Structural Disparities of Urban Traffic in Southern California: Implications for Vehicle-Related Air Pollution Exposure in Minority and High-Poverty Neighborhoods


* Douglas Houston, The Ralph and Goldy Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, School of Public Policy and Social Research, University of California, 3250 Public Policy Building, Los Angeles, California, CA 90095-1656. E-mail:


Abstract: Structural inequalities provide an important context for understanding and responding to the impact of high traffic densities on disadvantaged neighborhoods. Emerging atmospheric science and epidemiological research indicates hazardous vehicle-related pollutants (e.g., diesel exhaust) are highly concentrated near major roadways, and the prevalence of respiratory ailments and mortality are heightened in these high-traffic corridors. This article builds on recent findings that low-income and minority children in California disproportionately reside in high-traffic areas by demonstrating how the urban structure provides a critical framework for evaluating the causes, characteristics, and magnitude of traffic, particularly for disadvantaged neighborhoods. We find minority and high-poverty neighborhoods bear over two times the level of traffic density compared to the rest of the Southern California region, which may associate them with a higher risk of exposure to vehicle-related pollutants. Furthermore, these areas have older and more multifamily housing, which is associated with higher rates of indoor exposure to outdoor pollutants, including intrusion of motor vehicle exhaust. We discuss the implications of these patterns on future planning and policy strategies for mitigating the serious health consequences of exposure to vehicle-related air pollutants.