Documenting the Factors that Influence Youth Route Choices in Los Angeles

Research Team: Dana Cuff (lead) and Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris

UC Campus(es): UCLA

Problem Statement: Inner-city youth often walk to school and are likely to encounter unsafe streets with higher proportions of pedestrian-automobile crashes. Despite Vision Zero and Safe Routes to School programs, they remain disproportionately represented among traffic fatalities, which are the highest in a decade. But the idea of safe streets goes beyond pedestrian-traffic relationships. As one study of inner-city fifth graders in Los Angeles found, “dangers in their social milieu are a much greater concern for them than the physical milieu, which the walkability research typically emphasizes.” These social dangers influence youth’s choice to frequent traffic-heavy streets like those included in Vision Zero’s high-injury network, as these arterials are perceived safer for walking than more quiet but desolate residential streets. Thus, youth’s urban paths to and from school are informed by “hot spots” (where crime and crash data indicate danger) as well as “safe spots” (where data indicate safety from crime). Therefore, enhancing safety among inner-city youth requires attention to both physical and social relationships.

Project Description: The researchers will work with youth (aged 12-15) to study their journey from school to after school activities in the LA neighborhood of Westlake. This neighborhood falls within the city’s high injury network as defined by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) Vision Zero Plan and includes two Safe Route to School areas. The researchers have built strong community partnerships over a two-decade long history of working in this neighborhood. While their preliminary work with youth in Westlake has found traffic speed to be a top concern among middle-schoolers, youth also carry mental maps of local “sidewalk ecologies” that include bus stops, lighting, social activity, shade, unhoused residents, and vendors, among other factors that shape their routes. This concept of “sidewalk ecology” will be used to emphasize the interaction of both positively and negatively perceived social and physical features that affect mobility. Together with their community partner, the HOLA after-school program, the researchers will prepare walking audits, perform cognitive mapping, document sidewalk ecologies, and conduct follow-up youth interviews. The research will be supported by LADOT pedestrian safety data serving as reference points in mapping the varied routes taken by study participants. By thoroughly documenting and interpretating youth route choices and experiences this research will provide insights into how neighborhood youths perceive streets, and how planners and policymakers can make them safer.

Status: In Progress

Budget: $90,000