Will Los Angeles Ever Be a Safe Place for Kids? Meet the Women Charged with Creating Safe Routes to Schools
It is no secret that in America, and especially in Greater Los Angeles, too many children do not walk around their own neighborhoods. Whether it is fear of “stranger danger,” safety in the neighborhood, or the allure of electronic babysitting, many of today’s youth spend too much time indoors, and not enough doing something as simple as walking.
Today is the day that changes. For a couple of hours, children everywhere will be laughing and playing on the sidewalks. Meeting their neighbors. Extorting them for candy. For some children, this will be a unique experience. For others, it is just like every other day, except their clothes are cooler.
In an effort to combat this trend, Los Angeles is beginning to take the first steps, pardon the pun, to get children walking by encouraging more parents to have their children walk to school. After years of underperfoming when it came to earning state and federal Safe Routes to Schools’ grants, the city used a portion of its Measure R Local Return funds to modernize the city’s process of earning and delivering on these grants.
Earlier this year, the City of Los Angeles hired Margot Ocanas and Valerie Watson to be the city’s first official “pedestrian coordinator” and “assistant pedestrian coordinator.”
Both women come prepared for their new role with experiences from their professional and personal lives.
Ocanas, a former grant manager with the RENEW Program at the L.A. County Department of Public Health, was planning “open-street” block parties and organizing walking and bicycling school buses for her kids before pedestrian access became a profession. Watson, who previously worked as an urban planner at Melendrez and spent her free time advocating for the burgeoning Downtown Bike Network as a member of the Downtown Neighborhood Council.
While Ocanas and Watson started at LADOT when the issue of the city’s poor sidewalk repair was front page news, the focus of their positions is on improving the city’s Safe Routes to Schools Program. By rebuilding LADOT’s data gathering, review, and pedestrian toolbox for children, Ocanas and Watson believe they can make the city more responsive to the needs of all pedestrians.
“Our primary focus is on a Safe Routes to School Strategic Plan,” explains Ocanas. “It’s very much an umbrella strategic plan that forces a data driven prioritization process.” Previously, the city’s Safe Routes’ applications contained some data on recent crash history, estimates on the number and percentage of students who walk and bike to school, and anecdotal reports from parents and administrators.
“As we put that in place in the first year…we can leverage those processes and data gathering and methodologies to a more universal pedestrian segment,” she continues. Read more…