Safe Streets for Whom?

An equity strategist offers advice on creating safe streets programs that address systemic racism.

2 minute read

July 29, 2016, 9:00 AM PDT

By Elana Eden


Bike and Ped Safety Signs

ictsan / Flickr

Naomi Doerner, a consultant who helps bike and pedestrian advocates develop racial justice plans, gives Streetsblog her take on the blind spots in the planning community.

After addressing organizational culture and community outreach, Doerner points to Vision Zero as an example of a campaign hampered by a failure to analyze its relationship to systemic racism.

While its goal of eliminating traffic deaths is unassailable, Doerner suggests that the Vision Zero campaign has been implemented in a "top-down" manner that relies too much on police enforcement.

The problem, she says, is that the impacts of heavier policing are felt profoundly differently across socially disparate communities—and don't necessarily result in improved safety:

When you look at what is happening in communities of color in cities where we have this broken windows policing and you overlay this Vision Zero enforcement, there are concerns that it could lead to this kind of profiling or traffic stops.

Police are more likely to stop black and Latino drivers for minor infractions, Streetsblog points out; more troublingly, a recent study found this to be an important factor in the disproportionately high number of police killings of black and Latino people.

"This particular Vision Zero analysis had not been done by the advocacy community," Doerner notes. She continues:

I think that a lot of that really does have to do with the fact that a lot of the organized bike and walk community are not comprised of people of color. There are a very high number of people of color who bike and walk. But generally, they’re not really helping shape policy or the campaigns.

It doesn’t mean that you throw out everything about Vision Zero. It just means we have to use analysis tools to figure out who could very well be negatively impacted and develop alternatives.

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