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. a photo of a Metro PCS store in Washington, D.C.
    Equity

    What D.C.’s Go-Go Showdown Reveals About Gentrification

    A neighborhood debate over music swiftly became something bigger, and louder: a cry for self-determination from a community that is struggling to be heard.

  2. Tech workers sit around a table on their laptops in San Francisco, California
    Life

    America’s Tech Hubs Still Dominate, But Some Smaller Cities Are Rising

    Despite established urban tech hubs, some smaller cities are attracting high-tech jobs with lower living costs, unique talent pools, and geographic diversity.

  3. The facade of a casino in Atlantic City.
    Photos

    Photographing the Trumpian Urbanism of Atlantic City

    Brian Rose’s new book uses the deeply troubled New Jersey city as a window into how a developer-turned-president operates.

  4. Equity

    The Hidden Horror of Hudson Yards Is How It Was Financed

    Manhattan’s new luxury mega-project was partially bankrolled by an investor visa program called EB-5, which was meant to help poverty-stricken areas.

  5. A tent-like pavilion with a colorful stained-glass design in a cemetery at dusk.
    Design

    The New Art Galleries: Urban Cemeteries

    With their long-dead inhabitants remembered only foggily, historic cemeteries like Mount Auburn and Green-Wood use art to connect to the living.