Editors Robert D. Bullard, Glenn S. Johnson, and Angel O. Torres
(South End Press, 245 pages)
Have you wondered why public transportation systems are the incomprehensible way they are in some major cities?
The essayists in Highway Robbery: Transportation Racism and New Routes to Equity clearly show how many decisions from highway placement to bus route mapping are rooted in racism and, thus, leave the poor and people of color without the fundamental means to thrive and compete.
Each essay is written by a transportation activist familiar with a specific city – Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco – and its population as well as its unique transit and political challenges. The editors begin the book with a historical overview that begins with Plessy v. Ferguson, through the Montgomery bus boycott and the 1990s. The case studies begin by looking at the Los Angeles Bus Riders’ Union fight for transportation equality in the 1990s on which other activist efforts, including those in Atlanta, were built.
“[C]ontemporary race relations in America can no longer be viewed in the black-white paradigm,” writes Robert Bullard in his introduction to the book. “Racism makes the daily life experiences of most African Americans, Latino Americans, Native Americans, and Asian and Pacific Islander Americans very different from that of White Americans. Modern racism must be understood as an everyday lived experience.
“Not having reliable public transportation can mean the difference between gainful employment and a life of poverty in the ghettos and barrios.… Transportation remains a stumbling block for many to achieve self-sufficiency.”
One of the most interesting essays is on Robert Moses’s legacies to the residents of New York. His grand public works schemes forever changed the way New Yorkers lived, worked, and traveled through the city. This was especially true for residents of what had been vibrant communities in Brooklyn and the Bronx before his highway construction projects were dropped on their doorsteps.
What distinguishes these modern, grassroots struggles for transportation equality is that the groups often have roots in local environmental justice efforts, such as fighting the siting of diesel bus depots in impoverished neighborhoods. It’s an interesting symbiotic relationship that is flourishing among these groups and that is strengthening communities in very real ways.
It isn’t difficult to see that transportation equality remains a civil rights issue, if not a human rights issue. In that regard, the editors of this collection have done an excellent job illuminating these facts and placing them in context.