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Research Projects

STATUS: Complete YEAR: 2020 TOPIC AREA: Public transit, land use, and urban mobility Transportation planning, policy, and finance CENTER: PSR

The Implications of Freeway Siting in California: Four Case Studies on the Effects of Freeways on Neighborhoods of Color

Project Summary

Project number: PSR-20-40
Funding source: Caltrans
Contract number: 65A0674
Funding amount: $199,414
Performance period: 1/1/2021 to 12/31/2021

Project description

California’s freeways have come under increasing scrutiny for their disproportionately adverse  impacts on low-income populations and populations of color. This study uses empirical research to not only understand but also quantify and describe in detail the historical impacts of freeways on communities of color in four California cities and areas: Pasadena, Pacoima, Sacramento, and San José. In these neighborhoods, freeways displaced many residents, significantly harmed those that remained, and left communities divided and depleted. The four cases differ in notable ways, but they share a disproportionate impact of freeway construction on communities of color. In Pasadena and Pacoima, decision-makers chose routes that displaced a greater share of households of color than proposed alternatives.


Demolition and displacement were the most visible and immediate effects of the freeways, but toxic pollution, noise, economic decline, and stigmatization remained long after. In suburban areas, white, affluent interests often succeeded in pushing freeways to more powerless neighborhoods. Massive roadway construction complemented other destructive governmental actions such as urban renewal and redlining. Freeways and suburbanization were key components in thecreation of a spatial mismatch between jobs and housing for people of color, with few transportation options to overcome it. Understanding the history of racism in freeway development can inform restorative justice in these areas.


Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris
Professor of Urban Planning
Luskin School of Public Affairs
5387, Public AffairsLos Angeles, CA 90095
United States
[email protected]


Susan Handy
Professor, Environmental Science and Policy
1605 Tilia Street
Institute of Transportation StudiesDavis, CA 95616
United States
[email protected]