Solano County is one of the most diverse regions in the nation. But how should that diversity be reflected in transportation projects? The Solano Transportation Authority sought a way to demonstrate a commitment to consider and prioritize equity into its plans, projects, programs, and investments. And to help their journey, they a retained nationally-recognized expert: Professor Charles Brown of Rutgers University.
Situated between the Bay Area and Sacramento regions, Solano County connects the two largest Northern California Metropolitan Statistical Areas. Although this position as a conduit between two growing regions makes it special, what makes the county truly unique is its diversity. The last US Census found that the Solano County city of Vallejo ranked first in the nation for diversity (as this New York Times story highlighted); Suisun City ranked third, and Fairfield 14th. This diversity continues to increase, as reflected in the 2017 American Community Survey.
Recognizing diversity as an asset worth protecting, the Solano Transportation Authority (STA) is changing the way it prioritizes mobility to ensure transportation truly works for all of its residents. STA has spent much of the last year (check) analyzing how equity can be integrated into traditional plans for highways, roads, transit, and active transportation as part of an update to the countywide Comprehensive Transportation Plan (CTP).
The result is a first-in-state (that we know of) “Equity Principles” within the transportation plan. The principles represent STA’s continuing commitment to understanding and embracing the region’s ethnic diversity, its growing number of older adults, and the needs of the other groups based on gender, income, age, and abilities.
“We understood the importance of hearing from those who represent a cross-section of our community,” said Suisun’s Mayor Lori Wilson, who serves as Chair of the Equity Working Group. “We worked hand-in-hand to develop an equity chapter that would speak to each group represented.”
The Equity Chapter is designed to proactively engage the public on their mobility needs, explore existing transportation inequities within the county, and create strategies or principles to guide future transportation projects and program development.
Previously, the STA has addressed equity informally or on a case by case basis specific planning documents or mobility programs for older adults and persons with disabilities. This new approach weaves equity throughout all planning. An example of this scope was reflected that the STA mission statement was amended by the STA board to include the words “for all.”
How They Did It
- Basic Outreach: they worked through their community networks to get a small but representative group to work with selected board members to have frank discussions. The group was comprised of 14 community leaders and 4 STA Board Members.
- Retained a Technical Expert to support the committee. In this case, it was Professor Charles Brown of Rutgers University, whose expertise is in transportation planning, policy, and research. Brown facilitated the group’s discussions, and assisted STA staff with authoring and editing the draft Equity Chapter.
- Focus: the Equity Working Group was tasked specifically with discussing how equity issues within the county relate to transportation and how STA could be more proactive in addressing inequities.
- Public Input. The Equity Working Group facilitated three public workshops (including one online) to collect feedback on the draft Transportation Equity Guiding Principles.