“Transit Crime and Sexual Violence in Cities: International Evidence and Prevention,” a new book co-edited by Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, has just been published. The book presents case studies from 18 cities on six continents to demonstrate the widespread incidence of crime in transit environments, primarily targeting women and young people. “Sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence in public spaces are everyday occurrences for women and girls around the world and a threat to the overall sustainability of the city,” wrote Loukaitou-Sideris and co-editor Vania Ceccato of the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden. Concerns about physical safety aboard public transit systems can deter individuals from fully participating in school, work and public life, they noted. The book identifies urban planning improvements to safeguard passengers and ensure that cities become more accessible and therefore more sustainable. Contributors to the book, published by Routledge, represent several disciplines, including environmental criminology, architecture and design, urban planning, geography, psychology, gender and LGBTQ studies, transportation and law enforcement. In the book’s foreword, Juma Assiago of UN-Habitat’s Safer Cities program wrote that the publication “contributes to our quest for safer, inclusive, resilient, equitable and sustainable cities and human settlements.”
Research by Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris was featured in an Age of Awareness article about the use of street art to combat gentrification in Los Angeles. Gentrification has turned areas like Gallery Row into flourishing arts districts with steadily rising rent while nearby areas like Skid Row have slid further into poverty, the article noted. To build a better community in the poor districts of Los Angeles, urban planners recommend increasing arts program funding and research for communities like Skid Row. A 2016 study co-authored by Loukaitou-Sideris found that spontaneous art events in Gallery Row and Skid Row lit up city streets “at a time when most Angelenos still avoided this downtown area because of its reputation for being dangerous and dilapidated.” The article argued that murals brighten concrete structures, create maintenance jobs and bring in tourist revenue. Research also shows that street art may decrease the amount of neighborhood graffiti.
Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris co-authored an opinion piece in Next City that recommended ways to better accommodate older adults as cities reopen. Even as stay-at-home orders are being lifted, fear of infection continues to prevent many older people from engaging in simple activities such as walking to a neighborhood park or sitting and reading a book on a public bench. Loukaitou-Sideris and co-author Setha Low, a professor at City University of New York, pointed to grocery stores, many of which have “created special hours for older patrons to shop without the fear of bumping into crowds.” The authors recommended retrofitting parking lots and waiting areas with more seating and shade that would allow older people to wait comfortably in line. “Simple, affordable steps like these will ensure that we are taking into account the lingering fear and isolation that threatens the well-being and health of the most vulnerable citizens — our seniors,” they concluded.
Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris spoke to the Daily Beast about the long lines expected once lockdown ends and businesses reopen. New limits on the number of people allowed inside an establishment at a time could result in lines that stretch down entire blocks, cutting into curb space and affecting the experience of pedestrians. “In most places, sidewalks have become quite empty,” Loukaitou-Sideris noted. “Unfortunately, that means sidewalks do not have the amenities that are necessary for people to stand in line.” Many urban planners are hoping to make American cities more walkable to allow for continued social distancing post-lockdown. Loukaitou-Sideris said she hopes to see “some kind of retrofitted amenities — movable seating, more shading and protection from the sun” — to accommodate people who must spend more time waiting in lines.
By Lauren Hiller
A new UCLA study found that being a woman, identifying as LGBTQI, having a long commute, or waiting in poorly lit areas significantly increased the likelihood of being sexually harassed on public transit.
In the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies report, “Transit Safety Among University Students,” Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning and researchers sought to better understand the characteristics of individuals and circumstances that increased their risk of harassment during their public transit journeys.
Professor Loukaitou-Sideris reported the findings during the Lewis Center’s April 3 InterActions LA conference, which brought together researchers, transit agencies and community activists around the topic of women’s safety in transportation.
The study surveyed 1,284 students from UCLA and the California State University campuses of Los Angeles and Northridge. According to the report, this population was chosen because university students are typically more transit-dependent than the general public, and because their young age may make them more vulnerable to victimization. Los Angeles was one of numerous cities studied as part of a global research project.
Much of the preexisting data on perceived safety and incidents of sexual harassment on transit in Los Angeles did not identify such characteristics as gender, sexuality and race. This study also uniquely delved into when in the course of a transit journey — walking to or from a station, waiting for the bus or train, or on the actual vehicle — sexual harassment occurred.
According to the study, 72% of respondents experienced some form of harassment on a bus, compared to 48% on rail, with women experiencing far more numerous instances than men. However, very few students (10%) reported the experience to either law enforcement or transit agencies. And more than half of women reported changing how they dressed or adjusting their travel patterns, such as riding only during daytime or waiting in well-lit areas.
Because women make up more than half of transit riders in the United States, Loukaitou-Sideris said it’s imperative to prioritize their safety.
“Their safety is an important concern that we need to tackle if we want to have more women riding transit and — for women who are already captive transit riders — riding transit more comfortably and without fear,” she said. “I think everyone deserves that in our transit systems.”
Safe Transit During COVID-19
The challenges that women and vulnerable populations face have only been magnified by the current COVID-19 crisis. Under statewide and local “safer at home” orders, it is frequently low-income women of color who are still traveling to work to provide essential services to the rest of the region, according to the other panelists at the InterActions event, including speakers from Pueblo Planning, Los Angeles Walks and Alliance for Community Transit-Los Angeles (ACT-LA).
“COVID-19 has revealed that our transit system is a lifeline,” said Mariana Huerta Jones, senior coalition and communications manager at ACT-LA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring equitable access to public transit infrastructure and funds.
During the InterActions presentation, Huerta Jones said public transit is often the only transportation option available to low-income residents working in jobs deemed essential in industries such as grocery stores, hospitals and sanitation.
Ensuring Women’s Safety
Other InterActions speakers like Monique López, founder and social justice planner at Pueblo Planning, spoke about the importance of including the voices of marginalized communities when crafting policy recommendations. And Daisy Villafuerte, advocacy and engagement manager from Los Angeles Walks, discussed grassroots efforts to improve transit experiences.
Presenting the next steps from LA Metro’s recent “Understanding How Women Travel” report, Meghna Khanna, senior director of the Countywide Planning and Development Department, and her team found that safety is still the biggest concern and barrier to riding transit for all women riders. While 60% of women felt safe traveling on Metro during the day, that number decreased to 20% at night.
Khanna and her team at LA Metro found that women frequently mentioned increased police presence as a solution that would help them feel safer on transit; however, not all transit riders agree.
“For many people of our community, more police doesn’t mean more safety. It can actually mean the opposite. It can mean racial profiling, harassment, criminalizing of poor or houseless individuals,” Huerta Jones said.
Solutions beyond policing — such as increased service frequency, improved cleanliness around stations, and the presence of non-police transit ambassadors — are just first steps in ensuring women can use transit without fear.
View a video about transit safety:
Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris and Professor Emeritus Martin Wachs are featured in an American Planning Association article along with co-author Miriam Pinski discussing their research article, “Toward a Richer Picture of the Mobility Needs of Older Americans.” The authors point out that “commonly used data sources on mobility provide high-level insights but fail to provide much detail about the travel experiences of older adults.” After conducting interviews, focus groups and walking audits with a group of 81 older adults in the Westlake neighborhood of Los Angeles, the authors found that many have concerns including fear of crime, heavy traffic and speeding vehicles, and discomfort on crowded or littered streets. The authors recommended government action, including sidewalk repairs and increasing walk time at crosswalks, to better meet the mobility needs of aging adults, particularly those from low-income and minority communities. Their research also has implications for transit accessibility broadly, particularly for people with disabilities.
Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris is one of five co-authors of the new book “Urban Humanities: New Practices for Reimagining the City,” published by MIT Press. Urban humanities is the emerging field at the intersection of the humanities, urban planning and design, according to the authors. Their book offers a new approach not only for understanding cities in a global context but for intervening in them, interpreting their histories, engaging with them in the present and speculating about their futures. The book offers case studies of real-world projects in mega-cities in the Pacific Rim, including Tokyo, Shanghai, Mexico City and Los Angeles. Several projects are described in detail, including playful spaces for children in car-oriented Mexico City, a commons in a Tokyo neighborhood, and a rolling story-telling box to promote “literary justice” in Los Angeles. The interdisciplinary nature of the book is highlighted by the team of authors, which includes four of Loukaitou-Sideris’ UCLA colleagues from other departments: Dana Cuff, Todd Presner, Maite Zubiaurre and Jonathan Jae-an Crisman. The book features work from faculty and students in the Urban Humanities Initiative, who come from the urban planning, architecture and humanities programs. The initiative draws from humanist practices and a concern for social justice to interpret and intervene in the city. Loukaitou-Sideris is the author of numerous articles and co-editor of multiple books. “Urban Humanities: New Practices for Reimagining the City” is Loukaitou-Sideris’ fourth co-authored project.
An article in Progressive Railroading highlighted the findings of a study on sexual harassment co-authored by Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris. Conducted at San Jose State University, the study found that sexual harassment experienced by riders on buses and trains leads to reduced use of public transportation. Of the 891 student transit riders surveyed, 63% indicated that they had experienced some form of sexual harassment while riding the train or bus over the past three years. According to Loukaitou-Sideris, “the findings from San Jose State University are comparable to those found when the same survey was administered at 18 other universities located across six continents.” The report included recommendations to combat sexual harassment, including educating the public, making it easier for riders and bystanders to report incidents of harassment to the police, and keeping transit environments well-lighted.
In an interview with the Chilean publication MasDeco, Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris discussed design strategies necessary to make sidewalks safe for all users. Loukaitou-Sideris explained that, while sidewalks were originally designed with the sole purpose of accommodating foot traffic and separating pedestrians from fast-moving cars, these narrow corridors are now overwhelmed by bikes, scooters and pedestrians, all moving at different speeds within the same space. New laws require bikers in many cities to ride in the street instead of on the sidewalk, but Loukaitou-Sideris stressed the importance of creating a designated bike lane to protect bikers riding alongside cars. In the interview, published in Spanish, Loukaitou-Sideris said design should be informed by the demography of the area in order to create space for everyone, especially older adults and small children. She concluded that urban planning and design can minimize conflict by creating space for all types of sidewalk users.
Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris was featured in a Stanford Social Innovation Review article about the success of a women-only transportation program in Papua New Guinea. In 2017, more than 90 percent of women reported being sexually harassed or robbed of their daily earnings by men on public transportation in the South Pacific nation. “It’s a worldwide epidemic,” said Loukaitou-Sideris, who has conducted research on college students and their sexual harassment experiences in transit environments in 18 global cities. “Physical harassment — groping and touching — happens in crowded settings because men feel more emboldened,” she explained. The women-only bus system started with a free-to-ride service called Meri Seif (“Woman Safe”) and added a pay-to-ride service called M-Buses in 2017. It now serves over 600,000 female riders. “For many women, public transportation is their first #MeToo moment,” Loukaitou-Sideris said. Despite its initial success, the program faces challenges including financial sustainability, social acceptance and hostility from men.