February 18, 2021

get [t]here: Exploring Mobility Challenges in Gateway Cities
get [t]here: Exploring Mobility Challenges in Gateway Cities

Over the past decade, numerous studies and reports, preceded by years of local activism and anecdotes, have collectively shown stark differences in experiences with mobility throughout Greater Boston. In 2017, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) reported that, on average, Black passengers spend 64 more hours per year aboard MBTA buses (with Latinx passengers spending 10 more hours aboard) when compared to white riders (1). Despite current efforts by city agencies, community organizations, and others, the legacy of discriminatory community development policies and practices has left cities scarred and incomplete. This legacy continues to influence the flow of capital and investments made into the built environment, resulting in communities where considerable challenges remain in how residents move freely, safely, and comfortably. These inequities have been noticeably compounded by the coronavirus pandemic; Boston neighborhoods most impacted by COVID-19 are also those neighborhoods with the highest proportions of essential workers in the city (2), who still largely rely on public transit to get to work (3).

These realities suggest an urgent need to map the intricacies of mobility choices and transit networks, to understand the quality and reliability of specific transit options, simulate predicted effects of alternative proposals, or make the case for where non-transit services and infrastructure are needed in specific communities. With funding from the Barr Foundation, Sasaki and the Sasaki Foundation have created get [t]here, an online story map that explores mobility challenges and opportunities for equitable investment in Gateway Cities, specifically Lynn and Malden.

With equity as the core value of this project, the team sought to focus on people and communities disproportionately harmed by their environment. So, the decision was made to center environmental justice communities (EJCs) (4) in our analysis, which acknowledges that EJCs, and the people who reside in them, are not necessarily at risk or more susceptible to harm purely based on demographic factors/socioeconomic statuses. Rather, it is the surrounding environment (natural, built, etc.), formed through laws, policies, and practices, that causes harm. Indeed, equitable investment in both people and the environment that surrounds them is critical to realizing cities and communities that are more cohesive and whole. It is in this spirit that get [t]here begins to explore and understand how residents in EJCs currently access local amenities and essential services, what the existing challenges are, and what and where opportunities might be for equitable investment in how they navigate their communities (5).

To explore the question, “what and where are the opportunities to improve mobility choices,” the process began with an interactive survey, a combination of Sasaki’s CoMap and CrowdGauge platforms. Through CoMap, community members spatialized their mobility needs and the specific challenges faced during their commutes. Through CrowdGauge, community members expressed their mobility priorities, observed how specific projects can support their needs, and provided feedback on which ones could make a difference in their communities. The survey results provided a snapshot of which residents live in EJCs, where they may be going, and how their commutes compare to residents who do not live in EJCs.

Our team then overlaid existing datasets to the online map to highlight potential strategies and opportunities for improving those conditions. We pulled from common datasets like the American Community Survey (ACS), the Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics (LEHD) origin-destination employment statistics (LODES), and the MBTA, and then added the mapped results from the interactive survey to bring a more nuanced and human element to the story. As an example, here is a specific snapshot provided by the interactive survey. The dots represent locations where respondents have faced challenges while walking, but we disaggregated the data to identify which dots were placed by respondents living in EJCs.
get [t]here survey snapshot
Sasaki Foundation in partnership with Sasaki

Mobility is a complex and dynamic phenomenon, and a unique experience that varies widely from one neighborhood to the next and from one person to another. Our focus on EJCs recognizes that communities are not all created equal, which leads to disparate experiences in how people freely, safely, and comfortably navigate their communities. In addition, where equity is a driving, core value, it is necessary to disaggregate data and explore the nuance in the lived experiences of people. This is especially true when factoring how the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted lives and how that disruption varies geographically.

What our team aspired to accomplish with this work was to share a narrative that analyzed existing data, but also began to look beyond it to explore the nuances of mobility as experienced, specifically, by those living in EJCs. We hope this exploration can continue at the local level to help direct conversations and decisions on equitable investment in ways that acknowledge and address the margins of mobility access.


get [t]here
Sasaki Foundation in partnership with Sasaki

Check out the get [t]here website to further explore this project and see what else we learned!

This project is part of the Mobility Innovator, a year-long initiative led by the Sasaki Foundation, funded by the Barr Foundation, and in partnership with Sasaki, that addresses mobility challenges in the Boston region through the lenses of resiliency and equity. The Mobility Innovator will continue to advance the work with Lynn and Malden, partnering with MIT to host two community conversations as part of MIT’s Mobility Equity Symposium in summer 2021 and MIT’s Mobility Summit in fall 2021.

End Notes:

  1. “State of Equity in Metro Boston.” Metropolitan Area Planning Council. http://www.regionalindicators.org/topic_areas/7
  2. “Data Show COVID-19 Is Hitting Essential Workers and People of Color Hardest.” ACLU Massachusetts. https://data.aclum.org/2020/04/07/covid-19-disproportionately-affects-vulnerable-populations-in-boston/
  3. “Demands of ‘Essential’ Work Put Boston’s Neighborhoods of Color at Higher Risk.” StreetsBlog Mass. https://mass.streetsblog.org/2020/04/27/demands-of-essential-work-put-bostons-neighborhoods-of-color-at-higher-risk/
  4. environmental justice: the equal protection and meaningful involvement of all people with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies and the equitable distribution of environmental benefits
  5. The environmental justice movement began in the late 1960s by local activists and advocates who lived in communities repeatedly devastated by environmental harms and were centers of public health crises. “Environmental Justice.” United States Environmental Protection Agency. https://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice


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