Expert Commentary

Geographic and ethnic patterns of metropolitan planning boards

2006 paper by the Brookings Institution exploring the potential for bias in the structure of metropolitan planning organizations.

Metropolitan planning organizations are federally mandated bodies (MPOs) responsible for urban transportation planning. Billions of dollars are channeled through MPOs, giving them considerable influence over growth patterns and, consequently, social and economic opportunity.

A 2006 paper by the Brookings Institution, “An Inherent Bias? Geographic and Racial-Ethnic Patterns of Metropolitan Planning Organization Boards,” examines MPOs and explores their potential for bias in 50 metropolitan areas.

Because MPOs are not required by law to have representational voting and their decisions are made by boards whose members are generally not elected, the potential exists for biases toward certain constituencies or locales.

The Brookings Institution paper found that:

  • Urban areas nationally are underrepresented on MPO boards.
  • MPO boards underrepresent racial minorities and overrepresent white constituents.
  • Some MPOs reported weighted voting structures to correct for the disparities. However, the methodology used was often either too crude to account for the differences in proportionality or rarely utilized in reality.

The author concludes by recommending increased public involvement in MTOs, including implementing stricter certification requirements, population-weighted voting and the development of programs to recruit minority representatives.

Tags: cars, mass transit, Hispanic, Latino, race, African-American