice?
Environmental justice demands that communities look closely at the environmental impacts their constituents experience, and whether those impacts disproportionately affect BIPOC. Recognizing environmental justice communities highlights the work that needs to be done to achieve equitable planning in the future.
In Eugene, the Trainsong neighborhood has been recognized as an environmental justice community. “The purpose of the project is to recognize the distinctive environmental health vulnerabilities of lower-income and Latino residents in West Eugene, and carry out activities to promote empowerment and actions to meet their environmental health needs” (Beyond Toxics).
Since 1994, Executive Order 12898 requires all federal agencies, including transportation agencies, to prioritize environmental justice in their processes. Transportation agencies are recipients of federal funding, making them responsible for fair and equitable distribution of services to the community. The City of Eugene follows National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) guidelines, which specifically require an environmental justice lens for every new capital project.
What’s next for transportation planning?
All transportation planning professionals should, at a minimum, have a basic understanding and awareness of environmental racism. Transportation infrastructure planning processes must take into account, and actively address, how environmental racism shows up in this field. Additionally, climate action recovery work should always prioritize an environmental racism lens, as the results of the changing climate causes disproportionate harm to BIPOC and low income communities.
If you are interested in advocating for environmental justice locally, NAACP Lane County has an Environmental Climate Justice Committee that meets once a month. It is important to continue to research and read, and to be aware of the environmental racism that still impacts our community.
- Tamika L Butler: leading researcher/advocate on the subject of BLM and transportation (https://www.tamikabutler.com/blog)
The Story of Wiley Griffon
This article is the fourth in a monthly featured series focusing on anti-racism work in transportation planning. The series is meant to build a deeper understanding and awareness of the history of racism in transportation planning—both on a national scale and within our local community. This month’s article features a local transportation story of trolley car operator Wiley Griffon (sometimes also spelled Griffin or Griffn) through an anti-racist lens, and the exclusionary laws that were in place in Eugene at the time.
The August edition of this article series explored the negative impacts of eminent domain on Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and the “exclusion laws” that denied BIPOC housing or work within Eugene city limits. Wiley Griffon is the first Black Eugenian on public record to have worked within city limits. In the 1890s, a series of trolley car rail lines were constructed along Willamette, 11th, Blair and in the Fairmount neighborhood. These rail lines facilitated the transportation of the trolleys, which were drawn by mules. Later, the rail lines also carried electric trolleys. Moving to the Eugene area in 1891, Griffon operated the trolley cars, helping community members get where they needed to go. Due to existence of exclusion laws during this time, it is likely that all of Griffon’s customers were white residents.
Unfortunately, we have few details about Griffon and his experience working in Eugene. At the time, there was no official city record and the racialized attitudes and beliefs of historians (or those who created official records) paid little acknowledgement to the lived experience of BIPOC residents. It is important to note that during the time that Griffon worked in Eugene, racist exclusionary laws prohibited him and other BIPOC from living within city limits at that time. He was unable to live within the very community he served. Besides operating the trolley line, Griffon was also a janitor for the men’s dormitory on the University of Oregon campus. Some information about Griffon’s life is shared on a memorial for him in the Eugene Masonic Cemetery.
We are aware only of Griffon’s work and brief story because white historians chose to recognize him and not others in official city records (see links below to research Wiley Griffon further). We can assume that Griffon was recorded because he had a prominent professional role in the community which was determined (by white officials) to be worthy enough to record. This does not mean he was the only Black resident that worked in Eugene at this time. But the exclusionary beliefs, policies, and practices by white historians and policy makers during the 1800s and 1900s has resulted in little understanding today of the lives and contributions of many BIPOC residents to the development of the larger Eugene community. However, the remembrance of stories of BIPOC communities still lives through their families and community.
Interestingly, a 2013 city paving project on Willamette Street uncovered 75-year-old urban railway tracks beneath our streets. These tracks were carefully removed for historical preservation. Archeologists determined that the tracks had been used between 1907 and 1927 to run an electric streetcar or trolley on the College Crest Line. You can see the route of this specific rail line in the map provided above. The City saved both the rail tracks and the basalt stones that supported them, and a few have even been repurposed for use in transportation projects around our community. You can see two of the historic rail segments at the intersection of Willamette and 20th Avenue.
In 2017, a plaque was installed honoring Wiley Griffon and his contribution to the Eugene community. The plaque is located near the site of Griffon’s former home, near the current location of EWEB, which was outside of Eugene city limits at the time Griffon lived there. The installation was supported by EWEB, Eugene City Council, and the Lane County NAACP. In 2019, local artist Ila Rose created a beautiful street mural honoring Griffon and his legacy on Willamette Street between 20th and 24th Avenues. This mural includes the historical evolution of transportation in Eugene, as well as a depiction of Griffon himself.
View more of Ila Rose’s work @ilaroseart or on her website, https://www.ilaroseart.com/
- SUNA Walking Tour: Streetcar Track: University Street
- KLCC: New Plaque Honors One Of Eugene’s First Black Residents
- KLCC: Mural Honors Wiley Griffon’s Legacy In Eugene
Walking While Black
This article is the fifth in a series focusing on anti-racism work in transportation planning. The series is meant to build a deeper understanding and awareness of the history of racism in transportation planning—both on a national scale and within our local community. This month’s article focuses on the barriers experienced by Black and Latinx people using active transportation in the United States.
Transportation planners work within the context of a legacy of institutionalized racism that shapes our transportation infrastructure and planning practices. Although safety is a primary consideration in transportation planning, the safety and experience of Black users has been overlooked. Transportation planning professionals have only recently begun to understand the barriers and violence experienced by Black and Latinx community members on our nation’s transportation systems. As a part of our learning process, the City of Eugene is looking to national studies about what it means to “bike/walk while Black.”
Transportation justice challenges historical and current transportation planning to ensure access to safe, reliable, and affordable transportation modes for all community members. The model of mobility justice goes further - envisioning a world where people feel safe in the streets and can experience the full joy of movement regardless of their physical ability, economic status, racial and/or cultural identity (StreetsBlog Chicago).
Portland State University’s Transportation Research and Education Center (TREC) featured a presentation by Dr. Jesus Barajas of UC Davis (Biking While Black: How Planning Contributes to Unjust Policing), which provides an in-depth history of transportation justice and details the discrimination and disproportionate impacts that Black and Latinx people experience on public streets. Barajas shares that Black and Latinx individuals riding bikes on public streets are disproportionately pulled over by law enforcement, harassed, and in worst cases shot and killed without reason. Further, although Black and Latinx Americans have lower overall rates of bike ridership than white Americans, they still make up a disproportionate rate of bicyclist fatalities.
The information above was documented in a study conducted by Equiticity, a Chicago-based organization that promotes mobility justice in Black and Latinx communities, in collaboration with UC Davis’ Institute of Transportation Studies. Research for the study was collected through interviews and surveys of members of the Black and Latinx communities about their experiences and transportation use. While we do not have data on the experiences of Black and Latinx community members walking and biking* in Eugene, the above study provides important context to ensure we design safe, accessible streets that address cultural and systemic barriers to active transportation.
In order to ensure mobility justice on Eugene’s streets, collaboration with community members is essential. One recent example of collaboration is the development of the Eugene Climate Action Plan (CAP) 2.0 recommendations for creating equitable resiliency around transportation actions to address climate change. An Equity Panel, comprised of community organizations, identified cultural and systemic barriers experienced by Eugene BIPOC and disability communities using our transportation system.
The recommendations in the CAP 2.0 also seek to address race-based harassment experienced on our bus system. Although active transportation is a popular strategy to address climate change, it is important to recognize that it is not by default always accessible or safe for communities of color. There is more work to be done, but this example of the City trying to understand community experiences and needs around active transportation, is one step towards designing transportation systems that meet the needs of Black and Latinx users.
*In 2006 the Eugene Police Department (EPD) became the first police agency in Oregon to train its entire police force in the topic of biased based policing using the nationally-recognized curriculum know as Perspectives in Profiling. The Oregon Criminal Justice Commission reviewed EPD’s data in 2019 and found EPD Equity During Traffic and Pedestrian Stops. Oregon Criminal Justice Commission has found no evidence Eugene Police Department conducts traffic or pedestrian stops, enforcement actions, searches, or arrests in disparate proportions for black or Hispanic populations. The CJC report on Eugene’s STOPs data confirms that our goals are being met and our community is experiencing processional service without discrimination toward any individual or group.
Mobility and Transit
This article is the sixth in a series focusing on anti-racism work in transportation planning. The series is meant to build a deeper understanding and awareness of the history of racism in transportation planning—both on a national scale and within our local community. This month’s article focuses on mobility justice, and the role that transit agencies play in providing equitable transportation within communities.
Transportation planners use the lenses of mobility and mobility justice to guide their work. In a transportation context, mobility is defined as having the ability and ease to move freely within your community as you desire, including getting to key destinations such as employers or grocery stores. Mobility justice envisions a world where people feel safe in the streets and can experience the full joy of movement regardless of their physical ability, economic status, racial and/or cultural identity. Having mobility within one’s community establishes better quality of life.
Transit agencies are key players in establishing equitable access and mobility for all community members. While mobility justice encompasses many types of modes and infrastructures, transit plays a key role. This is due to the disproportionate national rates of transit dependence in the Black population, and for those who live below the poverty line. (Center for Community Change, The Civil Rights Project)
The Center for Neighborhood Technology and the Institute for Sustainable Cities conducted a 2019 study; analyzing census data, interviews, and transportation systems around the US to look for gaps in equity that could be addressed through mobility justice. The study found that, “African American residents pay a larger portion of their household expenses for transportation costs, 24-26% more than white residents.” Further, regardless of income, African Americans are more likely to live in households with no vehicles.
In Lane County, surveys conducted by Lane Transit District (LTD) show similar patterns exist in our community. LTD is responsible for meeting Federal Title VI regulations for equitable services, creating a report every three years to document how they reach these standards. They also conduct an Origin and Destination survey every four years, collecting detailed data on rider demographics and how riders use transit.
The 2019 LTD Origin and Destination Report found:
- 71% of LTD riders report not having access to either a vehicle or driver’s license. This highlights the crucial role that transit agencies play in mobility justice.
- The majority (about 60%) of all LTD riders, regardless of frequency of trip, report having a yearly household income of less than $25,000. These rates are much higher than the national averages of transit users and their income, which find that only 23% of transit riders have an income of below $20,000. (Center for Community Change, The Civil Rights Project)
- LTD riders include a greater proportion of members of a minority ethnicity (26%) than the general Lane County population (10.9%).
The national and local data demonstrates that programs and policies that specifically address equity from an anti-racism perspective are essential. The data highlights that income levels, and fare affordability, are indicators in assessing and improving equitable access to transit. Locally LTD, in addition to a free student pass program, has offered a low-income fare program for over ten years, providing a 50% subsidy to nonprofit organizations that purchase bus passes for their low-income clients.
In 2020, LTD used funds from House Bill 2017 to make bus passes even more affordable, increasing the subsidy to 75%. More than forty-two nonprofit organizations participate in the low-income bus pass program, including Centro Latino Americano, Catholic Community Services, Cornerstone Community Housing, Looking Glass, Parenting Now, Shelter Care, and many more.
The future of equitable transit lies in a continued focus on reducing or removing barriers to use for every member of the community. During COVID-19, use of public transit dropped across the country due to exposure concerns and people working from home. Locally, LTD suspended the collection of fares in order to keep drivers and riders safe. Post COVID-19, one possible step towards equity and mobility justice in Lane County could be to seek funding to further lower transit fares. There are others paving the way, as some US cities have eliminated fares altogether on specific transit lines. This year, in January 2020, Luxembourg became the first country ever to eliminate fares on all public transportation nationwide.
- How Transportation Planners Can Advance Racial Equity and Environmental Justice
- There Is No Mobility Justice Without Racial Justice
- Race, Space, and Struggles for Mobility: Transportation Impacts on African Americans in Oakland and the East Bay
- Equity and Smart Mobility Report
- MOVING TO EQUITY: Addressing Inequitable Effects of Transportation Policies on Minorities
- What are the Differences between Mobility, Accessibility, and Connectivity in Transportation Planning?
- Mobility Justice and COVID-19
- LTD 2019 Origin and Destination Study