Emerging Perspectives on Transportation Justice

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Transportation Research Part D-Transport and Environment

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Introduction This special issue on transportation justice was motivated by ongoing—and seemingly intractable and unjust—disparities in transportation system benefits and burdens around the world. Transportation planning and infrastructure decisions often ignore the needs of transportation-disadvantaged populations. This creates inequitable outcomes and results in situations where many cannot meet basic needs for mobility and access. In general, drivers enjoy shorter travel times, greater accessibility, and better employment outcomes than those who use other modes. Cyclists of color are more likely to be killed or injured in crashes and subject to law enforcement than white cyclists, and wealthier populations are more likely to have access to high-quality public transit than low-income residents. Furthermore, transportation’s dependence on fossil fuels results in substantial greenhouse gas emissions, driving global climate change. It is well documented that the harms of climate change will fall on society’s most vulnerable. Our transportation systems, travel behaviors, and policies are therefore critical sites for advancing and implementing equity and justice ideals—creating a world where people have true access to the transportation resources they need to lead meaningful, joyful, fulfilling, and dignified lives. We had no preconceptions about the types of manuscripts we would receive for this special issue. Ultimately, the 20 papers included here represent the broad range of theory, methods, and substantive research questions that were being employed and pursued in this growing subfield as of late 2022. In the sections that follow, we compare and contrast the manuscripts along multiple dimensions. First, we differentiate between articles that focus on describing disparities in transportation systems and those that seek to understand the roots of the disparities while making prescriptive arguments about how to address them. We then highlight more radical approaches to transportation scholarship that question traditional decision-making processes and power dynamics and call for more transformative approaches to solving equity challenges. Not surprisingly, only a handful of articles move beyond what we call a ‘reformist’ approach to question underlying structures and conventions. We then dive into the ongoing discussion and debate regarding access and accessibility measures, noting multiple articles in this special issue which engage in critical access-related questions. Finally, we identify multiple studies that push the boundaries of data and analytical methods, grasping at more advanced techniques in an attempt to advance equity and justice goals. In the conclusions, we describe how emerging perspectives on mobility justice can be used to identify and transcend the limitations embedded within typically employed planning and engineering approaches. Importantly, a mobility justice framing points towards research that fundamentally disrupts the existing structural conditions that perpetuate injustice.


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