Working in Underserved Communities

Working in Underserved Communities

At the Intersection of Active Transportation and Equity

Some people think of walking and bicycling as a middle-class concern, but safe and convenient walking and bicycling are of profound importance for low-income communities and communities of color. Low-income Americans currently walk and bicycle more than upper-income Americans, and the fastest growth in bicycling is occurring among people of color. Limited transportation options for low-income individuals and families lead to restricted employment possibilities, missed doctors’ appointments, low school attendance, and many other deleterious effects, and safe and convenient walking and bicycling are a significant piece of overcoming these challenges. In addition, there are many benefits of active transportation, particularly for health and air quality in low-income communities and communities of color.

Our report, At the Intersection of Active Transportation and Equity: Joining Forces to Make Communities Healthier and Fairerexplores the complexities of equitable active transportation and the issues that arise at the junction of efforts to advance walking and bicycling and work to increase health, fairness, and opportunity for low-income communities and communities of color. This report is a valuable resource for advocates, organizations, and health and transportation professionals working in low-income communities.

Overcoming Obstacles in Low-Income Communities

Serving vulnerable communities through the federal Safe Routes to School program is a priority for the Safe Routes Partnership. We have developed resources to help state advocates and state Departments of Transportation (DOTs) work together to develop proactive policies to assist the most underserved communities in planning for, applying for and implementing Safe Routes to School grants.

Underserved communities can face many challenges associated with applying for and implementing Safe Routes to School grants. For example, applying for a federally funded Safe Routes to School award through a state DOT can be a time-consuming endeavor requiring expertise and assistance from local planners and engineers, as well as coordination with the school district and city. Once a project is awarded funding, local award recipients must comply with federal highway regulations, which can require additional expertise and staffing to complete paperwork and submit for approvals. Additionally, the program is operated on a reimbursement basis, meaning that schools and localities must expend the funds and then wait for reimbursement.

These aspects can create challenges for underserved communities in a number of ways. Schools in underserved areas are often understaffed, meaning that their availability to spearhead a Safe Routes to School award may be limited. These schools also face significant challenges in absorbing the costs of carrying out a Safe Routes to School project while waiting for reimbursement. Finally, these communities may lack access to city or county engineering staff with the expertise necessary to implement the project and comply with federal and state regulatory processes.

We can help underserved communities navigate the complexities of transportation funding and policies by providing coaching and technical assistance through our work with Voices for Healthy Kids: Active Places.