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We Must get Rid of Roads

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The Roads are Racist

Buttigieg responds to Ted Cruz on racism in highway design

Ben Adler

·Senior Climate Editor

Tue, November 9, 2021, 4:55 PM

GLASGOW, Scotland — Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg told Yahoo News that systemic racism in the design and location of highways in American cities and suburbs continues to adversely affect low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. Responding to criticism from conservatives, including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, regarding comments he made on Monday, Buttigieg said in a Tuesday interview that racism and segregation in road building are not ancient history or a figment of liberals’ imagination, as some on the right contend.

“There are many well-documented examples of this happening, from the ’20s and ’30s, ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, and sometimes we have to be on the lookout for issues that are happening in our time,” he said. “But for me, the issue is not: In what year did somebody create this problem? The issue is: Is that problem affecting people today in 2021?”

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. (Tasos Katopodis/AFP via Getty Images)

The back-and-forth with conservatives started Monday afternoon when Buttigieg said during a White House press briefing, “If a highway was built for the purpose of dividing a white and a Black neighborhood, or if an underpass was constructed such that a bus carrying mostly Black and Puerto Rican kids to a beach — or it would have been — in New York, was designed too low for it to pass by, that obviously reflects racism that went into those design choices.”

The tendency to build highways in neighborhoods with lower incomes or higher proportions of people of color, sometimes acting as de facto racial boundaries, is well established and it is one reason that pollution and illnesses such as asthma are more prevalent in those areas.

The specific example Buttigieg referred to, about underpasses that were too low for buses, comes from the parkways in the Long Island suburbs of New York City. The low underpass design was ordered by government official Robert Moses with the specific intent of keeping out buses bringing low-income city residents to Jones Beach, according to “The Power Broker,” Robert Caro’s legendary biography of Moses.

Some conservative pundits and politicians, including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, reacted with incredulity to Buttigieg’s comments.

“Is this guy serious? This is what happens when ignorance of facts joins with phony enthusiasm,” Huckabee tweeted.

“The roads are racist. We must get rid of roads,” Cruz jabbed at Buttigieg in his own tweet.


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