Are we keeping up? Accessibility, equity and air quality in regional planning

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - north america, land use - planning, land use - impacts, planning - environmental impact, planning - service improvement, planning - network design, policy - equity, policy - environment


Accessibility, Equity, Air polution


Many US metropolitan areas have undergone dramatic shifts in socioeconomic organization.. As urban areas gentrify, many low-income residents and communities of color have transitioned towards the exurban periphery. These suburban neighborhoods tend to have fewer employment opportunities and are fairly disconnected from public transportation networks serving the urban core. Using regional transportation plans (RTPs) for three California MPOs, we show that the transportation accessibility and environmental health issues affecting these exurban communities are unique and inadequately captured by the MPOs' current equity metrics. MPOs performance evaluation is regional and achieving equity within the urban core communities will not address emerging equity, accessibility and air quality concerns for exurban communities. With a brief history and a focused case study of RTPs for the San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego, and Fresno, we examine how air pollution, equity, and transportation interact in three different types of 21st century cities. We find that when allocating limited transportation funds, California metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) prioritize the improvement of existing public transportation in urban core areas over expansion of transit networks towards disconnected exurbs. This approach is an effective way to reduce vehicle miles traveled (and thus, air pollution) at the regional level due to high population concentrations in urban cores. However, this approach also concentrates the air quality benefits of VMT reduction in these same urban core areas. Exurban residents' on-road and near-road exposure to Traffic-Related Air Pollution (TRAP) will not be reduced by improving public transit within the urban core. We argue that although these suburban and exurban communities are a small percentage of the regional population, they have a right to share in the benefits of transportation investments, particularly given the historical and ongoing patterns of displacement and economic exclusion from urban core areas.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Elsevier, copyright remains with them.


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