Planetizen Talks to UCLA Professor About Women’s Safety on Buses

Thanks to an excellent submission by Enci Box last year, we’ve had a couple of great discussions on women’s safety on the streets, both for cyclists and pedestrians.  However, we haven’t spent nearly as much energy discussing safety for bus riders, especially women bus riders.  Fortunately, Planetizen Editor Tim Halbur sat down to have an in-depth discussion of this issue with UCLA Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-SiderisYou can read the full interview at Planetizen, and I strongly recommend it for anyone interested in this issue as both Halbur and Loukaitou-Sideris do a great job.  For those without the time to read the full interview, here’s an except.

PLANETIZEN: So imagine I’m a transportation planner, and I’m
reading your interview right now on Planetizen. What would you urge me
to do?

LOUKAITOU-SIDERIS: To incorporate women’s voices into the planning
process. I was asked to speak at a conference recently specifically on
women’s issues and transportation, and there were some women
transportation planners there who were saying, "Well, we have to look
only to universal needs." I respectfully disagree, because there are
specific needs. Transportation planners really need to look at women’s
fears in transportation settings and know that there are things that
they can do to if not completely eliminate but reduce these fears.
These solutions involve policy, design, policing, and outreach and
education.

Of course, this costs money. But my work and the work of others has
shown that crime comes at hotspots: not every area is equally unsafe.
Transit agencies do audits every year, and they know where these
hotspots are. So when we talk about limited resources, they could
concentrate their resources on these areas.

  • Gonna stay anonymous here

    I have a bit of a unique perspective on this situation. While i’m not /technically/ female YET, I often get “mistaken” for one and am taking hormones, undergoing laser hair removal, etc. so that I’m more convincing at all angles. I stick out like a sore thumb a bit at many stops and in many buses and train cars for not just being one of the few if only white people there but even if I don’t pass for a female I’m small and effeminite. On top of that I am often carrying and using a smartphone or handheld game device or two.

    Hopefully I’m not sounding overwrought but my point is I definitely stick out a bit and am a target in, if not the exact same way, a very similar way to any other woman riding transit. I’ve thankfully never been harassed to any extreme but I’ve definitely had some odd (though admittedly amusing, to me) advances directed toward me.

    I found this interview enlightening but a bit short on solutions. Now one I did like is the suggestion that “next bus in…” signs which DO give you a sense of control of the situation and something I REALLY want regardless of safety concerns. In my dream world I load up google maps on my smartphone and I see dots of the current location of all my favorite buses, and major stops have electronic displays with similar information for buses at that stop. I don’t get MTA’s ridiculous reasoning that terrorists will blow up all our buses if this information was handy and quite frankly if I get blown up on a trackable bus I will die happy, and for freedom.

    In LA I think I’d personally feel safer if buses and trains ran later (24 hours) and where reasonable, more frequently, so I never felt trapped anywhere or compelled to do something stupid to get where I’m going faster, before the last bus or train either for a long time or the rest of the day.

  • Sexual harassment is a big deal, and something us men don’t necessarily think about a lot. Last time I was in New York I saw this really creepy instance of sexual harassment on a train, where this guy goes up to woman after woman and says “do you wanna be my girlfriend” like three times in a row. They just ignored him and eventually he went away. I almost stepped in, but I was a little afraid myself (what if this guy totally flips out and pulls a weapon or something?) followed their lead and ignored it.

    If that happened to me, I would probably think twice about riding again. That’s a real day ruiner.

    I hope women speak up on this, even if it’s hard to share.

  • “Last time I was in New York I saw this really creepy instance of sexual harassment on a train, where this guy goes up to woman after woman and says “do you wanna be my girlfriend” like three times in a row.”

    Is it sexual harassment or is it a guy with mental condition who doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong? Who knows sometimes.

  • I think it was both. This guy was probably disturbed. But, I have no doubt that those women felt harassed just the same. It was a very tense situation.

  • Gonna stay anonymous here

    I had a really fat guy carrying a pie tell me that he loved me, in all seriousness, on a bus near hollywood / highland. It was creepy but both at the time and in retrospect goddamed hilarious.

    I enjoy collecting crazy stories and experiences like this but others might not share my enthusiasm. “Next time” might not be a weird but harmless pie toting fat dude either.

    Problem is I’m not sure what a transit agency can do about these kinds of things. It’s more of a social problem and needs to be addressed as a cultural issue where others around don’t tolerate harassment toward others and taken seriously by authorities when it’s reported. And even still, most attempts to do this kind of thing seem to be confined to whiny blogs about patriarchy and “rape culture”. :(

  • Colby

    There are definitely some infrastructure features that can help (lighting etc), but it often comes down to the transit company setting and enforcing boundaries for appropriate behavior and other riders looking out for each other. Here in Tucson, all the buses have placards encouraging people to notify the driver of inappropriate/suspicious behavior. A couple weeks ago, I saw a driver warn a group of young men about their foul language and then kick them off the bus after a 2nd infraction. I think this sets the tone and gives the riders a sense that these things are taken seriously.

  • Anastasia recruited me to earn my MA in urban planning at UCLA, and I’m so proud to be part of a program whose scholars are very well-versed in the issues impacting the use of sustainable modes for women. Anastasia so happens to be interested in walking and transit use. Through my experience interacting with the students, staff, and faculty at UCLA Transportation, I have heard so many different stories about why some are reticent to walk or take transit. Anastasia’s research provides scholarly legitimacy to these concerns.

    I asked one of my colleagues (a non planning/transportation geek) to look at Anastasia’s interview, and here is her opinion (as posted on the planetizen page):

    i think the “whole journey” concept is very important. in my old apartment, i lived just four blocks from a bus that would take me to my office’s front door. but the journey to that stop required i walk along a self-storage facility where, as my co-worker calls them, “undesirables” hung about all day and night with empty bottles disposed along their feet. the few times i walked past them, their stares, grins or whistles not only made me uncomfortable but fear for my safety. don’t get me wrong – my neighborhood is quite safe and i haven’t heard of any crimes since i moved in five years ago, but the ladies reading this will understand my apprehension.

    the last block of the journey was under a very wide freeway overpass which was loud, dark and dirty. there are no businesses, homes or cameras along that path so if something were to happen, i would have to fend for myself before AND after the incident.

    so even though my work (UCLA Transportation) provides very affordable public transit subsidies and i would have loved to do my share to help the environment, i felt forced to drive alone to my office which was only three miles away. i hope these concerns can be addressed in the future for everyone else in similar situations. thank you Professor Loukaitou-Sideris for bringing attention to this issue!

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