Oregon DOT Social Equity White Paper

Public tram in Portland, Oregon

Oregon DOT Social Equity White Paper

Baking Social Equity into Oregon’s Transportation Planning

The Oregon Transportation Commission has made equity a top priority, and HDR’s equity team is helping the Oregon Department of Transportation turn that into actionable planning.

The first step was to develop a social equity white paper — a primer on how to achieve social equity process and outcome objectives by defining the term social equity and identifying best practices.

HDR provided project management, led interviews and developed the final report. We performed 70% of the project work as the prime consultant.

The final report differentiated equality from equity and explained why environmental justice is distinct from achieving the priority of equity. It highlighted why social equity is urgent to address, from federal executive orders and USDOT policies to responding to social movements to dismantle racism. The report draws from innovation in public health policy that addresses equity, makes the case for why transportation is a social determinant of health, and connects social equity to ODOT’s 2021-2026 Climate Action Plan, which calls for climate justice as an action.

This project lays the foundation for two other pieces of equity planning: the social equity component of an update to the statewide transportation plan and advising ODOT on how to update their funding programs for safety and people walking and bicycling to prioritize social equity. Both efforts respond to findings that people disproportionately die while walking and biking in low-income or racially diverse areas. 

Social Equity White Paper

The project involved performing a literature review of transportation equity considerations, interviewing agency executive leadership in the organization to understand the organizational change necessary to strive towards social equity, interviews with peer departments of transportation as well as cities with robust equity programs. The white paper defines the term equity for ODOT and serves as a primer for decision-makers and committees involved in the Oregon Transportation Plan. The document lists best practices that fall within two dimensions of social equity: process (who participates and how) and outcomes (what are the specific goals, objectives and policy strategies to strive towards more equitable outcomes). The team identified the policy approach of targeted universalism, which sets a universal policy for the population as a whole and targets policies that address the unique situatedness of sub-groups, particularly those who have been systemically excluded and historically underserved.

The work speaks to the need to shift and balance power towards people who have been disenfranchised, and sometimes outright harmed by past transportation decisions. The best practices list attitudes, actions, policy considerations and social equity tools, such as the use of social equity lenses with the goal of improving outcomes for people who have been systemically excluded and historically underserved, particularly along the lines of race.

The team provided ODOT with a stronger pathway towards achieving greater social equity, backed by best practices from other jurisdictions and policymaking literature. Our team, entirely made up of women of color, also lent the work additional credibility as they were able to relate to lived experiences of people that have been historically excluded and underserved. During the development of the paper, HDR sought local expertise from small/disadvantaged businesses and teamed with two DBE companies as subconsultants.

Setting the Stage for More Equity Planning

The equity white paper will serve as the foundation for a new section in the Oregon Transportation Plan, another planning effort that HDR is leading for ODOT.

The plan will serve as the state’s primary policy document for its entire transportation system and provides policy directives for all local communities within Oregon. It is scheduled to be finished in 2025.

Meanwhile, HDR is also advising ODOT on ways to adapt their funding programs for safety and people walking and bicycling to address and prioritize social equity, using equity lenses and design criteria based on established crash reduction factors that can be implemented quickly and make ODOT’s system more multimodal and affordable overall.

Recommendations will focus on items that can be implemented quickly on the ODOT system, including but not limited to speed limit changes, signal improvements, signing, pavement markings, illuminations, and other infrastructure solutions that benefit pedestrian and bicycle safety. The prioritization method will be data driven, consider social equity and work from the ODOT Office of Social Equity. That evaluation is on track to be completed in mid-2022.

Public tram in Portland, Oregon
Oregon Department of Transportation

Salem, OR
United States