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Paving the Way for Equity in Infrastructure: Our Projects

Paving the Way for Equity in Infrastructure: Our Projects

May 15, 2024
Masai Lawson

There is an old adage that tells us: to know where we’re going, we have to know where we’ve been. Marginalized groups are disproportionately affected by inequity in the built environment, and addressing this requires prioritizing racial equity as well as social equity.

Acknowledging this when announcing $3 billion in funding to reconnect communities that had been bifurcated by modern infrastructure, the White House explained, “The Department of Transportation estimates that at least one million people and businesses were displaced by decades of harmful urban renewal projects and legacy policy decisions in the buildout of the Federal highway system.”

While the national highway system is an often-cited example of how we can learn from our past, it’s not the only example. I encourage you to read more about this topic in the American Society of Civil Engineers’ “Equity and Infrastructure” web series.

Knowing where we’ve been challenges all of us at Gannett Fleming to strive to progress equity in infrastructure projects in the communities we serve, and we don’t take this responsibility lightly. In my last blog about equity within our workforce, I zeroed in on our dedication to:

We understand the importance of addressing the built environment’s past failings while looking ahead to generate community benefits such as jobs, business opportunities, affordable housing, and access to public transportation, meeting the short- and long-term needs of the diverse groups living in the area.

Creating Spaces for All: Inclusive Planning and Design

Gannett Fleming’s commitment to inclusive design and planning shines through in our holistic approach to creating accessible and culturally resonant projects.

Empowering the Overlooked: Prioritizing Marginalized Communities

“Lack of access to transportation can create major obstacles for disadvantaged communities, including preventing one from being able to access their basic needs and from improving one’s socioeconomic status,” said Tiffani Bryant, PE, PMP, Vice President, Transit & Rail.

Gannett Fleming places a special emphasis on prioritizing projects in disinvested communities, addressing the needs of those who have historically been underserved in infrastructure planning and development. This approach not only promotes a more equitable distribution of resources but fosters a sense of belonging and ownership over the projects as well.

For instance, the Tempo Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) links vibrant, diverse communities to jobs, schools, and retail centers in California’s East Bay region. Our team’s work helped boost public transit connectivity, reduce congestion, and provide residents and visitors with fast, reliable, and cost-effective public transportation.

Our team also partners with the New York City School Construction Authority to provide an equitable education for New York City children. We do so through projects like:

Pump Station 6 (PS-6), a cutting-edge wastewater collections facility for the Delaware County Regional Water Quality Control Authority in Chester, Pennsylvania, included the construction of a private access road to divert up to 1,800 waste-carrying trucks per week away from the surrounding blighted and underserved neighborhoods. This new road reduces traffic and noise impacts on the community, as well as wear and tear on residential streets.

Furthermore, the Valley Metro Rail South Central Extension in Phoenix, Arizona, is helping to connect residents of the historically underserved South Central Corridor to educational and activity centers, like downtown Phoenix, Arizona State University, and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

“The Valley Metro Rail South Central Extension will create jobs and expand transportation options, generating positive change for the nearly 40% of community members living in poverty and the more than 25% without a vehicle.”

Maria Tyne, Director of Planning, Transit & Rail

Reflecting Cultural Diversity Through Thoughtful Design

This inclusivity extends to culturally sensitive design, where the unique cultural context and traditions of each community are not just considered but are integral to the project’s identity. The following projects illustrate how elements reflecting each neighborhood’s values and traditions were incorporated:

The North Avenue Rising Penn-North Metro SubwayLink Station project in Baltimore, Maryland, involved an art installation reflecting the spirit and rich history of the local community.

The design of the Crenshaw/Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) Transit Corridor project for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority incorporated elements reflecting the history and culture of the communities of color it serves. This included station artwork, architectural details, and naming stations after local icons, creating a sense of cultural pride.

Breaking Barriers With Accessibility

Our projects are crafted to be usable for people of all abilities, helping ensure no one is left behind.

Our Livonia Avenue Station mobility project in Brooklyn, New York, is a great example. To improve accessibility and create a safer passenger experience, our team worked with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) New York City Transit (NYCT) to implement a comprehensive Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) station accessibility upgrade program that includes improvements to vertical transportation, stairways, and platforms. Before these vital improvements, passengers with limited mobility traveled more than two miles to the nearest ADA-accessible station.

The 50th Street Station on the Valley Metro light rail system in Phoenix, Arizona, serves as another example of universal design taking form. A stop added 10+ years after operations began, the station was designed with unique and innovative accessibility elements in partnership with Ability360, an organization that empowers people with disabilities to lead more independent lifestyles within the community. You can learn more about this project in this on-demand INSIGHTS webcast.

Based on the National Household Travel survey, more than 25 million individuals living in the United States have disabilities restricting their ability to travel. This and other staggering statistics have fueled our passion for designing spaces and mobility solutions for all, and for sharing that passion and the latest industry trends with others:

  • Senior Project Architect Isra Banks, AIA, RA, NCARB, LEED AP, co-led an INSIGHTS webcast on inclusive planning and design in architecture, diving into how to create environments that prioritize usability, comfort, and equality for all people.
  • Our architecture team delivered an INSIGHTS webcast on “Increasing Accessibility in Transit,” where Director of Architecture Huzefa Irfani, AIA, noted the importance of shifting mindsets from simply adding an element, such as a ramp, to a transit station to looking at the overall experience of the space and modernizing it, so it’s fully accessible.

“It’s not an accommodations and standards mindset but one of equity and, by extension, universal design. So, how do we get to this place? We need to understand our users’ needs.”

Huzefa Irfani, AIA, Director of Architecture

Fostering Community Collaboration

To ensure justice in infrastructure project outcomes, we must understand and connect with those affected by our projects. Ashwini Karanth, AIA, LEED AP, ENV SP, noted in her blog “Placemaking Through Public Infrastructure” that “the best decisions for a public project are made in conjunction with the community through careful listening and dialogue.”

Communicating with thoughtfulness incorporates diverse voices into project planning and decision-making. This includes community advisory boards, public forums, and targeted outreach efforts.

For example, the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Corridor light rail project involved extensive outreach to the predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods along the line. Our team used culturally sensitive communication, hired local liaisons, and held meetings in community centers to gather feedback and address concerns.

Gannett Fleming functions as a champion for the communities our projects serve. This is also evident through projects like the Inglewood Transit Connector (ITC), a significant transit link located in an underserved community in southwestern Los Angeles County. The ITC is an elevated, automated people mover system that will provide last-mile connectivity between the LA Metro Crenshaw/LAX Line Station to the Kia Forum and SoFi Stadium entertainment complex. The project will enhance accessibility and mobility for an underserved and underrepresented community, a topic discussed in this INSIGHTS webcast.

Early engagement with the public and stakeholders on various equity-related aspects of the ITC, such as communication with multilanguage end users, has been one key to providing a concise and technically viable project concept. Our team is helping the city deliver a first-class, innovative mode of transportation that will build stronger connections while being sensitive to the community’s needs.

Forging an Inclusive Path for A Better Tomorrow

While challenges will likely always persist, our dedication and ongoing pursuit of equity in infrastructure is unwavering. Recognizing the transformative impact of a fair and inclusive built environment, we will continue to engage with our communities as well as plan and design our projects with equity at the forefront.

Together, we will persevere in our mission to develop inclusive infrastructure projects that benefit everyone.

Join Our Journey

Want to work together to engineer a more equitable future? Apply to Gannett Fleming’s open roles and sign up for our Talent Community!

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Masai Lawson
Senior Manager, Talent Acquisition & Inclusion
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