Op-Ed: Street Safety Is a Matter of Race

What do traffic safety and gun violence have in common? A lot, as it turns out. In both cases, hard-hit neighborhoods tend to have suffered from historical disinvestment along racial lines.

September 1, 2019, 9:00 AM PDT

By Philip Rojc @PhilipRojc

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Rory Finneren / Flickr

Although gun violence and traffic safety might seem like unrelated ills, their severity tracks with "race, class, and place," Hanna Love and Jennifer S. Vey write. "The lower a metro area's median household income, the more dangerous its streets are for people walking. And similar trends persist for gun violence." 

In urban areas, neighborhoods populated mostly by people of color tend to be poorer than white areas. That de facto segregation is of course no accident: it was once de jure. High rates of car and gun violence "stem from the same historical inequities in how our cities were designed and built, in which intentional decisions by planners and policymakers divided our nation's physical landscape along racial lines," Love and Vey write.

They argue that addressing both problems means acknowledging that for disadvantaged communities, making streets safer will require more than mere bike lanes. "For those who are vulnerable to victimization when engaging in everyday tasks—like walking to buy snacks or to work—concerns about safety impact nearly every aspect of their lives."

Love and Vey advocate better engagement with residents, asking them what they want from their streets and investing in safety strategies already being developed and led by those in the community.

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