Posted July 12th 2011 at 8:53 am by
in The unknown paths from point A to point B

The Path of Most Resistance: Latino Pedestrian Safety

Pedestrians are like water. They like to follow the path of least resistance. However, in Los Angeles, a walker meets resistance, sometime fatal resistance, at every turn.

Pedestrian safety is a critical issue in Latino neighborhoods since our streets experience more activity than our suburbanite counterparts. In our neighborhoods the streets serve as plazas — they create a real sense of community by bringing people together. People talk to each other over fences, children play outside, teenagers hanging out, and street vendors sell their wares.

A young boy uses his house fence as a prop to sell oranges, making the suburb mixed-use. Photo by James Rojas.

Families make open spaces more active. Photo by James Rojas.

In many Latino communities, walking is the most popular form of transportation. The numerous small neighborhood mom and pop shops that line Cesar Chavez or Whittier Blvd indicate that most customers walk to these stores. At bus stops through out the city, Latinos can be seen waiting for the bus. In Los Angeles, Latinos have the highest ridership on MTA buses and rail!

The streets of LA are designed for cars. Latinos “throw a wrench” in the design and planning of the city by walking and by using streets as public spaces.

The city’s transportation agency focuses on improving automobile mobility by reducing congestion and increasing speeds. This is done at the expense of pedestrian safety. Traffic mitigation hits Latinos the hardest because many of us live in inexpensive multi-family housing on wide streets with high traffic volumes and no parks for our children to play.

A number of studies, including Transportation for America’s recent report Dangerous by Design, illustrate that people of color bear the brunt of pedestrian fatalities.  African Americans make up 12.5% of the U.S. population, but make up 17.9% of pedestrian deaths.  Latinos make up 13.9% of the U.S. population, yet they make up 18.5% of pedestrian deaths.  In California, Los Angeles County represents a high number of the state’s pedestrian deaths. Recently in Boyle Heights, a car killed a mother and her two children as they crossed the street. A day later, a young boy was killed after two hit-and-run drivers struck him twice.

Latino pedestrians walk in a neighborhood with no sidewalks. Photo by James Rojas.

As Latinos, we need to come together to develop solutions for pedestrian safety. The typical government answer for these types problems is enforcement. Enforcement is only a temporary fix, not a long-term solution.

We can improve our streets through design and policy by slowing down cars speeds, narrowing streets, and reducing traffic. Pedestrian safety infrastructure can be used as a hook to bring much needed investment to Latino’s neighborhoods.

As the Latino population in the city swells and the number of cars increases, we will only see more pedestrian-related accidents if we do not act.

The demographics of Los Angeles are rapidly changing and it is time for us, government agencies and transportation authorities, to incorporate the walking needs of the growing Latino communities everywhere. Doing so will lead to more equitable transportation policies for all residents, including pedestrians.

Post by James Rojas. This post is part of Transit Secrets: The Unknown Paths from Point A to Point B, a current series on CoLab Radio.

James Rojas is an MIT alumni and urban planner based in Los Angeles, California.  He facilitates participatory planning workshops based on his own method that uses on-site interactive models to help engage the public in the planning and design process.  (See Dr. Pop’s engaging description of his work.)  He is also the founder of the Latino Urban Forum (LUF), a group dedicated to improving the Latino built environment through urban planning and advocacy.

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