By: Adylbek Abdykalikov, USC, IPPAM 2020
Quinn Wallace, Master of Planning student at USC Price, won first place in the American Planning Association (APA) Transportation Planning Division 2018 Student Paper Competition for her examination of harassment women face on public transit. APA, the nation’s largest membership organization of planners, has awarded top student papers on transportation planning since 2007, and Wallace is the first USC student to receive first place in this category.
Wallace spent her childhood in Portland, Oregon and in a small town outside of Austin, Texas. She first became aware of urban planning in middle school when she started recognizing her passion for cities. In high school, she started to become interested in government, politics, and social justice. As her education progressed, she gained significant exposure to activism around women’s rights and women and girls’ education in an inclusive and supportive environment led by women. As a part of her path towards transportation planning, she interned with the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration’s office in Kansas City where she provided technical support to public transit agencies around the Midwest. There, “I fell in love with the transportation sector - everything from communicating across professions to practicing technical planning skills excited me,” she shared. “I became certain that mobility and planning could provide me with a lifetime of excitement in my career.”
When Wallace moved to Los Angeles, her exposure to planning and women’s movements became foundational to understanding her environment as a female user of public space, the street, and transit. “I had never lived on my own in a “big city,” she noted, “and the daily experiences of catcalls, whistles, harassment, and unwanted attention in my own neighborhood started to feel relentless.”
It was in LA that she began her Master of Planning program at USC, Wallace enrolled in Professor Marlon Boarnet’s Institutional and Policy Issues in Transportation course, which she considers her favorite course at Price. Wallace remembers one class in particular that included a very meaningful discussion on harassment, given that this subject happened to coincide with the spark of the #MeToo movement in 2017. “I was inspired to write my paper on sexual harassment and public transportation,” remembers Wallace.
Her winning paper, “Women-Oriented Transit: Meeting Female Travelers’ Needs in Settings of Fear and Harassment,” centers on women’s perceptions of their environment. Wallace says that it was critical for her to understand how fear affected women’s travel behavior and patterns. She was able to gain this understanding and add her own analysis of existing academic literature. “I originally hypothesized that “choice” female riders (riders who do not rely on public transit as their primary method of transportation) would shift away from using public transportation after experiencing harassment on transit systems. However, I found that there was little evidence to support this, partly because there is a severe shortage of ridership data disaggregated by gender.” Wallace admits that it is difficult for traditional data collection methods and tools to capture riders who modify their behavior. A common behavior modification is physically distancing yourself from a harasser; sometimes, women will step off the bus, move to a different train car, or walk to the next bus stop. In her paper, she asks the question, how do planners include these moments, modifications, and reactions in evaluation and planning processes? The short answer is that right now, these data points are generally missed by public transit agencies, particularly in the US where sexual harassment and assault has long been seen as a minor occurrence in public space. “#MeToo, the Women’s March, and other recent women’s rights movements have rightfully infiltrated the transportation sector, and I wrote my paper at a time when this process began in its current form,” says Wallace. Wallace shares that she was both surprised and humbled by the positive reception of her paper. “Since receiving the APA award and connecting with others on this topic, I have continued to reflect on what my research and writing means to me,” she remarked. “Taking a holistic, intersectional approach to my paper allowed me to both grapple with my own experiences as a transit rider in LA and identify ways in which women’s experiences on public transit can be improved.”
Wallace sees this paper as a first step for her in advocating for and supporting women’s rights in public space; she had already done more work around gender and travel as an intern under an LA Metro project.
“I continue to ask questions about gender and travel and am finding new ways to carve out this specialization for myself, while continuing to grow and learn as much as I can about transportation and planning. In brief,” she concluded, “there is much more work to be done to improve women and girls’ experiences on public transportation. I will be there to do this work, and I know I will not be alone.”
About the Author:
Adylbek Abdykalikov is a graduate student of International Public Policy and Management Program at USC Price. He has working experience in various positions at the Ministries of Transport and Communication and Investment and Development of Kazakhstan and was in charge of Transportation and Civil Aviation policy development and implementation.