The social impact of transportation in Urban Regions: The case of the university avenue street widening

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<ul><li><p>ENVIRON IMPACT ASSESS REV 1986:6:301-315" 301 </p><p>THE SOCIAL IMPACT OF TRANSPORTATION IN URBAN REGIONS: THE CASE OF THE UNIVERSITY AVENUE STREET WIDENING </p><p>PATRICK C. WEST </p><p>Environmental impact statements (EIS) on transportation projects far outnumber any other type of project impact statement (Enk 1973), and the most important impacts of transportation projects in urban regions are social impacts. The con- sideration of social impacts of urban transportation developments is one of the more important areas for the application of sociology to environmental impact assessment. </p><p>This article analyzes the social impact and community response to one common type of urban transportation project, street widening. Growth in population and motorized travel in urban areas place intolerable stress on old street and road networks. However, human settlement and social organization that have grown up organically around the vital arteries and veins of urban life are threatened by the attempts of highway engineers to "operate" on the circulation system. </p><p>In this article, a typical street widening in a small urbanized area (Green Bay, Wisconsin) illustrates these strains and the potential use of sociological theory and methods to analyze social impact and community response. The term so- ciological is defined here to mean the analysis of patterns and dynamics of social organization and interaction within human communities. Of particular concern will be sociological analyses of processes relevant to such projects in lower social strata areas. Because of these social processes operating in such areas, neither direct survey results nor community pressure are adequate to bring social impact considerations into the decision-making process. Improved sociological analysis can highlight such discrepancies, but only changes in the legal structure can force implementation of enlightened decision making. </p><p> 1986 Elsevier Science Publishing Co., Inc. 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York, NY 10017 0195-9255/86/$3.50 </p></li><li><p>302 PATRICK C. WEST </p><p>The Study Community Green Bay and its surrounding communities comprise a small but rapidly growing urbanized area. It is located at the southern tip of Green Bay and forms a major industrial and transportation center in northeast Wisconsin. The work force is drawn from the hinterland of predominantly East European Catholic farming communities. Community social organization tends to be traditional, locally oriented, and stable with tight local community bonds. </p><p>As Green Bay grew, its old networks of narrow streets and two-lane arteries laid down in earlier years were selectively widened to accommodate the increased traffic flow. The arteries widened first became the central lines of commercial strip development. More recently, a widened street, Mason Street, was saved from this fate when the city planning commission prevented conversion to strip development through zoning laws. Even so, the predominantly elderly and blue collar residents of the street now huddle in the back of their run-down rental houses and wonder what was gained as the trucks and motorcycles rumble by. The Mason Street project had its social impact ritual, but since no state or federal monies were involved there were no formal assessment requirements and little was done to consider social impact seriously. The next comparable project, the planned widening of University Avenue, held the promise of a more rational decision process because both federal and state EIS requirements were involved (Fig. 1). </p><p>The University Avenue Widening Project University Avenue is one of two continuous arterial routes that connect the center of the city to the eastern city limits. It is a major truck route and connects commercial, residential, and industrial land uses along the route. Traffic pro- jections show increasing pressures on this major artery. The street is below standards in terms of road conditions and width, and accident rates are high, especially at key intersections. </p><p>The proposed widening was planned in four phases at different sections along the route, to be completed over a three-year period. A class in Environmental Impact Analysis taught by the author was informally engaged to conduct a social impact study of the proposed widening. The official impact statement was pre- pared by an engineering consultant firm. A citizens' advisory committee was formed early in the planning process to advise the public works department. However, this functioned mainly as an instrument of formal co-optation (Selznik 1966) to transmit proposals and seek legitimacy rather than as a mechanism for sharing actual decision-making power. Broader citizen participation was per- mitted only after the development of the draft impact statement. </p></li><li><p>THE SOCIAL IMPACT OF TRANSPORTATION IN URBAN REGIONS 303 </p><p>...~,, ~ _ _ .~ </p><p>FIGURE 1. University Avenue Project Location Source: US Department of Transportation 1977. </p></li><li><p>304 PATRICK C. WEST </p><p>Social Profile of the Community Impact Zone Prior to the Widening In considering the social preconditions of a project and its social impact, it is first important to consider the relevant social boundaries of the affected com- munity. Some have posited the use of community identification through social network analysis and determination of common cultures (Hendricks and Vlachos n.d.). Others have operated more pragmatically to determine the boundaries of probable "impact zones" surrounding a project (Appleyard and Carp 1974). The class adopted the second mode of boundary determination for the bulk of its analysis, but the wider community network boundaries also played a role in determining social constraints on community response. The immediate impact zone was defined as all sides of blocks immediately adjacent to University Avenue, and all sides of all blocks adjacent to streets being considered as al- ternative routes. </p><p>Block census data were used to determine the social profile of persons within the alternative impact zones. Social profile dimensions included: </p><p>(1) the number of people, (2) the number and percent of people that were: </p><p>(a) less than 18 years old (b) over the age of 62, </p><p>(3) the number and percent of owner-occupied houses, (4) the number and percent of renter-occupied houses, and (5) the average value of owner-occupied houses. </p><p>The social profile analysis (Table 1) reveals that the proposed corridor would have the lowest total number of people affected, the lowest percentage of people in the "less than 18 years old" age bracket, the lowest number of owner-occupied homes, and the lowest average home value. Housing values in general indicate that, for the most part, the entire area of the city is primarily a low-income neighborhood. </p><p>Social profile data were also gathered from a social survey of a random sample of residents from the impact zone along the main route. These data show that most persons are long-time residents (Table 2), that occupational levels tend to be low (Table 3), and that a great deal of social neighboring occurs (Table 4). </p><p>Behavioral observations were also made on preproject social patterns of pe- destrian behavior along this street. The main characteristics observed were bi- cycles and pedestrian traffic, children's play patterns, and street crossings. A team of observers recorded frequency and location of use on observation sched- ules at sample times and locations along the route over a three-month period. A total of 72 hours and 3,190 persons were systematically observed. The data on play patterns is a good example of the use of observation in establishing the social preconditions of a project. Play group activity where potential safety </p></li><li><p>THE SOCIAL IMPACT OF TRANSPORTATION IN URBAN REGIONS 305 </p><p>TABLE 1. Social Profile Analysis of Alternative Corridors From Block Census Data </p><p>Proposed Other Alternatives Alternative </p><p>D1 D2 D3 D4 D5 </p><p>Total number of people 2763 5273 3166 4168 3512 </p><p>Number under 18 years old 927 1881 1188 1517 1173 Percent under 18 years old 33% 35% 37% 36% 33% </p><p>Number over 62 years old 396 720 315 589 477 Percent over 62 years old 14% 19% 9% 14% 13.6% </p><p>Total number of homes 942 1768 944 1452 1198 </p><p>Number owner-occupied homes 496 986 646 728 607 Percent owner-occupied homes 52.6% 55.8% 64.9% 50.1% 50.7% </p><p>Number renter-occupied homes 446 782 298 724 591 Percent renter-occupied homes 47.4% 44.2% 35.1% 49.9% 49.3% </p><p>Average value of owner- $12,175 $13,707 $12,862 $12,637 $13,738 occupied homes </p><p>impacts would be greatest were found in two areas, from Clay Street to St. George Street and from St. George Street to Irwin Street. That finding was strengthened by comparing it with census data that showed that these two sites have the largest proportion of children along the route. From this data, which shows a marked spatial variation in pedestrian use, suggestions were made for mitigating measures to minimize social impacts of the widening. </p><p>TABLE 2. Length of Residence of Sample Persons in the Impact Zone </p><p>Length of Residence Percent </p><p>Less than one year 13.1% </p><p>1-2 years 11.4% </p><p>3 ~, years 18% </p><p>5 years or more 57.4% </p></li><li><p>306 PATRICK C. WEST </p><p>TABLE 3. Occupation Structure of Impact Zone Residents From 1975 Social Surve,,* </p><p>Occupation Percent </p><p>Student 3.3% </p><p>Retired 23.3% </p><p>Professional-Technical 5.0% </p><p>Manager-Administrator 6.6% </p><p>Craftsman-Foreman 8.3% </p><p>Clerical-Service 6.6% </p><p>Labor (including operatives) 31.6% </p><p>Other 15.0% </p><p>*Missing data excluded. </p><p>Social Impact and Community Response This section discusses objective measures and social considerations in the pre- diction of expected social impacts, and then analyzes the actual behavioral re- sponse of residents in the political decision-making process. </p><p>Much can be learned about the probable social impacts from the social profile of preconditions. From the census analysis it was shown that in choosing among corridor alternatives, the least severe impacts would occur by selecting the pro- </p><p>TABLE 4. Frequency of Social Visits Crossing University Avenue by Location on Impact Zone Blocks* </p><p>Front Side Back </p><p>More than 4 times per week 18.8% 10.5% 18.8% </p><p>2-4 times a week 31.2% 0% 6.2% </p><p>About once a week 18.8% 0% 18.8% </p><p>About once every two weeks 0% 0% 18.7% </p><p>About once a month 6.2% 5.3% 12.5% </p><p>Less than once a month 25.0% 84.2% 25.0% </p><p>*Missing data excluded. </p></li><li><p>THE SOCIAL IMPACT OF TRANSPORTATION IN URBAN REGIONS 307 </p><p>posed route. The observation studies showed where the greatest potential impacts would occur along the routes, etc. </p><p>However, in assessing what the social impact will be after the construction of the project, social impact analysts also frequently rely on social surveys to determine the perceived expected impacts and responses from potentially affected persons. This process involves some important methodological and substantive problems that must be investigated if we are to improve the predictive power of such analyses. We will explore these issues for the University Avenue case by discussing the problems encountered in assessing the main impact problem-- the social impact of noise. </p><p>The main methodological problem involved in using social surveys to predict the social impact of noise is that responses will be strongly influenced by widely varying perceptions of the objective consequences of the project. For example, the attitude toward the project and the perception of its social impact depend strongly on the respondents' perceptions of how much the noise would increase with widening. To test for this effect the following question was asked: "Do you feel the proposed widening of University Avenue would cause: increased traffic noise; no significant change; don't know?" Forty-five percent of the respondents felt that traffic noise would increase; 25 percent felt that there would be no significant change. Of those who felt noise would increase, only 21 percent said the widening was needed. On the other hand, of those who felt there would be no significant noise increase, 75 percent felt the widening was needed. Since independent objective projections of the probable noise increase estimates that noise will probably double, results would have been quite different had all respondents perceived this. </p><p>One way to handle this problem would be to provide objective informational statements about expected changes in key parameters, in such a way that is understandable, unbiased, and presents the same informational stimulus to all respondents. Because of the uncertainty in assessing these parameters objectively, and the power of such stimuli to affect responses, such techniques must be used with extreme caution. </p><p>Because of the methodological problems of anticipating social impacts from respondents' social surveys, other supplementary methods need to be employed. One alternative is to use social surveys to assess the importance to residents of minimizing various types of impacts, rather than having them estimate how severe social impacts will be along any given dimension. Each dimension can be ranked separately on some important scale, but it may be more useful to obtain comparative ranking of the various social impact dimensions under con- sideration. Instead of asking respondents to give rank order to all dimensions simultaneously, it is methodologically preferable to ask ranking questions by pairing two dimensions at a time with a series of questions combing the possible pairs of dimensions (Sellitz et al. 1976). The social impact dimensions considered in the University Avenue ranking questions were: </p></li><li><p>308 PATRICK C. WEST </p><p>(l) increasing park and playground areas of this neighborhood, (2) preventing the removal of existing homes along University Avenue, (3) minimizing increased noise for residents, (4) minimizing traffic hazards for motorists, and (5) reducing noise levels inside churches, schools, and libraries. </p><p>The paired questions were asked in a form that also allowed respondents to equate the importance of two dimensions (which multiple ranking questions do not permit). Table 5 shows the paired comparisons between residential noise and traffic hazards as an example. Overall, all factors tended to be relatively close in importance. Each of these factors should be weighted equally in deciding among alternatives. The fact that residents seemed to be equally concerned with minimizing traffic hazards for motorists and for minimizing noise to residents in public institutions tended to favor an alternative of permitting the street wid- ening but with mitigating measures to reduce noise (e.g., compensating residents for noise-proofing measures). </p><p>Another alternative to social survey assessment of the expected social impacts is the use of comparative case methods in which post facto social impact studies are conducted on highly comparable cases. We were fortunate in having such a comparable case, the Mason Street widening. Mason Street is in the same city, runs through similar types of community neighborhoods, and is experiencing similar traffic pressures and noise levels...</p></li></ul>