Transportation and Race
Throughout American history, communities of color have been harmed by transportation while they also made important contributions to the creation and development of the transportation system. Minnesota continues to grow more diverse, but historic economic and social disparities persist throughout the state. As Minnesota looks to the future, transportation infrastructure and policy are one way to serve Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) more equitably.
Minnesota has racial disparities in transportation related to health outcomes, access, and wealth building. BIPOC in Minnesota are more likely to be exposed to air pollution from motor vehicles than white Minnesotans because Black and Indigenous Minnesotans are more likely to live near busy roads than other racial groups. This is due to racist policies that prevented homeownership or limited access to homeownership to specific communities, as well as urban renewal policies that prioritized the construction of highways that displaced black communities. Minnesota also has a significant racial gap in motor vehicle access, making it more difficult for BIPOC to access key destinations like jobs, schools, and medical appointments. Other disparities between BIPOC and white people include homeownership, income by education attainment, and long-term wealth factors like the number of retirement account holders. These disparities in wealth impact one’s ability to benefit from rising real estate prices from a transportation project and accessing transportation options.
Transportation decision-making processes have historically left out the voices of BIPOC communities. Changing decision-making systems and engagement methods can help transportation be more inclusive and move away from a white-centric model. Additionally, re-framing from a deficit-based analysis of demographic comparisons between racial groups to a paradigm focused on a broader definition of prosperity will help move toward a more equitable system. Cultural identity, community wisdom, and social capital should be recognized and built upon to maximize the flourishing of all Minnesotans.
MnDOT strives towards transportation equity as a part of the Minnesota GO vision, which includes addressing transportation systems, services, and decision-making processes. Past transportation projects in Minnesota, such as the construction of I-94 through the Rondo community, have had ruinous effects on the community’s social fabric. MnDOT continues to work with communities to understand the extent of past and proposed impacts, address current needs and make more equitable decisions moving forward. This paper discusses the current racial inequity in Minnesota and how it relates to Minnesota’s transportation system.