Transit Justice & Health

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Our current national transportation system has many direct adverse health consequences: pollution-related asthma, disincentives for physical activity, and the associated rise in obesity and chronic illnesses are just a few examples. Transportation options affect health indirectly by connecting people to jobs, medical care, healthy food outlets, and other necessities.  Traditionally, transportation choices in this country have been made inside policy “silos” that isolate decisions on how we commute and travel from decisions on how we live.  OPAL’s Transit Justice and Health Campaign responds to these challenges in three ways:

  • OPAL’s East Portland Transportation and Health Equity Project focuses on leveraging community voice and participation to work cooperatively and strategically with local government and community stakeholders on tangible, achievable projects, while also working with local elected leaders on developing and crafting transportation and health equity policy language specific to addressing the social determinants of health.  OPAL sponsors quarterly Environmental Justice trainings, conducts policy research with OPAL’s People and Policy Campaign, and advocates within the East Portland Action Plan and the East Portland Enhancement Plan processes.
  • OPAL’s Bus Riders Unite! is a community building and mobilizing effort among bus-dependent people in the Metro Portland Trimet service district.  We focus on meeting, educating, and empowering those most affected by the decline in bus service and the increase in fares.  We seek to identify disparities in funding and service to our communities, and advocate for more accessible, affordable, and safe Triment bus service.  Our focus on mass transit is an integral piece of environmental and social justice in the Pacific Northwest.  OPAL outreaches to bus riders primarily on the #4, #9, #20, #71 and #72 lines, organizes monthly bus rider meetings, and mobilizes to win improved equity and health through public transportation.
  • Transportation Health Equity Network is an emerging network of organizations based primarily in Metro Portland, Oregon, who serve local, regional and state community interests.  Co-chaired by OPAL and the Coalition for a Livable Future, the network includes representatives from 1000 Friends of Oregon, Bicycle Transportation Alliance, Ride Connection, Upstream Public Health, Community Cycling Center, Willamette Pedestrian Coalition, Multnomah County Health Equity Initiative, and Oregon Tradewoman Inc. For more detailed information on how transportation and equity effect public health, please read the following section.

Transportation Health Equity

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 the elderly, disabled, low-income and communities of color, particularly those adjacent to freeways and highways, who 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.


  • PolicyLink Transportation Prescription: Bold New Ideas for a Healthy, Equitable Transportation System 2009