Redistributing the Wealth:
Using the Clean Air Act and ISTEA to Create Social Equity
The Auto-Free Press usually focuses on projects, campaigns, and issues which are local to the Metropolitan Tri-State region. Occasionally, however, we like to step back and take a broader view. This piece, reprinted with permission from the journal of the American Planning Association, provides a national perspective on transportation, federal legislation, and social equity issues.
While much has been written about the interplay between the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 (CAAA) and the Inter-modal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA), little attention has been paid to how these laws can be tools for assessing and addressing the inequities of current development policies in the US. Both laws require a broader consideration of transportation policy and investment choices in light of their environmental consequences for communities. The Clean Air Act puts teeth in the requirement that regions with the worst air quality diversify transportation choices, by requiring them to commit to a 15 percent reduction in urban smog by 1996. The plans for these reductions must be filed by November 15,1994. Failure to comply will result in a series of federal sanctions, including, appropriately, the loss of highway funding. ISTEA provides unprecedented new funding with greater flexibility for shifting funds to alternative modes, and goes further to require the consideration of transportation's land use and social implications. These two laws are linked by a requirement that regions assure conformity between their transportation plans under ISTEA and their state agencies' plans for reducing air quality problems in Metropolitan areas under the Clean Air Act.
Why Focus on Metropolitan
Post-War Road Construction
The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 took the first step towards acknowledging that America's transportation problems don't begin and end with mobility. The combination of the CAM with ISTEA provides an opportunity to achieve the goals of redistributing transportation investment where it is most needed to combat environmental and community degradation with a series of carrots and sticks: flexible funding for a variety of modes of transportation, a new emphasis on environmental and community planning, new funds dedicated specifically to reducing vehicle dependence, substantial new funding to meet transportation needs in metropolitan areas, and a higher priority for maintenance of highways and transit systems over new construction. In addition, both laws provide for substantially greater public participation in transportation planning. Finally ISTEA provides for the establishment of a Bureau of Transportation Statistics to aid in both planning and in public access to information.
Second, it is possible for the first time to place a value directly on environmental and economic contributions made not only by shifting transportation modes (for example, from cars to mass transit, bicycling or walking), but also by reducing the demand for transportation. Thus, development oriented transit bicycles and pedestrians can all be seen to have value in the struggle to reverse vehicle trip growth. Planners can now analyze the overall effects of zoning that stresses end uses and amenities, and urban growth boundaries such as those in Oregon and Washington. Equitable access to meaningful jobs through housing and community development strategies has become critical in the fight for clean air.
Community Based Planning
Fourth, additions to mass-transit capacity take on new urgency and value. A partnership between the Regional Transportation Authority and local economic development organizations in Chicago added rail capacity to bring commuters from job-poor to job-rich communities. A recent evaluation of the project showed a fare box recovery ration of 101 percent Specialized bus and van services have been operated for more than a decade in cities like Atlanta and Chicago. And the projected $150 billion expenditure in the 30-year Los Angeles-area transportation plan has provoked a lively debate over the equity effects of spending money on fixed rail versus flexible route buses.
Finally, legal and regulatory tools that may not usually be regarded as the stuff of transportation or air-quality planning provide value as well. There are incentives in the Community Reinvestment Act for lenders to reinvest responsibly in their primary service territories, as well as civil rights legislation that mandates equitable distribution of housing, job benefits, and public investment The new least-cost and integrated resource planning requirements of state public utility commissions may also present models for least-cost transportation planning.
All of these aid in the challenge of developing our regions sensibly. They suggest that the large and politically sustainable coalition needed to achieve the vision outlined in ISTEA may indeed exist.