Tuesday, December 22, 2015

What the Baltimore Red Line has to do with Civil Rights

It had been expected that transit advocates would invoke Title VI in the context of the Governor's cancellation of the Baltimore Red Line project. (SUN article). This week the NAACP informed the public it had filed a complaint to the Department of Justice. Title VI is part of the federal civil rights legislation of 1964.
"No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation' in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."  U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Washington, D.C. 20530 
What discrimination is prohibited by Title VI? There are many forms of illegal discrimination based on race, color, or national origin that can limit the opportunity of minorities to gain equal access to services and programs. Among other things, in operating a federally assisted program, a recipient cannot, on the . basis ofrace, color, or national origin, either directly or through contractual means: •. Deny program services, aids, or benefits; • Provide a different service, aid, or benefit, or provide them in a manner different than they are provided to others; or • Segregate or separately treat individuals in any matter related to the receipt of any service, aid, or benefit.  (source: US Justice Department) 
How does the complaint create a link between the Baltimore project and the issue of civil rights? The below text from the complaint filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.; the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center; Covington & Burling LLP; and the ACLU of Maryland explains:
The Baltimore City Branch of the NAACP, Baltimore Regional Initiative Developing Genuine Equality, Inc. (BRIDGE), and Earl Andrews (collectively, “Complainants”) bring this Complaint on behalf of themselves and African-American residents of the City of Baltimore and the State of Maryland. Complainants allege that the State of Maryland and the Maryland Department of Transportation and its sub-agencies (“MDOT”) (collectively, “Respondents”) violated Title VI through the cancellation of the Baltimore Red Line and subsequent transfer of state funds to the Governor’s Highways, Bridges, and Roads Initiative. The redirection of funds away from the east-west corridor of the Baltimore region has had and will continue to have a disparate impact on African Americans in Maryland. Respondents cannot demonstrate a substantial legitimate justification for the cancellation of the Red Line, and there are less discriminatory alternatives that would have served any purported budgetary concerns. 
The Red Line is seen by many as a project that connected the "two Baltimores" by connecting the impoverished communities of West Baltimore with the thriving communities on the east, namely Harbor East, Fells Point and Canton. This argument received traction when the Baltimore Metro Council had completed its report regarding "opportunity areas" in the region, job access and disparities of commute time between the poor and the rich areas of the region.

The original Red Line documents justifying the project allued to these issues as well, although in a less explicit manner. The Federal Process for federally funded "New Starts" projects such as the Red Line require the preparation of a "Purpose and Need Statement". The Red Line Purpose and Need paper includes these statements about the purpose :
The purpose of the Red Line is to:
- More easily move people from one location to another
in the corridor,
- Enhance transit connections,
- Support community revitalization and economic
development opportunities, and
- Help the region address congestion and traffic-related
air quality issues.....
Map of car ownership rates for various communities in the Red Line corridor (Source: Purpose and Need Statement)

Encourage commercial and residential growth around new transit stations. It  would help revitalize existing communities and stimulate economic developmentwithin walking distance of new transit stations. 
Although market forces, and other variables that are not directly related to transit strongly influence development patterns, there are currently unrealized opportunities for growth and redevelopment within existing communities along the corridor that improved transportation could enhance. Specific communities within the Red Line corridor that would benefit from revitalization include Rosemont; the communities surrounding the West Baltimore MARCstation; the communities in the vicinity of Carey and Calhoun Streets near US 40; Central Avenue; Patterson Park; and Highlandtown. Areas within the Red Line corridor that would benefit from stimulus which would encourage redevelopment or support increased planned development include the Security Square Mall area, Edmondson Village, Downtown, Canton, and Bayview. 
The Purpose and Need document points out that 44% of households in the corridor do not own a car compared to a 35% city and a 9% Baltimore County average. It refers to the Regional Rail Plan with these goals:
The Baltimore Regional Rail System Plan has three main objectives for all planned and proposed transit lines within the region, including the Red Line. Those objectives are:
- To establish, over the next 40 years, a true system of rail lines that provides fast and reliable rail service between major activity centers in the region.
- To serve areas with the greatest concentration of population and employment.
- To make the most of [Baltimore’s] prior transportation investments.
The Title VI complaint includes these reasons for the complaint:
The Red Line would also have served as the necessary link connecting West Baltimore’s predominantly African-American neighborhoods to job centers. The Red Line corridor is sixty percent African-American and contains forty-three separate Environmental Justice (EJ) areas.43 Unemployment rates in the neighborhoods along Edmondson Avenue are extremely high: 17.5 percent in Poppleton; 17.9 percent in Allendale; 22.7 percent in Edmondson Village and in Harlem Park/Sandtown-Winchester; and 24.1 percent in Greater Rosemont—compared to the city’s overall unemployment rate of 14.2 percent.44 Travel poses a barrier for jobseekers in these neighborhoods; less than two percent of jobs within the city of Baltimore, let alone the metropolitan region, are located in these communities.
 The complaint alludes to the uneven history of transportation projects in the region in terms of whom those projects benefited over time including the "East West Expressway" that ultimately led to the short section of freeway between West Baltimore MARC and Martin Luther King Boulevard. ("The highway to nowhere"). 

The infamous "highway to nowhere" was part of a extensive freeway system planned for the region that was largely defeated except for this segment through West Baltimore minority communities which displaced thousands of households and forever separated communities that used to have close ties. The existence of this freeway and the fact that the Red Line intended to use its median for its alignment played a mayor role in the public debate about the project in the area. Some saw the Red Line as a kind of restitution, some others feared additional impacts to their communities. At one point the affluent communities along the Boston Street in Canton tried to form a coalition with communities along the Edmondson Avenue claiming that the project was a detriment to the community. However, that attempt of such a coalition did not succeed even though support for the Red Line along the surface section of the project in and around Edmondson Village was less solid than in the Rosemont and West Baltimore areas.

The complaint is directed at the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) and its various components. The complaint contends that "complainants can readily demonstrate that the cancellation of the Red Line and the reallocation of its funding have a disparate impact on African Americans in Maryland."
In order to establish a prima facie case of disparate impact in the Title VI context, a complainant must first show that the proposed federally-funded action results in “some definite, measurable disparate impact” on a group protected by Title VI.127. The complaint states that:
Comparing the results of the user benefit analysis for the Red Line with those for the Highways, Bridges, and Roads Initiative, ECONW [a consultant] found that the cancellation of the Red Line and the subsequent transfer of funds for the Line to the Highways Initiative has had and will continue to have a substantial, disparate impact on African Americans.139 This is the case regardless of whether DOT and FHWA: 1) compare the percent of African-American trips harmed to the percent of trips they will take; 2) apply MTA’s disparate impact policy; or 3) compare the effect of the cancellation of the Red Line and funding of the Highways Initiative on African-Americans and whites.
Naturally the Hogan Administration does not agree.
"Ultimately, this so-called complaint has absolutely zero credibility or legal standing, and is essentially nothing more than a press release," spokesman Doug Mayer said. (Source: Baltimore SUN).
The Governor has stated multiple times that he considered the Red Line  badly designed and "simply not affordable" with a $1 billion tunnel "straight through the heart of downtown".

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

The full complaint can be found here