Monday, January 23, 2017

Our families need better transportation options – a recap of our recent #First 5LA Best Start meetings

NOTE: Investing in Place’s Advocacy and Policy Associate, Amanda Meza, authored this blog post (her first!).

Last week, Investing in Place met with parents of the First 5 LA Best Start Southeast LA County group and Best Start Watts-Willowbrook to talk about transportation concerns and challenges. At both meetings, we were joined by over 75 parents and children — many who were primarily Spanish speaking, Latino, African-American, and in Southeast LA, frequently rode the bus.

I was inspired and humbled by their feedback. We asked a big question: “What are your transportation issues and challenges in your neighborhood?”

The Big Question: What are your transportation issues and challenges?

Both communities have unique political and urban planning histories, even though they are neighbors. The Southeast LA County cities — cities like Bell Gardens, Cudahy, Maywood, and Huntington Park — are severely impacted by environmental justice issues, poor access to quality jobs, and for some cities, lack of government transparency. We heard from many parents — women specifically — that they were concerned about sexual harassment on the buses and at bus stops, the safety of their young children as they walked and biked to school, and the lack of safety while crossing the street or walking on sidewalks.

One attendee, Leticia, talked about needing a hotline to report bus drivers. She recounted a story of how she was exiting the bus and the doors closed before she could fully exit the bus — her hand was trapped in the closed doors. Others in the audience nodded their heads in agreement, and some volunteered stories of how sometimes buses would drive past them while they were waiting at the stop, or how some would trip and fall in the bus because the driver pulled away too fast. No matter who’s right or wrong in this situation, customer service on our buses should be a number one priority, no matter the neighborhood.

In Watts-Willowbrook, many residents commented how political change was arduous, slow — or non-existent. The abundance of violent crimes, oversaturation of street gangs, and inadequate access to quality jobs made some feel like the topic of transportation was a fringe issue. Totally understandable. We had to explain that transportation is more than just the buses and trains — its more comprehensive than that. It’s about investing in safer roads, safer crosswalks so our youth can get to school, and better sidewalks for our older adults and individuals with disabilities.

After spirited discussions, here’s a snapshot of their comments:

  • Southeast LA County cities:
    • Need better bus service and customer service. Some residents argue that buses arrive late and are off-schedule and bus drivers are driving too fast and riders are falling and tripping before they could find a seat.
    • Need training for bus drivers on how to recognize and address sexual harassment on the buses.
    • Need alert buttons and a 24/7 hotline to report sexual harassment. 
    • Need better traffic safety around schools, especially at Garfield Elementary in Bell Gardens. A parent talked about her concern for all the traffic and how fast cars are speeding by the school in the morning.
  • Watts-Willowbrook:
    • Echoing the sentiment in the Southeast LA County cities, need more bus driver training on recognizing and addressing sexual harassment on the buses.
    • Need more feeling of security on the bus and at bus stops – “I’m afraid of being robbed or pick-pocketed on the bus” said one parent; “We need more security when I get off work and I’m waiting at the bus stop at night”
    • Need “better service and cleaner buses and trains” commented another participant. He asked, “How come some areas have better services and cleaner buses than other areas? For example, the Blue Line versus the Expo Line”

A lot of these concerns are similar to others Investing in Place heard in communities like Broadway-Manchester, El Monte, Palmdale, and Lancaster. In my core, I believe that having access to affordable and reliable buses, trains, and safe sidewalks can help build stronger families. Without quality transportation, parents spend more time commuting and in traffic rather than spending that valuable time with their children.

Speaking with these parents reminded me of my upbringing. I grew up in South Side Chicago, and my father is a proud retired bus driver for Chicago Transit Authority (CTA).  I spent many days riding the bus all day because my parents could not afford childcare. I rode along with my father and remember being told to not talk to my dad. My mother worried that there would be repercussions. Having no other options, my mother would rather have her four year old ride along on a bus with strangers.

What’s Next?

But, now that we understand the concerns, what do we do next?  What we know is that political and policy change can be an arduous process, especially when funding is not equitably distributed and concentrated in economically challenged neighborhoods. At the meetings, what we recommended to many of the First 5 Best Start parents is first starting with identifying the problems and then building a constituency to attract more attention to the issues. For instance, Measure M provides some outstanding transportation projects, more funding for local bus service, and not to mention opportunities to repair sidewalks, crosswalks, traffic signals, and local roads — but, making these transportation dollars go the distance really depends on how active the First 5 Best Start parents are in these issues, local elected leadership, city managers, and the priorities of the Council of Governments.

 

We’re with them every step of the way, and these meetings serve as a first step towards longer advocacy — and we invite elected leaders and Council of Government leadership to contact any of these two groups to hear them out and work towards solutions.

If you are interested in our latest email updates about building better governance through the Council of Governments, please register for our list here. We’ll also be hosting our first Just Growth work group meeting on February 16 2:30-4pm in the Downtown LA Arts District — please register here if interested.


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