Transit Justice & Health

Transportation inequities are particularly pervasive manifestations of injustice, as they directly result in limited opportunities for positive healthy outcomes. The US spends $60 billion dollars per year on the transportation system, with ODOT and TriMet spending hundreds of millions more, and how these dollars are spent, who has access to the amenities and jobs and who participates in the planning process are all critical equity concerns for metropolitan areas. Transportation is central to everyone’s life, but not all residents are able to enjoy the benefits of this massive public investment. More importantly, those most impacted by this inequitable investment are significantly excluded from the very decision-making process that produces those unjust outcomes. Transit is a lifeline for many people and can mean the difference between a job, safe housing, education, and access to services and recreation. Our current transportation system has many direct adverse health consequences, such as asthma, disincentives for physical activity and the associated rise in obesity and chronic illnesses. The goal of making transportation more efficient is not to move people faster and farther but to offer more options and greater access to all the amenities necessary for a healthy life: jobs, education, family, and recreation.

To understand how transportation injustice impacts local citizens, watch Adela’s Journey:


The disenfranchisement of low-income people and people of color (along with other transit-dependent populations, such as youth, seniors, and people with disabilities), is compounded by the intersection of transportation, housing and health. The most transit-dependent families are often the same families that lack mobility in the housing market, forced to live in cheap housing far from the urban core (and jobs and services) along major freeways and thoroughfares, put at greater risk of exposure to air toxics that continues to increase as our regional government continues to decrease transit operations spending. The root causes of this disenfranchisement ultimately lie in the structural racialization of opportunity – Portland metro’s progressive land use planning and politics have created opportunity zones and sacrifice zones. Racial and socioeconomic health disparities will persist unless there is a radical shift in power, access and values-based decision-making inclusive of equity concerns.

We believe the Portland metro region is ready for an equitable, world-class transportation system in which transportation success is measured by equity, safety, and accessibility.  Transportation equity is fairness in transportation that results in equal access and well-being for all people.

Transportation is a basic human need.  People travel in order to meet all of their needs – work, school, health care, and cultural places for example.  Our metro Portland community has a right to affordable and accessible transportation systems, including public transit, sidewalks, bicycle lanes and parkways, to clean air, land and water, and to vibrant town centers well served by multiple transportation options. Focusing on transportation equity will improve our communities in a myriad of ways.


  • Our transportation system impacts the health of people in the Portland metro area.  By increasing active transportation opportunities, we can make a positive impact on health through such things as improvements to air quality and safety, noise-reduction, and increasing physical activity, social cohesion, and healthy food access.
  • Increasing transportation choices will improve health for our most vulnerable populations, including seniors, people with disabilities, low-income people and communities of color. People whose neighborhoods are adjacent to freeways and highways frequently suffer disproportionate negative impacts from the road system and receive fewer of the benefits.
  • Building transportation systems that promote social cohesion, livable neighborhoods, and improve quality of life for local residents is key to increasing vital opportunities for human interaction.


  • Public investments creating affordable and accessible public transportation options will significantly improve global climate conditions and diminish the unequal burdens on vulnerable populations created by climate change.


  • Integrating land use and transportation planning through design that shares equally the environmental benefits and impacts of our transportation system is essential to promoting livable communities.


  • We must assess and mitigate issues of gentrification and displacement to preserve and improve multicultural integrity.
  • Maintaining public transportation as well as bicycle and pedestrian systems creates green jobs. Fully funding these systems will sustain and create living-wage jobs with benefits, and preserve significant tax-payer investments in public infrastructure.
  • Ensuring high wage, skilled jobs are accessible to members of all our communities is essential.  We must utilize equity criteria for contracting that supports fair access to training and jobs for communities of color and women in trades.
  • Include effective connections from housing to jobs in criteria for infrastructure and operations.


  • There must be a strong multicultural community voice in transportation decision-making and public commitment to process transparency.
  • It is especially important that our public transportation system be responsive to those it affects most: communities of color, immigrants, working-class, disabled people, students, seniors, and under-served areas.
  • We are committed to building a base among transit riders and the communities most affected by public transportation.  A strategy for developing leadership among members of these communities must always be central to our work.  As we organize with our base we will also reach out to develop alliances with other individuals, affinity groups, and organizations with whom we have values in common.