The Threat of Racial Profiling in Traffic Enforcement

This map shows the streets where 50 percent of fatal traffic crashes occur in San Jose. But in yellow, we see there's a strong overlap with "disadvantaged" areas, where immigrants, low-income people and people of color are concentrated. Map via Cyclelicious
The blue lines are streets where fatal traffic crashes occur in San Jose. There’s a lot of overlap with the areas in yellow, areas with large numbers of immigrants, low-income residents, and people of color. Map via Cyclelicious

Can urban police forces with histories of racial profiling and brutality be entrusted to carry out traffic enforcement as part of Vision Zero initiatives? In a Twitter chat yesterday, the Safe Routes to School National Partnership asked how to ensure that “law enforcement doesn’t profile or discriminate” when asked to uphold traffic laws.

Responding on Cyclelicious, Richard Masoner offers some data that illustrates the tension in San Jose:

As part of their Vision Zero effort, the city of San Jose, CA Police Traffic Enforcement Unit has adopted a data driven approach to enforcing traffic infractions. 50% of traffic fatalities in San Jose occur on just 3% of city streets. These “Safety Priority Streets” are portions of Almaden Expressway, Alum Rock Avenue, Blossom Hill Road, Branham Lane, Capitol Expressway, Jackson Avenue, King Road, McKee Road, McLaughlin Avenue, Monterey Road, Senter Road, Story Road, Tully Road, and White Road. Both cyclist fatalities in 2014 occurred on one of these streets, and the majority of cycling deaths in San Jose continue to occur on those roads.

JPD love this data, and it was very easy to convince them to use their very limited resources to target enforcement where they can do the most good.

But see what happens when we overlay the map of what our regional planning agency identifies as “Communities of Concern,” which are neighborhoods with a high proportion of minorities, recent immigrants, and low-income households.

People in all neighborhoods deserve safe streets, of course, but when people of color already feel unfairly targeted by law enforcement, sending an entire squad of motorcycle police with lidar guns to the east side might feel like harassment.

The real problem is that, historically, we’ve designed unsafe, incredibly hostile roads through these disenfranchised neighborhoods. Fatalities happen because people drive at highway speeds down eight lane thoroughfares with huge intersections. Fixing this is part of the “Engineering” component of Vision Zero, and San Jose has begun to allocate resources towards fixing these problems. This takes time and money, and in the meantime the dangerous driving and the fatalities will continue. SJPD must, unfortunately, continue playing the bad guy to make up for these design failures and improve street safety where they can.

Masoner goes on to call for a larger shift within bike advocacy to become more representative of the population at large, and to build a broader consensus about how achieve safe streets.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Greater Greater Washington says pedestrian tunnels aren’t the answer for safety in D.C. The Urbanophile explains how Indianapolis is drowning in infrastructure costs. And Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space says temporary transit system closures can be opportunities for innovation.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

What Will It Take for Houston to Eliminate Traffic Deaths?

|
In 2014, 227 people were killed in traffic collisions in Houston. Per capita, that means the city’s streets are more than three times as deadly as New York City’s. Despite the toll, there’s a culture of acceptance surrounding traffic violence in Houston. Now a group of local advocates are trying to change that. Houston Tomorrow, a local think tank devoted […]

Speeding Is a Big Problem Where Police Stopped Google Car for Slow Driving

|
A Google car made headlines last week when police pulled it over for driving too slowly on El Camino Real in Mountain View, California. Most media accounts treated the incident as a funny anecdote, but Richard Masoner at Cyclelicious says it reveals a lot about what’s broken with how police approach traffic enforcement: Guess which area of Mountain View is the most dangerous […]

What Would a National Vision Zero Movement Look Like?

|
Earlier this week, New York-based Transportation Alternatives released a statement of 10 principles that emerged from the Vision Zero symposium the group sponsored last Friday. It was the first-ever national gathering of thought leaders and advocates committed to spreading Vision Zero’s ethic of eliminating all traffic deaths through better design, enforcement, and education. I caught […]

Five Key Lessons From Europe’s Vision Zero Success

|
Cross-posted from the Vision Zero Network From the moment that Vision Zero began capturing attention in American cities, we’ve heard many admiring references to its success in Europe, particularly in its birthplace of Sweden. I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to research those experiences and their lessons for the growing number of American communities working […]