The National Academies

BTSCRP BTS-21 [Anticipated]

Equity in Pedestrian and Bicyclist Mobility, Safety, and Health: The Impact of Racial Bias

  Project Data
Funds: $500,000
Staff Responsibility: Richard Retting
Fiscal Year: 2022

This project has been tentatively selected and a project statement (request for proposals) is expected to be available on this website. The problem statement below will be the starting point for a panel of experts to develop the project statement.

The magnitude of racial profiling, biased policing, and police-based violence and the impacts on the safety and health of Black pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers has been well-documented (Brown and Sinclair 2017; Brown 2016; Brown 2016; Baumgartner, Epp, Shoub 2018; Epp et al. 2014; Seo 2019). One study of more than 100 million traffic stops in the United States showed that Black drivers were stopped 40% more frequently than white drivers (Pierson et al. 2020). A study using North Carolina data from 2010 showed Black drivers were 63% more likely to be stopped than white drivers, and the search rate for Black drivers was 116% higher than that for white drivers (Baumgartner, Epp, Shoub 2018).

In his 2021 presentation at the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting, Charles T. Brown presented a long list of studies showing biased enforcement toward bicyclists, transit users, pedestrians (including those accused of jaywalking), and ride-share users.[1]Other studies have focused on the bias within institutionalized practices of approaching traffic stops as a means of fighting crime, such as investigatory stops—and in particular for pedestrians, “stop-and-frisk” approaches (Epp, Maynard-Moody, and Haider-Markel 2017; Gelman, Fagan, and Kiss 2007). For example, crime suppression was the motivation for the use of bicycle stops in Tampa, FL (Mitchell and Ridgeway 2018).

In September 2020, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) released a statement offering recommendations to address racism in traffic enforcement, calling for more “initiatives to collect and report standardized data about race in traffic enforcement,” more research to analyze these data, and the “development of frameworks to require law enforcement grant subrecipients to be taking proactive steps to root out bias in traffic stops.”[2] They also called for efforts to invest in social and criminal justice programs as well as mental health programs and to develop rigorous evaluations “of effective public safety programs or technologies that can supplement existing and necessary traffic enforcement efforts conducted by sworn law enforcement officers.” Most recently, the Transportation Equity Caucus called attention to concerns with NHTSA funded programs related to enforcement in which “we do not know the racial effects of these programs” and “whether these programs lead to police violence.”[3]
As communities wrestle with the role of enforcement in their injury prevention efforts, there is a need for research to comprehensively document and describe the effects of pedestrian and bicycle enforcement programs on the safety, mobility, health, and well-being of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). There is also a need to better understand practices to mitigate inequities and provide alternatives or supplemental approaches to policing that could foster restorative justice and better meet underlying goals regarding traffic safety, health, and mobility. National level research and guidance could support NHTSA, GHSA, and state highway safety offices (SHSO) as they review and modify their guidance, activities, and programs to move toward more just policing practices.

The objectives of the research are:
œ Provide evidence of the nature and magnitude of racial disparities in policing with respect to pedestrians, bicyclists, and micromobility users, as well as the impact of such disparities on BIPOC communities (which may include short-term and generational impacts related to legal/court/sentencing and economic outcomes, escalation to violence, individual and community trauma and psychological effects, perceptions of safety, changes to travel behaviors, and other impacts). This will be drawn from a variety of publicly available data (police reports where available, published literature, qualitative and quantitative studies, or other sources) and/or original research.
œ Describe steps communities are taking to consider and address the effects of biased enforcement of pedestrian and bicycle related laws, including alternatives to police enforcement. This could include community-led programs, technology-based systems, organizational or policy changes, changes to laws (e.g., efforts to decriminalize jaywalking), or other interventions.
œ Develop and apply a framework to evaluate the impacts and equity outcomes of these approaches and establish guidelines and recommendations for mitigating inequities in the enforcement of traffic laws with respect to pedestrians, bicyclists, and micromobility users. The recommendations should also speak to necessary data sources (qualitative and quantitative) and methods needed to evaluate alternatives.

This urgent research is needed to measure and address the ways systemic bias impacts communities via traffic enforcement policies and programs. As NHTSA distributes funds related to reporting of traffic offenses and crashes involving vulnerable users, there is a need to develop strategies and plans to ensure that these policies do not unintentionally create inequity and inequality among communities, particularly communities with a majority of BIPOC members.

This research will help meet GHSA’s call to action to evaluate racial bias in traffic enforcement and fill a gap in the research currently oriented to driver-based policing effects. It will produce findings that will provide a framework for future traffic safety enforcement programs to develop more responsible and just policing methods that are more likely to result in positive safety outcomes. 

[1] https://annualmeeting.mytrb.org/OnlineProgram/Details/15703

[2] https://www.ghsa.org/resources/news-releases/Equity-In-Traffic-Enforcement20

[3] https://equitycaucus.org/find-library/NHTSA-role-in-police-reform


To create a link to this page, use this URL: http://apps.trb.org/cmsfeed/TRBNetProjectDisplay.asp?ProjectID=5187