The Intersection of Civil Rights and Transportation

At a Crossroads: The Intersection of Civil Rights and Transportation, its past and the future

This week, Secretary Foxx has shined a light on how and why transportation and access to opportunity are intimately linked. Here in the Departmental Office of Civil Rights we’ve made it our mission to ensure that understanding resonates not only with civil rights practitioners and transportation industry leadership but also every person who uses our nation’s transportation network.

Earlier this month, our annual Civil Rights Virtual Symposium – this year entitled Speaking with One Voice: Accelerating Access to Opportunity – connected over one thousand civil rights experts, industry officials and key stakeholders focused on sharing strategies on increasing access and opportunity throughout our nation’s transportation infrastructure.

Focusing on principles of civil rights, diversity and inclusion, twelve sessions spread over three days explored emerging issues relating to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, environmental justice, accessibility for persons with disabilities, the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) Program, and achieving a diverse and inclusive workplace.

In a session entitled “Building Transportation Equity: Identifying Title VI Issues Throughout the Transportation Project Cycle,” experts emphasized that issues of access and equity should be considered at the beginning of the transportation decision-making process to ensure that no one community is disproportionately burdened by proposals.  Two sessions focused on strategies for ensuring full participation in DOT’s signature Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program and best practices for partnership.   The Symposium closed with a tribute to the Montgomery Bus Boycott – an iconic civil rights event in American and transportation history. Federal Executive Institute’s Dr. Marcia Ledlow highlighted strategic lessons from that historic moment that could be applied to achieve further change today.

For decades, we measured the success of our transportation efforts on the performance of the system, condition of the structural capacity and how efficiently we moved people from point A to point B. But we must reframe our thinking and keep the end users in mind. We must remember what is going on between point A and point B.

That’s why we are continually increasing efforts to remove barriers from federally sponsored projects; updating the Department’s Title VI order and strengthening guidance for grantees; enhancing compliance reviews and training for the DBE program; and increasing transparency in the adoption of the Americans with Disabilities Act Transition Plans.

I’m elated that Secretary Foxx understands that inclusion and accessibility is not solely relegated to Civil Rights leadership but something for which everyone has responsibility. By adopting that mindset and empowering all USDOT employees he has made sure that: “Through transportation, we can help ensure that the rungs on the ladder of opportunity aren’t so far apart.”