Want transportation solutions? Listen to these Connecticut youth:
If you’re a student in Bridgeport, CT, just getting to school can be a challenge. For starters, too many roads lack safe sidewalks altogether. In other places, the ones that exist are in a state of disrepair, cracked, broken, dirty, with roots pushing up through the soil.
You could take a bus. But according to young people in Bridgeport, like Mwiche Siwingwa, the buses are almost always late, too often unclean, and many only run hourly. The buses are already packed when students get out of school, and often aren’t running when people who work night shifts head home.
Plus, most young people in the area don’t have bus passes. You must live at least 2 miles away from school to qualify for a public bus pass. If you don’t, then you’re facing a 30-60 minute walk to school.
Bicycles are also an option, points out Mwiche’s peer Crystal Aguirre, but without many bike lanes, it is an unsafe way to get around. Few young people own or can afford a car, and ridesharing apps can be expensive and unreliable.
These young people aren’t just up against crumbling infrastructure, but vehicle pollution as well. Cars and truck exhaust contains small pieces of contaminants called particulate matter that are classified as a carcinogen. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, African Americans and Latinos in Connecticut breathe in PM2.5 pollution at 30% and 27% higher rates than white residents, due to a long history of inequitable transportation planning decisions. The state’s 2019 Health Assessment says that Hispanic and Black non-Hispanic residents visited the emergency department for asthma at almost 5x the rate of white residents.
Mwiche and Crystal are part of the Youth Power Committee at Make the Road Connecticut. Tired of watching friends and peers be late to school or jobs, or face unsafe conditions as they tried to run errands, Make the Road CT decided to do something about it.
Thus, the Walking Towards a Brighter Future campaign was born. The group is trying to raise awareness so that more of the students who qualify for a bus pass actually acquire one. They also raised money to improve the streetscape at the intersection of Laurel and Grove Street, in Bridgeport. The young people created art pieces together to beautify the area, and installed a new, non-slip surface to create a safer, brighter, cleaner corner. Now, they are raising money to install more such streetscapes.
That is one reason why the Transportation and Climate Initiative Program (TCI-P) — a program developed by 12 Eastern states to cap carbon emissions from polluting cars, trucks, and buses — is so important. Connecticut state lawmakers are currently considering legislation to adopt the program, which would generate nearly $90 million in state proceeds for clean transportation solutions in the first year. That revenue can go to the parks, sidewalks, buses, and equitable transportation options that Make the Road and other young people in Connecticut are calling for.
“Connecticut youth like Mwiche and Crystal are actively generating and implementing transportation solutions that meet the direct needs of their communities. These are exactly the kinds of projects and ideas that policies like the Transportation and Climate Initiative Program should uplift and invest in. By creating an Equity and Environmental Justice Advisory Board with robust decision-making power, Connecticut can pave the way towards restorative and meaningful policy that helps its most vulnerable communities.” – Nicole Wong, Campaign Manager
Make the Road CT and the Walking Towards a Brighter Future Campaign show that the people closest to the problem already know what solutions are needed. What they need is support and funding to make those common-sense solutions possible.
Youth organizers Mwiche Siwingwa and Crystal Aguirre representing Make The Road Connecticut were interviewed for this article.
To speak with or interview Mwiche or Crystal please email [email protected].