Link21 Public Engagement

BART and Capitol Corridor train in Northern California

Link21 Public Engagement

Equity at the Core of Planning and Implementation of Northern California’s 21-County Megaregion Rail Program

The Link21 Program aims to create a faster, more connected, equitable and accessible network of train service in Northern California. At the core of Link21 is a new train crossing between Oakland and San Francisco that will increase capacity and reliability for travelers.

The program will benefit the 21-county Northern California Megaregion, which stretches from Sacramento to Monterey and San Francisco to the Central Valley. Home to more than 12.7 million people, the megaregion is the fifth largest economy in the United States.

Link21 is sponsored by the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District and the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority, with support from the California State Transportation Agency. Together, Link21 and its partners will transform the passenger experience, promote equity, support economic opportunity and advance environmental stewardship.

HDR is providing public engagement and outreach services for the Link21 program, including significant work in prioritizing equity, as the agencies undertake this long-term effort.

One Team, Many Communications Strategies

Our strategic communications team has been involved since late 2020. In that time, we have supported Link21 in multiple ways, including wide information sharing through the development of project collateral, virtual webinars and more. Targeted grassroots awareness efforts included an in-depth co-creation process that involved community-based organizations from across the megaregion. This compensated co-creation process builds important relationships and trust with the communities that will be affected by the transit program.

To facilitate a unified message with interested parties and stakeholders, our team developed an equitable “one engagement program” that develops consistent messaging and tools for each level of conversation. This transparency and consistency ensures that every person who interacts with Link21 receives the same core message.

A key part of this “one engagement” approach is working with community organizations to find the best method of learning from them and compensating them for their participation. Instead of waiting for these organizations to approach the project with feedback, the team provides a menu of opportunities for community partners and asks them to share the best way they can be engaged. These opportunities include interviews, neighborhood tours, community events and more. For example, our team is working with organizations to do participatory mapping, in which groups walk around a community with its leaders and learn about the history and importance of specific locations. This information is then overlaid with demographic information and will be used to illustrate the community impacts of project concepts.

Consistently Focused on Equity

The advancement of equity is a key goal of the Link21 program, and the outreach team is intentionally working with historically marginalized communities to evaluate the impacts and benefits of project development. One key strategy has been the creation of an Equity Advisory Council. This group includes 18 representatives of diverse populations from across the 21-county region. Meeting every other month, the EAC will provide input on Link21 work and make formal recommendations to the program team to advance equity. HDR led the recruitment and selection of members and developed foundational documents such as the group’s bylaws, charter and honorarium pilot. Our team will facilitate and plan its ongoing meetings.

HDR’s team lives out this spirit of inclusion and equity through a collaborative team that includes 16 small business subconsultants, seven of which are disadvantaged business enterprises. These small local firms may not otherwise have the opportunity to work on a large-scale infrastructure program, and the partnership with HDR allows them to play a key role in the development of this transformative effort in the communities they live in. Importantly, as people passionate about the areas in which they live and work, they also provide key insights into the region as community liaisons.

Steady Progress

Currently in Phase 1 — Concept Identification — Link21 is identifying project options and developing its preliminary business case. It is scheduled to enter project selection and the environmental review process in 2024, when it will begin identifying the project alternatives.

BART and Capitol Corridor train in Northern California
Bay Area Rapid Transit, Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority

United States