Equity-First Transportation Funding: Reversing a History of Infrastructure Discrimination
The Equity-First Transportation Funding Act (AB 1525, Bonta) will require 60% of California’s transportation funds to benefit “priority populations.” The money must provide a direct, meaningful, and assured benefit to such populations and must address an important mobility need. State agencies will need to develop a definition of priority populations, but we will advocate for historically marginalized communities, many already identified by California’s Air Resources Board and UCLA through their development of the Transportation Disparity Mapping Tool.
Transportation planning and policies have historically discriminated against, segregated, and displaced immigrants, low-income people, and communities of color, bolstering racial and class inequalities. Current mobility planning processes and decisions often perpetuate these harms.
CalBike is committed to working to undo the structural racism and inequity built into California’s transportation infrastructure and policymaking.
Low-income communities of color often suffer most from inadequate and unsafe transportation infrastructure, whether it’s a larger concentration of dangerous high-speed streets, more concentrated air pollution coming from cars and trucks, or simply terrible road conditions, as reported by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in a report analyzing the correlation between poor road conditions and underserved communities. Remedying infrastructure inequality is long overdue and continues to be exacerbated by state policy.
Infrastructure as an instrument of inequity
Historically, policies on where and how to build roads and freeways have increased inequity, sometimes deliberately harming communities. For example, it’s no coincidence that roads and infrastructure up and down the state were built through Chinatowns (a freeway in Oakland, Union Station in Los Angeles, among others). Historically Black neighborhoods were isolated or decimated by freeway construction. A 2020 LA Times op-ed stated that “[The Los Angeles] freeway system is one of the most noxious monuments to racism and segregation in the country.”
Racist freeway projects aren’t an artifact of the distant past. In recent years, City Heights CDC fought the construction of a freeway designed to serve suburban communities through an area of San Diego already overburdened with pollution.
And transportation inequity at the neighborhood level is rampant. Across California, you’re likely to find poorly maintained or missing sidewalks, curb cuts, bus stops, traffic signals, bike lanes, and roads in disadvantaged areas.
A movement to fix our unequal roads
The Equity-First Transportation Funding Act will prioritize transportation funding for projects in disadvantaged neighborhoods, giving communities an incentive to begin to fix the inequities built into our public infrastructure. It’s part of a growing recognition of the connection between road building and racism and the beginnings of a movement to repair these harms.
The most recent federal transportation bill included $1 billion to take down freeways built through communities of color. The Congress for New Urbanism issues a Freeways Without Futures report every two years, highlighting freeways that can and should be removed to rebuild communities. The 2023 report included one in California (980 in Oakland).
A 2022 bill to ban freeway widening projects that negatively impact disadvantaged communities failed to pass the legislature, but AB 1525 is a fresh approach to providing equitable infrastructure for all Californians. CalBike strongly supports this bill, and we hope you will too.