Dr. Sergio Castellanos Rodriguez, one of CIEE’s former researchers and currently an Assistant Professor in Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering at UT Austin, recently released a paper titled “A quantitative, equitable framework for urban transportation electrification: Oakland, California as a mobility model of climate justice” in The Sustainable Cities and Society journal based on research conducted during his time at CIEE. The research, which focuses on equitable transportation electrification in Oakland, CA, was done in collaboration with Audrey Ku and Professor Daniel M. Kammen from UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group (ERG), and references the Oakland EcoBlock as an example of a “community-owned and community-driven project, where participation from block residents can be organized and incorporated in the energy charging phase of the project by co-generating electricity via solar PV.”
With Global Greenhouse Gases (GHG) and pollutants fueling the bulk of our climate crisis, researchers are searching for ways to offset carbon emissions and strive for environmental justice. One possible solution involves the restructuring and expansion of public transportation to support equitable electrification. Using local air quality and sociodemographic data, researchers identified specific bus routes that fall within environmentally-burdened regions of Oakland and explored how their electrification can empower underserved BIPOC communities and enhance community involvement.
While public transport has been cited as a primary solution to over-abundant vehicle emissions, the question of expanding it also intersects with the economic impact underprivileged communities face when they are denied reliable transportation. An increase in the access to private vehicles and alternative modes of transportation could be invaluable in promoting restorative equity, a “key optic” that aims to tackle both the hazards of environmental pollution and dwindling job opportunities in Oakland communities. Data from the Environmental Justice (EJ) index was utilized in the context of areas with “high environmental burden” in order to identify common Oakland bus routes that would best reduce greenhouse gases if converted to zero-emission routes.
The research team tracked the concentration of air pollutants, specifically nitrogen monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and black carbon, in Oakland. The team then further contextualized the EJ index in relation to areas with “sensitive population indicators,” such as asthma rate, cardiovascular disease, and “percent vulnerable age,” or the ratio of elderly individuals in a population. These indicators allowed the team to observe how environmental stressors affected different parts of the city. The data collected was also measured in the lenses of both public and private transportation: public transportation routes associated with higher pollution levels were prioritized when considering their transition to zero-emission routes. On the other hand, areas with more prevalent unemployment rates, low-income households, and employed people who walked and biked to their jobs were analyzed to see if they would benefit from private transportation interventions.
A New Framework
The team also focused on the development of an environmental justice framework that was considerate of social, geographic, and procedural equity. To be socially and geographically equitable, the transportation methods advocated should also be affordable and accessible in addition to utilizing clean energy. In terms of procedural equity, the team suggested that the installation of new transportation methods to be community-driven and community-powered, with citizens participating in electricity generation, decision making, and more.
Ultimately, the paper developed a comprehensive system that observed the patterns that fueled both private and public transportation while also considering the tenets of environmental justice and economic mobility. As cities promote diverse modes of transit, they can derive from this case study of Oakland to improve their communities in a way that is equitable, environmentally just, and considerate of all socioeconomic factors.
Additional research by Dr. Castellanos
Other publications written by the team:
“Mapping Opportunities for Transportation Electrification to Address Social Marginalization and Air Pollution Challenges in Greater Mexico City”
“Is clean cooking affordable? A review”
Feature image: City of Oakland