Monday, October 4, 2021

Changing Lanes Towards a Gender-Equitable Transportation System

LADOT recently released a report with Kounkuey Design Initiative, Toole Design, UCLA, CityFi, Investing in Place, Pacoima Beautiful, and Watts Century Latino Organization about how to achieve a gender equitable transportation system in Los Angeles.


The Changing Lanes report analyzed how women and men get around in  three neighborhoods in Los Angeles: Sun Valley in the San Fernando Valley, Sawtelle in West Los Angeles, and Watts in South Los Angeles. These were all neighborhoods that have a high proportion of Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities (BIPOC) women that live in car-free households. These distinct neighborhoods highlight intersectional similarities by race/ethnicity, gender, and income.


This type of report in Los Angeles is imperative. Our roads, sidewalks, bike lanes, and transit networks have historically been designed with a white cis-straight and able-bodied male in mind, leaving a transportation system that is unfunctional for the majority of Angelenos, especially for working-class women of color. In Watts, women felt unsafe starting in the early evening walking to transit because of minimal lighting. They found walking difficult especially when sidewalks or curbs didn’t accommodate wheelchair and stroller access.  Women in Sun Valley talked about the burden of having to do more in the household and having to rely on the bus since some couldn’t drive. Women from these neighborhoods want transportation systems that work for them, however the status quo has failed them.


At Investing in Place, we have noticed similar trends with lower-income mothers of color as part of our on-going Moms and Mobility campaign. Our survey of 36 mothers with South Central LAMP revealed that 47% of mothers did not drive and 67% were not looking to buy or save for a new car, but wanted to see improvements in street lighting, safer streets that reduce dangerous driving, and increased bus service. 


A similar survey in collaboration with East Side Riders Bike Club found that while only 17% of mothers did not have a car, 70% of mothers surveyed were not looking to buy or save for a new car, and wanted to see dangerous driving reduced as well as providing protected bike lanes and bike paths away from car traffic. 


Each of the neighborhoods in the study, while having a similarly high proportion of BIPOC women surveyed who didn’t own a car,  are still vastly different from one another. Sawtelle, Sun Valley and Watts are very different in terms of how close destinations are to one another in comparison, as well as the economic resources each person has at their disposal. A place such as Sun Valley having less destinations nearby means that women have to travel further from home for their day-to-day needs, which is more difficult without reliable access to transportation.  



Sawtelle Sun Valley Watts LA Neighborhood Average
Latino 22% 71% 74% 46%
White 48% 19% 1% 30%
Black 3% 2% 23% 9%
Asian 21% 7% 1% 11%
Other/Two Races 5% 1% 3% 3%


Sun Valley has women earning a median income of $21,974, Watts has women earning a median income of $16,417, and Sawtelle has women earning a median income of $44,664. 


All three neighborhoods generally have survey respondents who commute to work with a car. At least 77% to 84% of women commuting to work drove with a vehicle, while 4% of Sun Valley women live in a car-free household, 5% of Sawtelle women live in a car-free household, and 10% of Watts women live in a car-free household. This shows that many women in these three neighborhoods are dependent on a vehicle to get to work, which is very similar to the Los Angeles neighborhood average. This may be because the jobs that the women in these neighborhoods have are further away, and are more accessible and convenient to commute via automobile. In addition, 9% of Sun Valley women commute with transit to work, 9% of Sawtelle women commuted with transit, and 15% of Watts women commuted by transit to work. Many women who took transit to work stated several challenges including transit trips taking longer than driving, having to plan their days more carefully, and being exposed to the weather while waiting for the bus. For years, people have viewed transportation equity as solely having access to transit, however we must take a nuanced look at low-income women of color need, and provide better transportation options including increasing vehicle access for those who need it. You can see the variety of transit options available in each neighborhood in the table below.



The findings relating to barriers of travel for women in the three neighborhoods are very significant. Women were found more likely to take multiple trips per day with different modes to places such as the grocery store in all three neighborhoods. Sawtelle, for instance, had a greater variety of modes used for those surveyed and more active travel. In addition, women are more likely to travel over 45 minutes to the grocery store compared to men. This is because due to Sawtelle’s denser land use, women have a greater variety of transportation options for shorter distances, and have financial resources to pay for micromobility services such as scooters.


This reality is unfortunately not the same throughout all neighborhoods.  One woman from Watts surveyed stated: “There is a new market that sells fruits and veggies cheaper, but it is further away and the transportation system doesn’t go there. On my bike, I can’t carry all the things and I can’t always wait for my husband to come home to get a ride.”


There have also been significant barriers to travel for women, particularly in Watts and Sun Valley. Two thirds of surveyed women in Sun Valley have a driver’s licence and 54% of surveyed women in Watts had a driver’s licence. As a result,  Watts was the neighborhood where people drove the least, compounding existing socioeconomic issues. In addition, only 52% of Watts women had a smartphone, limiting access for these women to use ridesharing and micromobility services, as well as lacking access to real-time transit information. A majority of women in these neighborhoods stated that ridesharing and taxis were too expensive to use.  You can check the report that we did with South Central LAMP about the barriers that moms in South LA face regarding rideshare and micromobility, as well as proposed recommendations here.


In addition, lack of transportation has been a barrier to recreation for women in the survey. Many women in the survey used cars to get to recreational facilities such as parks and beaches, however for women without drivers licences who live in neighborhoods that are park-poor and lack transit access to the beach, getting to places of recreation is more challenging. 


A woman from Watts surveyed stated: “It would be great if there were transportation that went to the mountains and the beaches so people could go enjoy them with their families.”


The report has some great recommendations for closing the transportation gender gap in Los Angeles, including revising data collection methods to center gender, race/ethnicity, income, and ability as well as working with Community Based Organizations (CBOs) who do work in those areas. This is critical, as historically transportation and commute data has been collected without consideration of race, class, gender, and ability. The report stresses the importance of inclusive infrastructure. Inclusive infrastructure includes increasing public transit and automobile access for women in low- and medium-density neighborhoods, as well as increasing access to walking and biking for women in high-density neighborhoods. Since women trip-chain more than men – which means that trips from one endpoint to another (such as home to work) will have trips in between such as to daycare and to the grocery store – partnering with CBOs and agencies to increase access driver’s licences among women would be tantamount to help with making longer trips more convenient. Recommendations also include expanding on existing LADOT services such as point-to-point transit service for women caregivers to recreation places, and expanding car and van-sharing at affordable housing developments. Finally, introducing new program ideas such as hiring local women as community ambassadors in low-income BIPOC neighborhoods where increased police presence would be harmful to the community. 


We recommend that you read the report for yourself, there are a multitude of fascinating findings and analysis. While this report prioritizes findings more than recommendations, the Metro Gender Equity Action Plan report is coming soon and should give greater depth to recommendations that would increase women’s access to transportation. This report is a great first step as, historically, the transportation needs of women have not been adequately researched, and the report emphasizes the intersectionality of gender, race/ethnicity, and income when analyzing women’s transportation needs. 


The time is now for acting upon this landmark study. We must reallocate resources from the City of Los Angeles’ budget that are particularly harmful for low-income women of color in order to create a more gender-equitable transportation system. We must also push for procedural equity within the budget process so that people that have been left out of the decision-making process, such as lower-income women of color, can better engage with how our city serves our transportation needs.

Additional Resources:


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