A New Tool for Equitable Bike Planning
By: Martina Haggerty, senior director of local innovation
The Equitable Transportation Community (ETC) Explorer helps cities identify where to prioritize investments in bicycling and walking infrastructure.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) recently released the Equitable Transportation Community (ETC) Explorer, a new tool to help city planners, advocates, and elected officials plan more equitable transportation investments. This interactive web application helps identify historically underserved communities based on a variety of factors, including those that contribute to transportation insecurity, such as transportation access, safety, and cost burden.
The tool also assesses climate, disaster, and environmental burdens, providing decision-makers with the necessary information to construct resilient bike infrastructure in the face of climate change and natural disasters. The ETC Explorer's five lenses — Transportation Insecurity, Climate and Disaster Risk Burden, Environmental Burden, Health Vulnerability, and Social Vulnerability — provide a deeper understanding of the cumulative strain communities experience from underinvestment in transportation.
This tool is just one component of USDOT's efforts to confront and address decades of underinvestment in transportation as part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s Justice40 initiative. As a low-cost form of transportation, bikes are well poised to alleviate transportation insecurity, one of the more significant contributors to poverty that affects one-in-four Americans. Bikes can provide access to essential services and mitigate environmental and health stressors by reducing air pollution and promoting physical activity. They can also address social vulnerability by providing affordable, reliable transportation to employment and education opportunities.
In the last few years, some cities have developed their own equity measurement tools for transportation infrastructure. In 2021, New Orleans launched its Bicycle Equity Index to measure and track disparities in access to biking infrastructure. The index provides a score for each neighborhood based on access to bike lanes, bike share stations, bike parking, and safety to help the city identify areas needing additional investment. Similarly, since 2020, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has been developing its Transportation Equity Index, which aims to define equity problems and solutions (an initial version of Caltrans tool is expected to be released in mid-2023).
For communities that lack funding to develop their own custom tools, the ETC Explorer is a fantastic resource. This is especially important as most USDOT grant programs now require applicants to include equity considerations, such as identifying underserved communities and how proposed projects would reduce barriers to opportunity.
With the help of the ETC Explorer, more communities can prioritize work with underserved communities, especially as they compete for billions of dollars in USDOT funding for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure investments. By using the ETC Explorer to plan for investments, cities across the country can address decades of underinvestment in transportation and promote more equitable outcomes for all Americans.