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Column: Prioritize racial equity in our transportation plan
Rosa Parks, born Feb. 4, 1913, became a leader of the civil rights movement after she refused to give up her bus seat to a white man on Dec. 1, 1955. Commemorated in school projects and recognitions across the United States, Rosa Parks has become an iconic figure of American history and the movement which she inspired. For the past four years, a network of transit rider unions, community organizations, environmental groups and labor unions have organized #TransitEquityDay on Feb. 4, national day of action to commemorate the birthday of Rosa Parks, by declaring that public transit is a civil right and working to support equitable, accessible and sustainable public transportation.
With the murder of George Floyd — and countless other BIPOCs (Black, indigenous and people of color) — 2020 saw an eruption of anti-racist mass mobilization across the United States. The major metro areas of the Quad Cities are no stranger to Black Lives Matter advocacy — but even surrounding rural communities of Sherrard, Illinois, and others saw marches and protest as well. We have all witnessed the Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion toolkit and the United Way’s Equity Challenge, covered extensively by local newspapers.
These are all positive steps our community should be taking to address historic racism and inequity in our community. However, the private and philanthropic sector alone cannot achieve an anti-racist future. The public sector must meet this moment and do our part as well. To that end, the Bi-State Regional Commission — the Quad Cities’ metropolitan planning organization responsible for programming federal infrastructure dollars with a regional perspective — is in the process of updating our community’s Long Range Transportation Plan.
Included in this plan are performance objectives by which transportation projects are prioritized for federal funding. Our Quad Cities area receives a limited amount of federal funding for infrastructure projects for which local governments (the cities of Rock Island, Davenport, etc.) separately submit hopeful projects to the commission for funding consideration. Currently, our Long Range Transportation Plan includes objectives that prioritize the transportation system’s safety, accessibility, and other goals. At the commission meeting in January, staff proposed an additional sustainability performance objective, to prioritize projects that include consideration of the challenges of climate change (i.e., flooding).
Unfortunately, absent all of the proposed performance objectives is a consideration of ensuring racial equity. As highlighted by efforts like #TrasnsitEquityDay, we cannot separate transportation from racial justice. For decades, whether by ramming highways through Black neighborhoods, failing to connect said neighborhoods to good jobs through public transportation or divesting infrastructure funding, racism has left its undeniable and painful mark on Quad Cities BIPOC communities.
We must recognize that roads in Black neighborhoods look the way they do because of the choices we have made — not some unintentional consequence of otherwise good intentions. That is not to say that said decisions were necessarily made maliciously (although some certainly were), but absent active mindfulness of ensuring racial equity, this is the unfortunate natural order of our society.
We have an opportunity, at the Bi-State Regional Commission, to make significant headway in erasing the errors of the past to ensure equitable regional growth by committing to racial equity objective performance requirements in the next Long Range Transportation Plan. Other communities across the U.S. have done so, and it is time the Quad Cities fully commit to action — not just talk.
As it stands, the commission’s Policy Committee, chaired by Davenport Mayor Mike Matson, with elected officials representing Scott and Rock Island counties, the cities of Davenport, Bettendorf, Rock Island, Moline and East Moline, will be considering this requirement at their upcoming committee meeting later this month. While it often operates under-the-radar, the Bi-State Regional Commission is a public entity, accountable to taxpayers across the Quad Cities region.
There are several opportunities for the public to provide input on the plan, which I would encourage Quad Citizens to do. Public meetings will be held on Feb. 12, 5: 30-7: 30 p.m., at Moline’s Centre Station and Feb. 13, 3: 30-5: 30 p.m., at Davenport’s Eastern Iowa Community College.
Additionally, for those unable or unwilling to attend a public in-person meeting, an online survey is available at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/QCMPO2050.
If you agree that the Quad Cities must prioritize racial equity in our transportation planning, please be sure to communicate as much to the commission and the elected representatives that serve on it.
Dylan Parker is an alderman representing Rock Island’s 5th Ward and a member of the Bi-State Regional Commission.
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