Making the most of the American Rescue Plan: Five ways data can help

From transit equity to workforce development, broadband access to green infrastructure, data insights can help improve outcomes for cities

Photo by Brandon Mowinkel

After a remarkably hard year, local governments now have an exciting and unusual opportunity: the American Rescue Plan is bringing an influx of stimulus money just when agencies need it most.

The ARP will send $350 billion to state and local governments, and there’s no shortage of ways this money can have long-lasting impacts. All across the country, transit providers, policy makers, and community leaders are working to make the most of this moment.

Many are looking at novel projects that can be driven by deeper data insights in the built environment. Replica is committed to helping these constituencies identify the best strategies to leverage these funds and get our cities back on track. Here are a few examples of what’s possible:

Mitigating vehicle miles traveled (VMT)

Reducing road traffic isn’t just about keeping cars moving — it’s also about cutting down on the distances people have to travel in their cars.

In California, transportation agencies now analyze how a project would affect the number of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) on the state’s road network, with an eye toward reducing car travel and the overall transportation system’s impact on the environment. This bolsters the case for making investments in transit, cycling, pedestrian infrastructure, and other efforts that can shift at least some trips out of private automobiles.

Replica provides data and insights about VMT and transit usage throughout a region, featuring breakdowns across different trip purposes, demographics, network links, and more.

Improving transportation equity

Some places see the ARP’s large but temporary influx of cash as an opportunity to deliver more equitable outcomes in their transit and transportation networks.

Charlottesville, Virginia, is using stimulus funds to make its buses fare-free for three years in an effort to boost ridership. San Diego plans to invest in “complete street” improvements in areas that the city has historically underserved. Sacramento recently used Replica data to assess who most stands to benefit from several recently proposed transportation projects. And New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority turned to Replica during the pandemic to make decisions about overnight subway closures so it could clean trains while mitigating the impact of service reductions on essential workers. Tools that show key metrics as they are today — and that can track them over time — can help agencies ensure this short-term stimulus will deliver lasting results.

As one example of transit equity insights in Replica, the snapshots below reveal differences in commute times for white and Black commuters on Chicago’s Red Line. On average, Black commuters’ travel to work takes nearly 25% longer than white residents’, culminating in an annual average of 125 hours of extra commuting — time spent away from their families and participating in their local community.

White residents along Chicago’s Red Line (left) have an average commute time of 54.4 minutes compared to Black residents’ (right) average of 68.7 minutes. (Source: Replica)

Improving broadband access

The American Rescue Plan puts a high priority on bridging the digital divide, giving state and local governments broad leeway to invest in infrastructure deployment.

The Brookings Institution identified nine separate provisions in the package that support broadband expansion, and the Treasury Department indicated that connectivity will be the primary focus of the ARP’s $10 billion Capital Projects Fund, which supports projects that “directly enable work, education, and health monitoring.”

Broadband infrastructure pairs well with transportation infrastructure, taking advantage of rights of way along roads and rails to deliver fiber that connects homes and businesses. But effective investments and equitable results require a granular view of who gets service, who needs service, and how the infrastructure can reach them where they are. Replica data can help public agencies understand more about the places where they’re targeting for broadband efforts.

Planning green infrastructure

While the administration’s broader climate and infrastructure packages are still in the works, the ARP allocates money to expand environmental justice efforts and improve water infrastructure in a number of ways. Projects could include mitigating air pollution and environmental health risks in marginalized communities, upgrading water and sewer infrastructure to be more resilient in the face of severe weather, or developing stormwater retention projects that reduce the risks of flooding. Using Replica, planners can learn more about the demographic, economic, and mobility patterns of areas they might consider for investment.

Bolstering workforce development programs

An economy in transition brings great uncertainty and a need to help workers prepare for the future. From New York City’s City Cleanup Corps to Birmingham, Alabama’s efforts to employ a squad of community health workers, efforts are underway to connect people with careers that could yield outsize benefits for the cities around them.

Planners can leverage Replica’s data to better understand the geography of employment and unemployment in their area, as well as how people commute to work and how accessible job locations are for workers at various income levels.

Replica is a data platform for the built environment. Our mission is to make complex and rapidly-changing cities easier to understand.