Transportation Safety- When It Means More Than Crashes

Public transportation is a way of life for many people around the globe. Both men and women use it to get to their destinations; however, the sexes do not face the same challenges on their daily commutes. In this realm of transportation, women lack a sense of safety and right to personal space. Women both in the US and internationally face sexual harassment, stalking, and assaults while riding public transportation. Personal safety on public transportation must be taken seriously and considered as part of the planning phase in order to reach the ridership goals of transportation plans.

I have faced this harsh reality time and time again as I walk the sidewalks or ride public transportation in Washington, DC. For example, while 7 months pregnant and riding a bus a man sitting next to me rattled off threats and insults, tried to show me a picture on his phone, and, at one point, threatened my life. There were people all around me, male and female, all within earshot and no one did anything. I remember thinking, “Am I the only one who hears this? Am I imagining this? Why won’t anyone help me?” For a split second, I wondered what I might have done to provoke such an action, but quickly pushed it out of my mind. I hadn’t done anything wrong. All I did was take a seat on the bus. This incident shook me to my core and made me rethink public transportation. A brave friend of mine loudly called out her harasser on a train full of commuters after she was groped on the New York City Subway. Public transportation is for all and no one should have to deal with harassment when commuting.

Unfortunately, these types of instances play out regularly for women on transit. Millions of women around the world have experienced some form of harassment or sexual assault while riding public transportation or merely existing in public space. This is also not a new problem. In a 2000 study, it was estimated that 87% of women have experienced some sort of street harassment, with over half reporting extreme harassment such as being groped, touched, rubbed, or other unwanted contact including being followed. For women that have experienced harassment, 84% internalized the harassment and reported having changed their actions to avoid these situations in the future. In other western societies like London, 43% of young women (ages 18-34) reported having experienced sexual harassment in public spaces over the past year alone.

Women in large international cities also report experiencing harassment or assaults in their daily commutes. Bogota, the long-heralded model for effective public transit, is reported as one of the most dangerous for women. Beijing, Dehli, and Kathmandu all have high rates of harassment and assaults on public transit. Each have attempted to implement gender-segregated train cars or vehicles as a solution, however, all of these alleged transportation solutions put the burden of safety solely on women.

In the already-crowded transit systems in such large cities, enforcement can be difficult and the limited availability of these modes and cars can extend commutes for women or worse, make them targets in general boarding areas. Furthermore, gender segregation on transit does not address the deep-seated, but painfully apparent societal issues that allow this harassment and assault to persist. Even after implementation of these solutions, many of these cities still experience the highest rates of sexual harassment on public transportation. A continued lack of safety causes some women to reconsider or avoid public transportation altogether seeking other, more protective, options. Solutions to these issues are also nuanced- no intersection redesign or traffic calming principles will solve these issues. It is this very aspect of the problem that makes them challenging but critical for transportation agencies to address.

See part 2 of this blog here discussing the beginning steps to address these issues.

Christine E. Mayeur is an urban planner with a unique set of skills and interests. She has been called a “renaissance woman” by her coworkers and is interested in all things creative and challenging. Christine uses her history of working with communities through grass-roots organizations along with her planning skills to help plan transportation systems that meet the needs of all users. 

How We Built the District’s Vision Zero Plan

In December 2015, Mayor Muriel Bowser rolled out the plan for zero traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 2024. What you may not realize is the effort behind the scenes to put a plan of this magnitude together. Here’s a little insider’s scoop on how the Vision Zero came to be.

It all began with a call to action by Anthony Foxx, the United States Secretary of Transportation. The Mayor’s Challenge for Safer People, Safer Streets, which charged city officials to take a proactive stance for pedestrian and bicycle safety. In response, the District of Columbia’s Mayor Muriel Bowser launched DC’s Vision Zero campaign, modeled after the Swedish version, to reduce the number of transportation related fatalities and serious injuries to zero. The development of strategies to support the mission of Vision Zero was multi-pronged, in that it consisted of agency, public, and advocate support.

18 DC_DirectorsMeeting2The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) was responsible for facilitating the development of the Vision Zero Strategies, but by no means is Vision Zero a DDOT plan. This was an all hands on deck approach, where every agency that influences transportation safety was involved and responsible the development and implementation of the strategies.  Eventually this effort included 30 city agencies.

Four workgroups (data, engineering, education, and enforcement), met at least four times throughout the spring and summer to brainstorm and collaborate on initiatives and solutions for public safety. Agencies worked together to identify needs and offer each other support for developing strategies. All strategies went through several layers of approval from individual agency directors to the Mayor’s office.

Throughout the summer DDOT le20 DC_VIsionZero_ClevelandParkd an aggressive public outreach campaign to promote Vision Zero. This campaign consisted of a crowdsourcing map that the public used to identify areas of the District perceived to be hazardous to moving safely, ten public awareness events near busy transit hubs and areas of high pedestrian traffic, roll-out of thirty Vision Zero branded Capital Bikeshare bikes, bus shelter PSAs, and a youth summit where nearly 300 youth took part in the survey and participated in activities that promoted moving safely throughout the District. Nearly 2,700 people participated in the survey to poll the top safety concerns to moving safely throughout the District. The public response to the crowdsourcing map and awareness events helped to determine strategies that were important to the public. Across all age groups and all eight wards, the top safety concerns the public identified were drivers speeding, distracted drivers, and travelers of all kinds ignoring traffic signals.

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The public input was used to refine agency strategies. These strategies were later vetted through stakeholder groups, which consisted of pedestrian and bicycle advocate groups, who will later champion some strategies. Vetting the strategies through stakeholders was the last piece of the puzzle, even before making the strategies look pretty.

 

 


Robyn Jackson is a mid-level civil engineer. After beginning her career as a project manager in the vertical construction business, she took a leap of faith and moved cross-country from California to Washington, DC landing at Nspiregreen LLC where she is able to pursue her interests in transportation and act on her sense of responsibility to the environment.





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