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Beyond Traffic Safety: Building community belonging and safety in public spaces

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Dozens of community members outside huddled around a Native American cultural dance performance.
This report, “Beyond Traffic Safety: Building community belonging and safety in public spaces,” documents community members’ experiences and reflections on what personal safety means to them and ways government agencies and community-based organizations can engage to make public spaces safer.
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Beyond Traffic Safety: Building community belonging and safety in public spaces

Blue/purple color overlaying a Native American cultural community event with text, "Beyond Traffic Safety Report: Building community belonging and safety in public spaces"

Read the full "Beyond Traffic Safety" report


Letter from the collaborators

Division Midway Alliance (DMA), Coalition of Communities of Color (CCC) & Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT)

The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) is committed to creating safe streets for all Portlanders. This goes beyond traditional traffic safety investments and includes supporting personal safety and a sense of belonging. We need streets where people feel safe from traffic violence and feel free from threat and fear of emotional, psychological, and physical harm. Portland will not reach our racial justice commitments, climate goals, or Vision Zero goal without ensuring that Portlanders feel safe traveling and occupying public spaces. This Personal Safety Toolkit provides concrete ways that PBOT can integrate personal safety elements into the design and delivery of safe street projects.

This report, “Beyond Traffic Safety: Building community belonging and safety in public spaces,” documents community members’ experiences and reflections on what personal safety means to them and ways government agencies and community-based organizations can engage to make public spaces safer. By personal safety, we mean freedom from threat and fear of emotional, psychological, and physical harm for Portlanders most targeted by violence. We are thrilled to share the outcomes of the “beyond traffic safety” focus group discussion held on May 20, 2023, including feedback shared by about 40 participants from six different language and ethnic backgrounds.

There are three primary elements in this report: 1) Personal Safety Toolkit, 2) Photo Data Analysis Report, and 3) Community Engagement Report.

The Personal Safety Toolkit identifies infrastructure investments and community programming opportunities to improve community safety in public spaces.

The Photo Data Analysis details the qualitative data process, including community member reflections, qualitative data analysis, and summary findings. 

The Community Engagement Report provides guidance on effective community-led conversations and practical approaches to increase livability, enhance safety, and build welcoming spaces for all.

Our meaningful collaboration is an example of a successful public-private partnership between a government agency, a local non-profit, and a research-based community organization.

The Division Midway Alliance (DMA) led the culturally specific engagement process using its successful cultural liaison model. Liaisons from Bhutanese, Chinese, Karen, Latine, Vietnamese, and youth groups recruited participants and facilitated the focus groups. DMA used the analysis of focus group discussions and photo exercises conducted by the Coalition of Communities of Color to create the Personal Safety Toolkit. The liaisons were instrumental in recruiting members for the focus group activities
and facilitating the focus group. 

The Coalition of Communities of Color (CCC) led the analysis of the qualitative data that participants shared in the focus groups. CCC, in collaboration with DMA and the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT), designed activities for the engagement session,
created questions for the focus group discussions, trained liaisons to facilitate the discussions, and analyzed the data from the focus groups.

The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) convened this project, secured project funding, and provided technical assistance for the successful implementation of this project.

We would like to express our deep appreciation to all community members who shared their valuable input, energy, and time.
None of this would have been possible without your dedication, passion, and active involvement. We would also like to thank our
funding partner, the National Safety Council’s Road to Zero Coalition, for selecting this project out of a competitive application process and providing resources to conduct this project.

Together, let us forge ahead, embracing diversity and co-creating a future that offers safety and a sense of belonging to everyone.
The continued engagement and partnership of public agencies with community organizations is essential to shared success. We invite you to join us in this effort and utilize this toolkit for shaping safe and vibrant communities.

Signature of Lisha Shrestha Executive Director, Division Midway Alliance

Lisha Shrestha
Executive Director, Division Midway Alliance

Signature of Andres Lopez, PhD Research Director, Coalition of Communities of Color

Andres Lopez, PhD
Research Director,
Coalition of Communities of Color

Signature of Lale Santelices Vision Zero Specialist, Portland Bureau of Transportation

Lale Santelices
Vision Zero Specialist,
Portland Bureau of Transportation

Signature of Clay Veka Vision Zero Coordinator, Portland Bureau of Transportation

Clay Veka
Vision Zero Coordinator,
Portland Bureau of Transportation

Colorful paintings of Asian Americans hanging on the outside of a building.

Personal Safety Toolkit summary

The Personal Safety Toolkit identifies 14 ways that government agencies and community organizations can partner to improve community members’ experience of safety and sense of belonging while traveling along Portland streets and being in public spaces.

The toolkit is divided into two sections: infrastructure tools and community programing. Both sections have a set of tools that address community concerns about safety.

The community experiences identified in the toolkit reflect the safety concerns that community members shared during the May 20, 2023 “beyond traffic safety” focus group session. The tools respond to these experiences. We include examples of successful, hands-on projects and photos that complement the tools. The examples show positive community engagement, productive government collaboration with community- based organizations, and effective community-led programs with government support.

Most of the focus group participants live in the Division-Midway service area boundary, and some have been direct recipients of DMA programs and services. DMA has successfully used some of the recommended tools in their service area. This toolkit has been created in response to these communities’ concerns, hopes, desires, and dreams.

View the full toolkit in Appendix A.

Infrastructure Toolkit

The infrastructure section includes eight tools that can be delivered with capital projects and will be permanent street installations.

Infographic of a streetscape, including a tree, bench, street, light post, and buildings.

Summary of Community Experiences

  • People associate nighttime with possible danger. Dark places with insufficient lighting are scary and add to people’s concerns about crime, deterring them from going out.
  • Tight streets and public spaces with obstructed views contribute to people’s fear and discomfort.
  • Community members value streets with features that help people sit, stay, and move through the spaces, like restaurants, seating areas, and clear signs at intersections that help them see and be seen.
  • Community members are concerned about speeding drivers not stopping for them and desire interventions to slow people driving.
  • Trees, plants, and flowers add beauty and shade and are desirable when well maintained.

Tools

  1. Cultural amenities
  2. Cultural signage
  3. Lighting
  4. Display boards
  5. Security cameras
  6. Greenery
  7. Slower streets
  8. Mural and street art*

*The “mural and street art” tool appears in both the infrastructure and community programming sections.

Community Programming Toolkit

The Community Programming category includes tools that are focused on community connections and space activation. The results of such activities may or may not be permanent.

Info graphic of two people with their hands raised and a sun above and between them.

Summary of Community Experiences

  • Community members do not want to feel alone in case something bad happens to them.
  • Idle, parked cars and people driving recklessly create a sense of fear.
  • Empty and exposed spaces invite unwanted attention and interactions.
  • Community members feel deterred from using sidewalks where there are many folks experiencing homelessness if they are blocking the walking space, if the sidewalk is dirty or smelly, and if they are perceived to be aggressive, unpredictable, and/or using drugs.
  • Community members feel afraid of areas where there are reports or rumors of kids being kidnapped.

Tools

  1. Mural and street art*
  2. Community-led clean-up and tree planting activities
  3. Personal and transit safety ambassador program
  4. Community-led neighborhood walk and bike event
  5. Lively vacant spaces
  6. Small business leaders for safer public space program
  7. Community-led picnics/ potlucks in nearby parks

*The “mural and street art” tool appears in both the infrastructure and community programming sections.


Photo Data Analysis summary

The main takeaway of the qualitative data analysis of the community experiences across all five key topics is that safety is felt when spaces are designed and function like community spaces. By community spaces, we mean public spaces that are inclusive and welcoming to all; spaces that facilitate people coming together for shared activities, and that foster a sense of belonging within a neighborhood. Community members repeatedly described features of community spaces as being active, well-populated, colorful, vibrant, easy, and comfortable to use. When they talk about bus stops, crosswalks, neighborhood gatherings, lighting, and sidewalks, participants valued these features because they contribute to lively vibrant spaces that bring people together in a variety of ways.

A collection of 31 photos of public community spaces.

A sample of photos analyzed.

For details about the data collected during the session, the approach to analyzing these data, and the full descriptions of the results, see Appendix B.


Community Engagement summary

The goal of our engagement strategy was to center the experience of community members most impacted by violence in a trauma-informed and culturally responsive manner. To achieve this goal, we followed CCC and DMA’s best practices for equitable data gathering and analysis and relied on DMA’s cultural liaison model.

Build framework

PBOT started by gathering and summarizing input that community members had shared with PBOT in previous engagements. This allowed the engagement process to honor previous community voices and build upon that shared knowledge.

Identify community groups

Using existing data of hate and bias incidents, and honoring existing relationships, we identified the following cultural and language groups:

  • Chinese
  • Karen
  • Latine
  • Nepali
  • Vietnamese
  • Youth (English)

Conduct community engagement

  • Using the cultural liaison model, we collaboratively developed the community engagement process, shared data, and agreed on an approach to recording experiences.
  • Community liaisons recruited participants and hosted intimate, small group conversations about their experiences.

Report back findings

Honoring community contributions to this work, the project collaborators will host a celebration to share the final Personal Safety Toolkit with the cultural liaisons, engagement participants, and DMA members at large.


Partners profile

Division Midway Alliance

Division Midway Alliance logo

Established in 2012, Division Midway Alliance (DMA) is a place-based, 501(c) (3) nonprofit with a mission to create healthier neighborhoods, social stability and economic prosperity for residents and businesses. We work to achieve equity – in resources,
opportunity, and quality of life for diverse communities. We value grassroots community development, creating inclusive economic opportunities, local ownership for placemaking by valuing lived experiences and honoring community voices.

DMA has six overarching programs that touch on diverse aspects of community development and community resilience within the
Division Corridor and surrounding areas. DMA uses a “cultural liaison” model1 across all of its programs planning and execution.

1 Cultural liaisons are members who have strong relationships with their communities, speak the same languages, share similar life experiences, and are trusted by the community to deliver information and services.

Our programs are:

Community building and resiliency 

DMA’s cultural liaisons provide language assistance and organize resource information sessions and educational workshops for low English proficiency groups throughout the year.

Youth development

DMA’s Youth Development Program serves young people transitioning to college professional careers, helping them create practical, individualized action plans, and connect with job and school readiness opportunities.

Assistance programs

DMA participates in TriMet’s transit fare relief programs, helping seniors and low-income individuals apply for reduced price and free passes. We help community members enroll in rental assistance program.

Economic development

DMA launched the Minority Business Capacity Building Program in 2022. Participants identifying as immigrants or refugees who are interested in starting small businesses get individualized, long-term, culturally appropriate support in designing business plans.

Festival of nations

DMA’s annual Festival of Nations gala celebrates the accomplishments and diversity of our community with food, music, and resource information in one of the largest multicultural events in East Portland.

Transportation equity

DMA partners with local transportation services to make our streets and public transportation safer, create a sense of belonging, educate youth and elders in prudent biking and walking, and reduce discrimination.

Coalition of Communities of Color Justice Research Institute

Coalition of Communities of Color logo

The Coalition of Communities of Color (CCC) is an alliance of culturally specific community-based organizations with representation from multiple communities of color. CCC’s mission is to address the socioeconomic disparities, institutional racism, and inequity of services experienced by our families, children, and communities; and to organize our communities for collective action resulting in social change to obtain self-determination, wellness, justice, and prosperity. Members of CCC’s Research Justice Institute (RJI) collaborated as part of this project.

Portland Bureau of Transportation

City of Portland Bureau of Transportation Vision Zero logo

The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) works with our community to shape a livable city together. We plan, build, manage, and maintain an effective and safe transportation system that provides people and businesses the access and mobility they need and deserve. We keep Portland moving. Through the Vision Zero program, PBOT and our partners are working to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries on our streets. PBOT’s Strategic Plan stipulates that all programs advance equity and address structural racism, and Vision Zero is committed to ensuring that people traveling in Portland are safe from traffic and other violence in our streets.


Project team

Headshot of Lisha Shrestha

Lisha Shrestha
(She/Her)
Executive Director
Division Midway Alliance
Lisha@DivisionMidway.org

Headshot of Andres Lopez, PhD

Andres Lopez, PhD
(He/Him)
Research Director
Coalition of Communities of Color
Andres@CoalitionCommunitiesColor.org 

Headshot of Clay Veka

Clay Veka
(She/Her)
Vision Zero Coordinator
Portland Bureau of Transportation
Clay.Veka@PortlandOregon.gov

Headshot of Manuel Suarez

Manuel Suarez
(He/Him)
Former Program Coordinator
Division Midway Alliance

Headshot of Reema Mendoza, PhD

Reema Mendoza, PhD
(She/Her)
Former Senior Researcher
Coalition of Communities of Color

Headshot of Lale Santelices

Lale Santelices
(She/Her/Ella)
Vision Zero Specialist
Portland Bureau of Transportation
Lale.Santelices@PortlandOregon.gov 


Appendix

Please note: These appendixes are currently not fully accessible. We will update this webpage with fully accessible versions of these appendixes soon.

Appendix A: Personal Safety Toolkit

Appendix A: Personal Safety Toolkit

Appendix B: Photo Data Analysis

Appendix B: Photo Data Analysis

Appendix C: Community Engagement Report

Appendix C: Community Engagement Report

Appendix D: Photo ranking of engagement activity

Appendix D: Photo ranking of engagement activity

Appendix E: Post-activity participant survey

Appendix E: Post-activity participant survey

Appendix E: Post-activity participant survey (English)

Appendix E: Post-activity participant survey (Chinese, traditional)

Appendix E: Post-activity survey (Nepali)

Appendix E: Post-activity survey (Spanish)

Appendix E: Post-activity survey (Vietnamese)

Appendix F: Survey analysis

Appendix F: Survey analysis

Appendix G: Engagement protocol

Appendix G: Engagement protocol