The Challenge of Implementation to Land Use and Transportation Equity


Implementation is a term that appears commonly in writing about public policy and community development strategies. It often describes envisioned solutions or the cause-and-effect relationship of proposed solutions. When it comes to the space between a policy decision and the needed actions that follow, varying levels of intentionality and capacity shape the eventual outcomes. Implementation is a noted challenge in the land use and transportation sectors, where policies and plans are sometimes viewed as aspirations rather than specific directives, and transformational projects rely on funding and design work that must be sustained. 

Successful implementation happens when the intended actions of program decisions or an adopted policy take place. This is an important lens for equity movements whose work to advance active transportation and built environment strategies is marked by tangible outcomes at the neighborhood level. Cultivating and maintaining strong policy intent, with commensurate action planning and routine accountability, is an emerging focus of both community partners and government staff who want these valuable efforts to go unwasted. This resource describes implementation as a conscious practice throughout different policy stages, not a separate stage between adoption and evaluation (refer to Implementing Equity in all Policy Stages). It also highlights innovative practices developed by movements in eight cities to strengthen implementation (refer to Factors that Drive Implementation).


How Implementation Intersects with Health Equity and Racial Justice


The practices highlighted in this resource are specifically drawn from efforts to advance land use and transportation equity at the local level. Health equity and racial justice are key frames for these planning and policymaking efforts because the built environment disparities observed today are rooted in discriminatory practices that undermine streetscape conditions (Taylor et. al, 2023) constrain access to greenspace (Rigolon, 2016), and destabilize economies and cultures in communities of color (Aboelata et. al, 2017). 

Our previous equity analysis and discussions with issue experts highlight the importance of policy implementation, noting that things often “fall apart” after policy adoption. They recommend examining promising implementation strategies and practices, and identifying case examples to demonstrate how a policy was implemented over time.

Follow-through on equity-focused policies is essential for undoing systemic inequities produced over generations. Stronger implementation practices cover vital equity objectives: from how actions are coordinated and monitored, to whether resources are allocated in alignment with policy aims, and how responsible agencies can prepare to work more equitably.

Scholars and practitioners advance the three equity objectives framework below. It encourages us to look beyond the outcomes we see today to intentionally address systemic barriers rooted in historical policies and practices, change processes that reproduce present-day outcomes, and hold systems and decision-makers accountable for closing equity-related gaps (Yuen et al., 2023). This framework guided the analysis of challenges and solutions posed by equity-focused policies. Different implementation issues and strategies that contribute to achieving equitable outcomes are highlighted in this resource, which align with the three equity objectives.  

  • Procedural equity involves transparent, equitable, and inclusive decision-making processes regarding who participates, how they are engaged, and how their input is valued and applied. It acknowledges imbalances in power and technical expertise that often exist when historically marginalized and excluded communities engage with public agencies in decision-making.
  • Distributional equity means fair distribution of resources, benefits, and burdens and prioritizes resources for communities facing the greatest inequities. It is guided by quantitative and qualitative data and allocates goods, services, and other resources in a manner that creates fair opportunities for health and wellbeing for all.
  • Structural equity addresses underlying structural factors and policies that contribute to inequities and commits to correcting past harms and preventing future unintended consequences. It exposes deep factors related to power that perpetuate disadvantage within systems and then reverses these inequities through some combination of new norms, policies, and/or representation.

This resource was developed through a process that included a landscape scan of land use and transportation policy activity and interviews with fourteen subject matter experts. The landscape scan was conducted using numerous keyword searches to locate information on how practitioners approached implementation. The most useful material found included formal policy and reporting documents created through local government processes, guidance documents published by national level organizations, and website content describing activity related to local policy efforts. These findings were analyzed in-depth with three questions in-mind:

  1. Did the identified policy directly address health equity and racial justice?
  2. Were substantive actions and monitoring structures defined for a policy following its adoption?
  3. Could organizations or specific practitioners be identified to discuss local cases further?

The landscape scan also considered how implementation was approached by recent equitable development efforts that were supported through major philanthropic initiatives.

Subject matter experts were identified through a scan of organizations and practitioners involved in prior convening events or learning series addressing equitable land use and transportation, as well as those identified as part of case examples in the policy landscape scan. An initial set of interviews was conducted with national advisors and researchers, who were able to share perspectives on best and emerging practices, and provide guidance on local cases for further analysis. Another set of interviews was conducted with local practitioners from community organizations and the government sectors, which focused on the details of local cases and the methods for building community power and collaboration across different policy stages.