Benefits, Burdens, Perceptions, and Planning: Developing a New Environmental Justice Assessment Toolkit for Long Range Transportation Plans
Homer, Allison Kathleen
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This research presents a new environmental justice assessment toolkit, the Equitable Environmental Justice Assessment Toolkit 2016 (EEJAT 2016). The purpose of this toolkit is to enable urban planners to more effectively measure whether environmental justice populations (low-income, non-white, Limited English proficiency, disabled, or elderly persons) are disproportionately burdened by long-range transportation plans. This toolkit is based on the concept that effective assessment of environmental justice (EJ) in transportation planning requires assessment frameworks that methodologically unify three sometimes divergent interests: those of federal and state bodies enforcing EJ assessment requirements, those of metropolitan planners who face capacity constraints and need guidance on how to conduct these assessments, and, most importantly, those of the protected populations themselves. This thesis involved analysis of current requirements, exploration of existing environmental justice assessment tools, case studies, decision theory, and principles of equity, and stakeholder engagement through surveys, interviews, and public meetings, all towards the development of the toolkit designed for the Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization (RVTPO)'s Constrained Long-range Multimodal Transportation Plan 2040 (CLRMTP 2040) released in 2016. The resulting toolkit is a multi-step framework. The first step is a GIS map-based EJ Index, structured by normalized population distributions for each EJ demographic, and mapped by block group compared to regional (MPO) averages. This z-score based mapping was done in lieu of Roanoke's former linear model in effort to more systematically compare effects, and to more accurately represent the data, and by extension, the people. Second, the Community Profile expands upon the EJ Index to include documentation of community elements and social and economic systematic injustices in the area. Next, a Benefits and Burdens matrix guides planners to an appropriate model or method of assessment for each EJ effect for the project at hand, based on project scale and type, data availability, and skillsets of the assessor. The results of these assessments of each EJ effect are compiled for an overall Project Impact Assessment. Checks on assessor bias based on stakeholder feedback and decision theory are incorporated into this Project Impact Assessment. Cumulatively, the toolkit is designed to incorporate equity as a defining element of both processes and outcomes, to be flexible in order to be applicable to multiple projects, and to be usable by practitioners.
- Masters Theses