South Jersey Transportation Planning Organization

Ladders of Opportunity

The Ladders of Opportunity Analysis (Ladders) is a demographic-based transportation analysis that identifies the areas where disadvantaged populations have poor access to specific destinations.

Ladders enables better development and evaluation of the planning efforts of SJTPO and our planning partners.


The Ladders of Opportunity Analysis was developed to respond to the 2015 U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) Ladders of Opportunity initiative. This initiative notes that quality of life can be greatly diminished by lack of access to essential transit services.

This Ladders of Opportunity initiative is meant to foster more involvement and inclusion from vulnerable populations, including single or zero-vehicle households, racial minority populations, low-income households, veterans, disabled, seniors, or youth, and to mitigate barriers to access through the nation’s infrastructure improvements.

The initiative recognizes that transportation projects affect more than the environment, they also impact job opportunities and social mobility of individuals and communities. Therefore, SJTPO’s Ladders of Opportunity Analysis is a response to this initiative. It is one tool used toward improving economic and social opportunity in the SJTPO region, which includes Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland, and Salem Counties.


The analysis identifies geographic concentrations of vulnerable populations, such as those listed above, and the locations of essential services. The Ladders analysis also displays the accessibility that these populations have to their essential service, using the existing transportation network. These vulnerable populations are more likely to be transit-dependent than the general population. Essential services are defined as destinations needed to meet a standard quality of life. The SJTPO Ladders project identified essential services as grocery stores, schools, health care facilities, recreation/open space, and social services centers.

The accessibility for these populations and destinations was determined using the ESRI ArcMap Network Analysis tool. For every destination type (e.g. schools), a distance was identified as being a reasonable distance for travel. These distances were then used in the network analyst tool to generate the travel sheds for each destination of that type (e.g. schools) and the relevant travel modes. Travel shed refers to the destinations that can be reached within a given amount of time. The travel sheds for each destination type (schools, etc.) were placed on a map simultaneously.

These travel sheds were then compared to the census blocks that contained a concentration of vulnerable residents. If the accessibility zones reached the center of any census block, those census blocks were determined to have accessibility for that service type. Census blocks outside the travel sheds were deemed to not have accessibility. Each census block received a composite score based on its accessibility to the destinations using various modes.

Analysis Uses

Ladders highlights the populations (their location and characteristics) that have limited access to destinations (their location and type). Therefore, the Ladders of Opportunity Analysis is useful to:

1) SJTPO and its planning partners as they develop and prioritize projects.
2) The region’s local governments, human services agencies, nonprofits, and transportation providers, as they:

  • Identify unmet mobility needs and service gaps,
  • Recommend new or different kinds of transportation access solutions, and
  • Enable more people to access social and economic mobility.