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SWUTC Research Project Description

A Case Study of Severe Environmental Justice Communities in the Houston Region

University: Texas Southern University

Principal Investigator:
Gwen Goodwin
Center for Transportation Training and Research
(713) 313-7283

Project Monitor:

Funding Source: USDOT

Total Project Cost: $57,000

Project Number: 600451-00046

Date Started: 5/1/13

Estimated Completion Date: 5/31/14

Project Summary

Project Abstract:
Title IV of the 1964 Civil Rights Act created policies that ensured that federally funded programs could not exclude participants based on race, color, or national origin.  Executive Order 12898, passed in 1994, further strengthened this policy by ensuring that minority populations and low-income populations are afforded fair and adequate access to regional transportation investments. Most metropolitan planning organizations identify areas based on the two aforementioned categories and also add more variables to make determinations. This report examines several of the census tracts categorized as extreme environmental justice areas (EJAs) in the greater Houston region.

Project Objectives:
This research builds on previous environmental justice work conducted for the Houston Galveston Area Council (H-GAC). However, this study will provide an in-depth analysis of several most severe/extreme EJ census tracts, providing a profile of these census tracts. The study consists of three steps, 1) descriptive analysis using census data, 2) transportation investment and mobility analysis, and 3) profile development of (4) four and recommendations. Microsoft Excel, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) will be used to collect, analyze, and display young driver populations and motor vehicle crash statistics.

Task Descriptions:
Task 1: Literature Review
Literature on environmental justice will be review. EJ analysis conducted by other MPOs will also be offered. This information establishes the context of how EJ assessments are conducted.

Task 2: Descriptive Analysis of Census Tracts
Population data will be collected from the U.S. Census Bureau at the tract level. The data will be entered into Microsoft Excel, and categorized by income, minority concentration, female headed households, zero car ownership, etc. GIS maps will determine the most four (4) extreme EJ census tracts in the Greater Houston area.

Task 3: Transportation investment and mobility
Transportation investment in the region will be examined. In addition, this analysis will focus on the four (4) extreme EJ census tracts identified in Task 2. Mobility options, e.g. transit, walkability, journey to work, commute patterns, and distance to major activity centers, will be determined.

Task 4: Profile development
Data compiled in Tasks 2 and 3 will combine to create a profile for the four (4) extreme census tracks. Specific maps and data comparisons will be conducted to determine specific problems and potential solutions.

Task 5:  Final Report
The project team will document all analysis and findings for inclusion in the final report.

Implementation of Research Outcomes:
Declining federal subsidies are limiting transportation capacity at the regional and local levels. At the same time, federally funded agencies must comply with Executive Order (EO) 12898, which augments Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EO states that agencies are to identify burdens and benefits to vulnerable populations. Prior to the 2010, demographic and socioeconomic data collected from the decennial census, the American Community Survey (ACS) and the United States Department of Health and Human Services were used to classify environmental justice zones. In the 2010 decennial census, the U.S. Census Bureau eliminated the long-form, which reduced the data available to perform adequate environmental justice analyses. Currently, metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) use the ACS which provides limited data. MPOs must now develop innovative strategies to determine environmental justice zones.

This research produced information to aid and assist the Houston-Galveston Area Council in their environmental justice analysis.

Products developed by this research include:

Presentation:  A Case Study of Severe Environmental Justice Communities in the Houston Region, Gwen Goodwin, presented to the 44th Annual Urban Affairs Association Conference, San Antonio, TX, March 19-22, 2014.

Anticipated Presentation:  To the Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board, January 2015.

Impacts/Benefits of Implementation:
The methodology used in this research to determine justice zones is beneficial to MPOs trying to more accurately identify these areas.

The results from this research can impact the planning and decision making policies for the H-GAC MPO.  The agency is interested in knowing how their planning policies impact EJ communities.  While the study revealed that the most extreme tracts still maintained good access to public transit, H-GAC can ensure that future policies and capital expenditures benefit or enhance livability and access in and around these identified EJ zones.

Web Links:
Final Technical Report