Flickr/Secret Pilgrim

For the March on Washington anniversary, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx has written about the role of transportation in civil rights, both good and bad.

Newly minted U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx has an interesting blog post up today recognizing the role of transportation in civil rights, both good and bad, in connecting Americans throughout history as well as dividing them. His brief history of transportation, as seen through the lens of today's 50th anniversary of the March on Washington:

When escaped slaves sought their freedom, they traveled on the Underground Railroad.

In the mid-1950s, a young woman who sat down and refused to get up—she did it on a transit bus. And the boycott of the Montgomery, Alabama, bus system resulted in changes that spread across the South.

The Civil Rights Movement was about all Americans having access to the same opportunities. And our transportation system connects people to those opportunities.

But unfortunately, transportation also has a history of dividing us. In many places, railroads have served to identify people who were living on “the wrong side of the tracks.” And rarely in the last century did an urban interstate highway plow through a neighborhood that wasn’t characterized as poor.

In many communities, the legacy of urban highway construction has proven much harder to undo than invisible racial barriers like red-lining. Foxx does not go quite so far as to acknowledge this, but highway construction has also played a major role over the last half-century in enabling white flight from American cities into the suburbs, dividing families (and financial resources) on a much larger geographic scale as well.

Still, it's noteworthy for the top transportation official in the federal government to give voice to the role of transportation in creating, maintaining, and correcting inequalities. That conversation is much more complicated, and harder to have, than one about traffic congestion, highway capacity or commute times.

Foxx mentions ongoing efforts to reclaim communities divided by highways in Columbus, Ohio, and New Haven, Connecticut, two projects that signal a different kind of transportation policy than existed 50 (or even 15) years ago.

“Sometimes,” Foxx writes, “the way we build bridges is by actually building bridges…and roads and transit.”

Diagram of where Rosa Parks sat on the Cleveland Avenue bus in Montgomery in 1955, from the Records of the District Court of the United States National Archives and Records Administration-Southeast Region, East Point, GA.

Top image: Flickr user Secret Pilgrim.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Design

    A History of the American Public Library

    A visual exploration of how a critical piece of social infrastructure came to be.

  2. Design

    The Curious Politics of a Montreal Mega-Mall

    The car-dependent suburb it’ll be built in wants to greenlight Royalmount against the city government’s wishes but it needs them to pay for the public infrastructure.

  3. Multicolored maps of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Tampa, denoting neighborhood fragmentation
    Equity

    Urban Neighborhoods, Once Distinct by Race and Class, Are Blurring

    Yet in cities, affluent white neighborhoods and high-poverty black ones are outliers, resisting the fragmentation shown with other types of neighborhoods.

  4. Design

    There’s a Tile Theft Epidemic in Lisbon

    With a single azulejo fetching hundreds of euros at the city’s more reputable antique stores, these tiles, sitting there out in the open, are easy pickings.

  5. Equity

    Hope You Aren't Counting on Getting a Tax Refund This Winter

    Millions of low-income households rely on the Earned Income Tax Credit to help them get through the winter. Too bad most IRS workers are furloughed.