Transit Deserts: Failing to Provide Access

A student "hacking" in Morgan Park, North East Baltimore, Maryland image: Diane Jones Allen, 2013
A student “hacking” in Morgan Park, North East Baltimore, Maryland
image: Diane Jones Allen, 2013

The story of Detroit resident James Robertson, who, due to patchy bus service, walked 21 miles as part of his daily commute to get to a factory job 23 miles away in the suburbs where he earned $10.55 an hour, captured the public imagination in February 2015 when his story was publicized. It generated a crowdsourcing response of over $350,000, and a local Ford dealer’s donation of an automobile. While the outpouring of generosity solved one man’s transportation issues, it failed to provide for the rest of the fragmented Detroit metropolitan region, or other regions facing similar issues, crippled by suburbs that intentionally choose to opt out of regional bus service. While Baltimore is comparably better served by public transit than other metropolitan regions, its African American residents have provided their own highly effective, yet illegal, answer to transit deficiencies: hacking. Diane Jones Allen, ASLA, discusses these issues and offers a response in her dissertation for Morgan State University in 2014. She is currently furthering this topic in a book about transit deserts, race, and suburban form. Portions of her dissertation and future book are summarized and excerpted below.
–Ellen Barth Alster, ASLA, Landscape Architecture and Transportation PPN Chair

Within the past five decades, public transit-dependent and urban-oriented populations have been relocated or shifted to outer-urban, auto-oriented neighborhoods at the same rates that African-Americans moved to northern cities from southern rural communities during the preceding five decades of the Great Migration. These outer-urban areas have not offered adequate public transit to support economically viable employment, nor have they provided access to social and cultural networks, resulting from the suburban and low density built forms which favor the automobile. These areas are called “Transit Deserts,” a term first used in 2007 by Professor David Hulchanski from the University of Toronto. This topic is closely related to the “Food Desert” discourse, tying geographic form, neighborhood income, and public and private policies into a triangular model that drives an ever increasing number of American citizens into poverty through a narrowing of access to quality food or transportation.

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