Community Organizations Urge CDC to Prioritize and Protect Transit As Safe, Equitable Public Good
As our society starts to re-open in ways that keep people safe, the undersigned organizations believe we should focus on supporting those disproportionately impacted by both COVID-19 infections and the economic harm inflicted by the pandemic, which have hit communities of color hardest. Yet the CDC’s “COVID-19 Employer Information for Office Buildings” released last week include a disturbing willingness to give up on ensuring transit is safe for riders and operators, the majority of whom are people of color.
The CDC guidance from May 28th recommended: “for employees who commute to work using public transportation or ride sharing, consider offering the following support: offer employees incentives to use forms of transportation that minimize close contact with others, such as offering reimbursement for parking for commuting to work alone or single-occupancy rides.
By June 1, the CDC had added “biking and walking” to “driving or riding by car either alone or with household members” and removed the reference to reimbursing parking. They also added a link on “how to protect yourself when using transportation” with more neutral guidance on all kinds of transportation.
Any guidance from the CDC that tells people to stay away from public transportation is not the answer. What’s more, it’s irrelevant to the lives of the many who rely on transit. Transit is a public good. Our society should focus on protecting it, not telling people to avoid it.
It is imperative that we invest in making transit safe for riders and operators. Anything less undermines the dignity of the essential workers who use transit and who operate transit. Many people don't have another option. Sixteen percent of Atlanta households don’t have access to a motor vehicle. The families residing in these households include our frontline and essential workers.
What’s more, by riding transit people contribute to a social benefit --- better air quality. COVID-19, a respiratory pandemic, is made even more deadly by a reliance on driving alone. Particulate matter in the air kills, and it kills people in low-income communities of color at higher rates.
For the CDC
- CDC’s guidance on protecting yourself when using transportation includes all modes: “Public transit, rideshares and taxis, micro-mobility devices, and personal vehicles.” Their guidance to employers reopening office buildings should do the same. Transit is not inherently unsafe.
- If office buildings can be made safe enough for employees to return, transit must be given the same or greater consideration. In other cities around the world, densely-packed transit systems have continued to operate without increasing the number of cases, seemingly due to widespread adoption of face masks.
For transit agencies, including MARTA
- MARTA recently cited concerns about enforcement and political debates among reasons not to require riders wear masks, but masks should be encouraged and even provided. Transit agencies should ensure Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is widely available to transit riders and operators: for example, through mask and glove dispensers and hand sanitizing stations at all entrances and exits and on platforms. They should launch public awareness campaigns to encourage mask wearing. Emerging research is showing that awareness and changing expectations to normalize mask use have the benefit of being more effective than enforcement.
- They should provide operators and other personnel access to sick leave and policies that encourage them to stay home if they feel sick and make sure those who keep the system clean have plentiful cleaning supplies and equipment. Transit agencies can also take the lead in creating an innovation market for sanitation and cleanliness.
- When too many buses come in a row or are too far apart, it becomes harder to social distance on transit. Cities should invest in bus lanes to keep buses moving, as well as other transportation infrastructure that prioritizes essential workers.
- Companies and large employers should use their influence and connections to support the necessary investments to make transit safe for everyone.
- They should also adopt policies that actively foster sustainable transportation options, including biking, walking, and riding transit, for their employees and commit to making sustainable transportation the first choice in commuting for their companies.
About the Partners
- TransFormation Alliance, a broad partnership of organizations from the private, public and nonprofit sectors dedicated to creating thriving, mixed-income communities anchored by transit and linked to all the opportunities and amenities that make Atlanta great.
- Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, an advocacy organization dedicated to creating an Atlanta where everyone moves safely, easily, and sustainably throughout the city.
- MARTA Army, an independent grassroots action group, committed to enhancing the ridership experience on public transit here in Metro Atlanta.
- Central Atlanta Progress, a private nonprofit community development organization providing leadership, programs and services to preserve and strengthen the economic vitality of Downtown Atlanta.
- Thread ATL, a non-profit that aims to influence Atlanta’s planning and design decisions toward a greater focus on good urbanism
- PEDS, dedicated to making streets and communities in Georgia, safe, inviting, and accessible to all pedestrians.
- Generator, bringing people together to generate ideas that shape the future of cities.
Join us in urging the CDC to include all modes of transportation in their guidance to employers reopening office buildings.
“Our streets, our streets”
The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others have made crystal clear that simply being not racist is not enough; we must be anti-racist. People are banding together to end police killings of Black people in this country and call for justice. Justice is more than survival. Full justice requires us to dismantle inequities and disparities in health, wealth, education, and yes, transportation.
We cannot have mobility justice without racial justice. We are an organization dedicated to reclaiming Atlanta’s streets as safe, inclusive, and thriving spaces for people to ride, walk, and roll. We talk a lot about re-envisioning streets as inclusive public spaces. Seeing our streets militarized is the antithesis of what public space should be about. Safe streets involve more than bike lanes and traffic calming. They are streets where everyone is free from persecution and violence. Safety and inclusivity mean Black people can walk our streets without fearing an assault on their lives or their dignity.
While we don’t have all the answers, we aim to make our values unequivocally clear and put social and racial justice at the center of our work. We strive to dismantle white supremacy in local transportation processes and within our own organization. We’re more determined than ever to center and apply the Untokening’s Principles of Mobility Justice.
Our vision for the future of street planning is one where communities have leadership of the process, especially Black people, people in low-income communities, and people of color who have been left out of transportation decision-making or actively harmed through transportation projects for too long.
It’s time to say more. It’s time to do more. We will continue to deepen our work with communities to support mobility needs. We will keep advocating against traffic stops as a tool for preventing traffic deaths, and we’ll add police accountability to our street safety strategies. We will keep advocating for the City of Atlanta’s Vision Zero program to adopt policies that advance equity and racial justice. And we will raise concerns when we see policy decisions that don’t center racial justice. You can help by holding us accountable.
We will also elevate and support the people and organizations on the front line of racial justice work in Atlanta. Here are a few organizations we encourage you to follow and to support:
The week after my youngest son was born, there were three crashes at the intersection outside my front door on Boulevard, south of I-20. I found myself rushing outside after each crash to see if people needed help. Those violent crashes struck too close to home. They showed me that we may not be in charge of drafting the plans and crunching the numbers, but we are responsible to our communities for setting the vision for how our streets are designed and what results we will accept.
Last year, A Safer Boulevard successfully lobbied to extend the Monroe Drive/Boulevard Complete Street Project south of Woodward Avenue because we want to transform a dangerous part of our public space into an integrated part of our community. Now, here's your chance to advocate for a better, safer Boulevard Drive. I need you to tell Renew Atlanta and Councilmember Carla Smith that you support these safety upgrades and improvements (see below) before the August 10th deadline for public comment.