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Bike Walk Life

News and commentary from the world of biking and walking.

Unsafe streets perpetuate unjust enforcement in marginalized areas

Marginalized communities always have a couple of things in common, unsafe streets and oversized law enforcement. These aren’t together by coincidence; unsafe street design necessitates extra policing. Recently, the US House transportation committee had a hearing on this topic.

Transportation for America has a blog post about the hearing and the broader issue.

Equitable enforcement of traffic rules is a major national discussion. But under-discussed is the role dangerously-designed streets play in putting Black and brown people in a perilous position: break traffic law and risk interacting with police, or put themselves in harm’s way when navigating unsafe infrastructure. Here’s our recap on a recent House hearing on equitable enforcement of traffic rules.

An under-appreciated fact is that these communities didn’t develop dangerous streets by accident. It may be tempting to think that this was a sin of omission, that engineers simply forgot to include safety in their plans, but the reality is that most of these streets are deadly by design.

For decades, we’ve used land in marginalized communities to build infrastructure that was too ugly, too noisy, and too deadly to put in politically-influential communities instead. The roads that now go through these areas are optimized for fast traffic packed with SUVs. This benefits the people who drive through those roads, but comes at the expense of the people who have to live near them.

This compounds with the fact that there is often no safe alternative to the deadly roads. Residents are forced to “jaywalk” just to get from point A to point B. This makes them vulnerable to not only traffic crashes, but also law enforcement.

This system is deadly by design, but it doesn’t have to be that way. The Transportation for America article has some good ideas for national-level policies that will help. On the local level, we can keep pushing to make all of our streets safe for everyone.