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The Challenge of Equitable Mobility

by Debra Lam

Equitable access to mobility – or lack thereof – drives a great deal of the stratification of society in Georgia and elsewhere. Economic mobility often hinges on physical access to the available economic and other opportunities. 

This is changing, but transportation systems in the United States are often fragmented by geographic and political boundaries and lack a shared vision. Despite the vast differences among various transport systems, some common challenges include: 

  1. Lack of a shared definition of transportation equity
  2. Fragmented systems and overlapping jurisdictions 
  3. Lack of coordination with local land use, zoning and housing agencies 
  4. Insufficient funding and a lack of dedicated funding from non-transportation related sources

In the U.S., a car-centric transportation system and widespread under-development of public transportation exacerbates existing income inequality, as access to transportation is often determined by race and class. The lack of reliable public transportation in low-income areas of Georgia, for example, often renders work, educational opportunities and health care inaccessible, from the type of schools available to better jobs. 

Increasing and integrating multimodal access to public transportation allows more people to get to more places in faster, cheaper and more convenient ways. This includes going to work and school, doctor’s visits, getting groceries and doing other shopping. Such trips spur economic development, improve health outcomes and decrease carbon emissions.  


Sustaining efficiency through innovation 

The Partnership for Inclusive Innovation is driving equitable development in communities across Georgia through community-led efforts to improve the conditions and efficiency of local mobility systems. 

The City of Valdosta and students from Valdosta State University are leveraging The Partnership’s GA Smart Communities Challenge grant funding. The city has implemented a smart-traffic management system connecting 128 traffic signals throughout the city in order to drive efficiency, expedite emergency response and reduce congestion and travel times. 

In the city of Peachtree Corners, the Smart Communities Corps interns alongside Dr. Srinivas Peeta developed systematic deployment tools that communities can use to meet sustainable travel goals. These tools will be personalized behavioral interventions that incentivize drivers to consider sustainable alternatives that improve mobility while reducing the environmental footprint.

In Woodstock, just north of Atlanta, the city has developed a masterplan that will optimize infrastructure needs with a grant funded by Georgia Smart. The plan included a corresponding Smart Corridor Study, which has been continued by Smart Community Corps interns analyzing the data captured by new traffic signal sensors.

The Ray is an ambitious transportation project aimed at increasing accessibility and sustainability. With the collaboration of the State of Georgia’s Center for Innovation and Smart Community Corps, The Ray promises to improve transport infrastructure. The “Suggest-a-Tech” program will encourage direct suggestions from and collaboration with technologists and entrepreneurs to advance The Ray’s sustainability and efficiency goals.


Steps to ameliorate a lack of mobility

Transportation funding and other initiatives in Georgia offer enormous potential as drivers of equity and increased opportunity. A network of public and private actors, such as the Transportation Equity Caucus and the Center for Mobility Equity, are working to implement policy and planning that prioritizes equity through public transportation: 

  • The Atlanta Regional Commission’s Livable Centers Initiative complements larger public infrastructure investments and incentivizes local jurisdictions to re-envision their spaces as walkable areas with improved mobility options. 
  • MARTA, already the largest transport network in the state, has a billion dollar expansion program in the works. The project will drive connectivity around the Atlanta Beltline. 
  • The “Complete Trip-ITS4US” project will make transport more accessible for elderly and disabled people with features such as a mobility platform, a mobile app, integration with connected vehicle infrastructure and navigation that includes information on services such as accessible walking paths. 
  • The Socially Aware Mobility Project plans to develop a local model for equitable and sustainable development on the global stage: “A scalable, on-demand transit system will revolutionize transit not only in Atlanta but also has the potential to be adopted in cities around the world.” 
  • One of the Georgia Planning Association’s policy priorities at the state level is safe and resilient transportation and infrastructure, including how planning can employ policy to create the future of equitable transportation.  


Increased mobile equity through collective action

It’s clear that given common obstacles, thoroughly engaging governments, private organizations and community members in decision making around public transport is a useful model to improve access to mobility.

Given the unique challenges, histories and needs presented by individual communities, there can be no single solution for the development of equitable, sustainable systems of transportation. Rather, collaborative efforts to engage communities in the planning and design of the systems intended to serve them will foster growth in access to health care, education and employment. 

Ultimately, it is not only as individuals that we stand to gain from efforts to increase equity in transportation, but as a Georgia, national and global community. 

About the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation

Launched in 2020, the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation is a public-private organization that was created to lead coordinated, statewide efforts to position Georgia as the leader for innovation, opportunity and shared economic success. The Partnership’s focus pillars of community research, workforce development, student engagement and economic opportunity are a powerful combination that provides technical and financial support to open innovation through collaboration. Since 2020, the Partnership’s work has deployed over $3M in capital and resources throughout the State and catalyzed 30+projects with local governments, universities, start-ups and nonprofits. The projects have created new businesses, increased access to financial and social capital, and deployed more than 170 technologies.

More information is available at www.pingeorgia.org.

About The Author: Debra Lam is the Founding Executive Director at the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation


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