News | Environmental Justice in Southeast Los Angeles: PSR Researcher Address Pollution and Mobility Issues

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Environmental justice is concerned with eliminating the disproportionate impacts of environmental damage on low-income communities and ensuring residents have a say about the activities that affect their environment and health. Research in environmental justice means uncovering, analyzing, and proposing solutions to the higher rates of environmental burdens in these communities. These burdens include excessive exposure to toxic air pollutants, hazardous materials, and water pollution. The project titled “Improving Environmental Justice and Mobility in Southeast Los Angeles” combines research in transportation and the principles of environmental justice to address two issues in the underserved communities of Southeast Los Angeles; impacts of freight and public transit job accessibility. The research team included METRANS Director Genevieve Giuliano; Marlon Boarnet, Professor and Chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Spatial Analysis at USC; and Miguel Jaller, Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UC Davis.

The researchers selected the southeast Los Angeles area because of the disproportionate environmental impact on the region’s low-income population. The California Communities Environmental Health Screening Tool (CalEnviroScreen) rated 85% of the southeast L.A. area as a “high pollution” area, a result of its location including large industry zones and major truck corridors. The area is mostly made up of minority populations, with a community that is 88% Hispanic or Latino and 7.2% African American. To facilitate community involvement, the study was done in partnership with the Southeast Los Angeles Collaborative (SELAC), a non-profit community organization involved in crafting beneficial policy recommendations and strengthening the political power of the eight cities and unincorporated areas it represents. SELAC contributed to study design, analysis, policy recommendations, and conducted focus groups for both the freight analysis and transit service portions of the study. The objective of the focus groups was to identify community concerns and define the problems to be examined.

In the first part of the case study, the researchers conducted a freight analysis and crash analysis. The freight analysis examined heavy duty truck (HDT) activity in the area and its impact on emissions. Southeast L.A. is home to two of the three warehouse and logistics clusters in the greater Los Angeles metro area. It also experiences a high level of through truck traffic. To reduce emissions, the researchers found that state regulatory policies are effective; existing regulations will result in significant reductions of emissions. Their recommendations included accelerating the transition to zero and near zero-emission trucks, which can be supported by clean HDT pilot programs and electric vehicle infrastructure investment.

The crash analysis was added to the study due to results from the focus group meetings conducted by SELAC, which revealed that safety was the community’s primary concern related to HDT traffic. The analysis revealed that southeast L.A. has a higher rate of HDT incidents on a per square mile basis compared to L.A. County. The researchers emphasized the need for highly localized solutions, such as reducing HDT route deviation and keeping HDTs out of residential neighborhoods.

The second part of the study compared access to jobs by public transit and by car to evaluate the performance of existing public transit services and the need for potential improvements. Focus groups with SELAC revealed that the community found cleanliness, reliability, and safety to be important factors of the transit system—and the project was adjusted to incorporate these concerns. The study results show that first-last mile options such as shuttles and bikeshare are the best way to increase transit job access, with bikes increasing transit job access by about 65%. The researchers recommended that L.A. Metro prioritize their Metro Micro on-demand shuttle service, which was launched in October 2020 and had plans to expand into four more pilot areas when the study was conducted. The research showed that some southeast L.A. areas could more than double their job access with shuttle and ridesharing services.

Giuliano, Boarnet, and Jaller have begun disseminating the key findings and recommendations from this study to the larger southeast L.A. community. To move recommendations to implementation, they encourage outreach through community open meetings and social media, as well as working with individual cities. The work calls for clean HDT programs, infrastructure investments, and specific intersection improvements to address the communities’ safety concerns. Future research plans include exploring the Metro Micro on-demand service and bikeshare solutions as well as working with L.A. Metro to further explore transit service issues.