Update on Project Activities
Continuing on with our research from last week, one of our main focuses this week was to further solidify our base knowledge on the mitigation of traffic congestion. The readings Adina and Chris, our community partners with Friends of CalTrain and TransForm respectively, have sent us to give context on our project included a mix of qualitative and quantitative studies on the socioeconomic character of managed lanes. For example, we read and summarized a guide to the Bay Area Express Lanes projects as well as a guide to the Bay Area Express Lanes projects, a California Department of Transportation’s report on induced demand. Our literature review will be increasingly useful as we begin work on the centerpiece of our project, a survey on the conditions of Highway 101 that will be targeted at low-income commuters.
Regarding the survey, this week we were able to meet with both Chris and Adina. There, we learned of the motivation behind the survey, which is to influence the direction of Highway 101 traffic congestion mitigation efforts to address the needs of low income communities; the survey is meant to illuminate just what those needs are. During the meeting, we discussed several topics with the main takeaways being the regressive nature of HOTs, the current strategy that the County of San Mateo is considering— a HOT3+—, and Friends of Caltrain’s preferred method of implementation— using the money from the toll to finance alternative and accessible transit.
After learning and determining the motivation for Friends of CalTrain and TransForm’s survey, we honed in on what our team will be contributing towards its completion during these next 7 weeks. Our team eventually came to mutual agreement with Adina and Chris that our final deliverable will be a pilot study that will investigate the best methods for understanding the views of low-income Highway 101 commuters.
Through the pilot study, we, alongside our community partners, will work collaboratively to give our community partners an expedited survey process as well as a scaleable survey; we hope that our work will be useful in setting the framework for the deployment of a wide-scale survey project which Friends of CalTrain and TransForm hope to initiate some time this spring.
In terms of deciding which demographic will be surveyed, after posing the question of whether we should do a comparative study of perspectives between higher income and lower income folks, as Adina and Chris’ request, we will do a deep dive on outreaching to lower income folks to work out any survey kinks before Friends of Caltrain and TransForm scale up the survey after our pilot. We then discussed some of the logistics of surveying, including which locations to survey to ensure that we’re getting a representative sample of working class people, finding incentives for people to take the survey, and where to initially pilot the survey (here at Stanford).
What was a priority and what continues to be high priority is formulating a clear, concise, and empathetic survey to administer to folks. This week, we made initial comments on the survey draft and information handout that Friends of Caltrain and TransForm are developing and presented some of those concerns and comments to Chris during our first meeting. We also went over the accompanying survey handout, and offered some suggestions for improvements there as well.
What We Observed and Learned
During the meeting, an enlightening insight that Adina brought up during our first meeting was that higher income folks are more likely to benefit from transit benefits from their employer. Through discussion, we came to a consensus that one motivator of doing this survey is to promote equity in these types of projects, but this pillar of sustainability also informs the environmental sustainability pillar. Some past studies indicate support across income levels for express lanes (pay to drive). This is a counterintuitive finding as we expected equity to be a high concern for lower-income individuals.
Another surprising finding was the lack of concern regarding equity on the part of CCAG. Adina told us about how previous equity assessments from CCAG, especially the assessment created for their long term transportation plan, were superficial at best, featuring very little meaningful analysis on how projects would actually impact low income communities. In CCAG’s equity assessments, if a project occurred in a low income community, it was assumed to benefit that community, even for works like widening highways. This lack of attention given to low income communities by government agencies was honestly staggering, and points to a dire need in society for more thoughtful analysis.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
After understanding where Friends of Caltrain and TransForm are heading with this specific project, it will be of utmost importance to situate ourselves appropriately within their vision and within their process of trying to influence express lanes program developers to include “equity” as a metric they are measuring their programs around. To recommend alternatives to program development that do not have a lens on equity, we will be doing a research sprint on LA ExpressLanes project development. Therefore when Friends of Caltrain and TransForm take the survey results and analysis later in the year to program developers, they will be able to draw on previous program experiences and effectively recommend equitable pathways to the express lanes program.
Our conversation also underscored how underserved low income communities have been in the past, especially with regards to transportation. CCAG’s “equity assessment” shows us that government agencies do not always have the will or capacity to conduct meaningful analysis about equity concerns— it is our job to fill that gap. The project we help create for Friends of Caltrain and TransForm should be empathetic and relevant to the lived experience of the low income commuters of San Mateo County. Without a genuine desire to engage with and understand the experiences of those we are surveying, our assessment will be as surface level as CCAG’s.
This week we will be beginning the next stage of the pilot survey process. We have started editing the survey draft, therefore it is time to begin connecting with workers in the study area: businesses in San Mateo County. In implementing the pilot, our team was thinking about initially prototyping the survey to workers here at Stanford for two reasons: they are the demographic that we are aiming to hear from, and it is much easier for us students to get in contact with the worker network here at Stanford than with the networks off-campus. However, because Stanford may give transit benefits already, this sample may be slightly skewed and not representative of the larger population in San Mateo County. In thinking about survey processes and survey takers, we will test a variety of approaches to maximize survey responses. Some strategies will be more successful than others, but as starting points we’ll be visiting restaurants and other likely commuter-dependent workplaces in downtown areas like Redwood City and testing survey questions on people on campus.