News | UC Davis' Jesus Barajas Looks at Transportation Safety through the Lens of Equity

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by Nikitha Kolapalli, USC, Master's in Healthcare Decision Analysis 2021

On February 25th, 2021, the University of California, Davis presented “Safe for Whom: Transportation Safety in the Context of Planning and Infrastructure Equities,” research on how identity shapes the way cyclists experience the streetscape, how safety has multiple meanings particularly for people of color, and how inequity in the distribution of infrastructure compounds police injustice in Black Communities. Presented by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Department of Urban Planning and UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, this was the third event in the 2021 Perloff Lecture Series.


Jesus M. Barajas is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Policy affiliated with the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies. His research connecting transportation planning and mobility justice addresses the influence of systems of inequities on travel behavior and the response of policymakers. He has led several projects on topics such as travel behavior, transportation safety, and the implications of policing on transportation planning.


Jesus M. Barajas

Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Policy and Affiliated Faculty at the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies


Barajas notes that we are in a transportation safety epidemic as evidenced by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, with a rise in both the number of pedestrian fatalities (by 51%) and bicyclist fatalities (by 36%) on the roadways of the United States over the last decade. The 2019 Dangerous by Design report by Smart Growth America and National Complete Streets Coalition demonstrates an increase in pedestrian deaths by 35.4%, vehicle miles traveled by 8.1%, walking as a share of all trips by less than 1%, and a decrease in traffic deaths among motor vehicle occupants by 6.1%, Barajas added. Some of the reasons for the decline in pedestrian safety, he shares, include the sheer size of the vehicles, driver distraction, and roadway design.


In light of this safety pandemic, Barajas explains that there is a changing paradigm on the approach to safety through the 3E’s - Effectiveness of Engineering, Education, and Enforcement. “The new way to safety is targeting interventions through the use of data which highlights where the most dangerous locations are and where interventions need to be targeted,” he said.  “In the United States, this safe systems approach has generally been implemented in around 40 cities through Vision Zero policy imported from Sweden with a goal of achieving zero fatalities on the road system in the last decade.”  He adds that a Vision Zero data analysis shows that the communities of color bear the brunt of the safety burden.


Dr. Barajas noted that aggregated five-year fatality data from 2014 to 2018 using the American Community Survey and the National Household Travel Survey demonstrates the over-representation of black indigenous people of color with similar patterns in California. The mobility justice framework helps offer insight into safety issues and solutions. It is really important, he shared, to understand identity and neighborhood to promote safe travel behavior. A survey of Latino immigrants to understand sustainable transportation decision-making indicated the critical influence of social networks and familial networks on immigrant cycling. Charles Brown from Rutgers University has highlighted particular barriers to black cyclists such as Crime/personal security, Inadequate infrastructure, and Racial Profiling.


Speaking about bicycling, Barajas reports that while traffic policing may be beneficial and arguably necessary, it is disparate, racist, and unjust. In Chicago, for example, bicycle citations are issued twice as often in Black neighborhoods compared to others (56% of tickets in 2018). The act of riding a bicycle alone is associated with a higher risk of accident for riders of color.  The Statewide integrated traffic record system in California reported 7,088 bicycle crashes over a 3-year period in San Francisco with black cyclists facing a disproportionate risk of crashes. Interestingly, neither lower traffic volumes nor dedicated bike infrastructure reduced the crash incidence for either Black or Latino groups.



Barajas concluded his lecture by citing the takeaway on the clear associations between infrastructure, disadvantage, and policing with planning and investment failures compounding other inequities. Planners and policymakers, he said, should be more attentive to the intersections of identity and mobility. “The data on the racial disparities in Chicago was incredibly powerful. Not only the descriptive analysis of the huge differences across enforcement safety and sort of infrastructure but also the statistical model showing the lack of relationship between enforcement and safety is interesting” commented Brian D Taylor, Professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy and Director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA who moderated the session.


The full event recording can be accessed here.


About the Author:

Dr. Nikitha Kolapalli is a health economist/clinical pharmacist pursuing her master's in Healthcare Decision Analysis from the USC School of Pharmacy. She works as a staff writer and editor for the METRANS student team. She is deeply passionate about maximizing accessible, equitable, and affordable healthcare.