News | USC Price PhD Student Sue Dexter Wins Big at SCAG Regional Conference

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by Jacob Wong, USC Master of Public Policy, 2023

Sue Dexter, an urban planning and development PhD candidate in USC’s Sol Price School, won a prize of $1000 as a runner-up in a student showcase competition held by The Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG).


SCAG, a metropolitan planning agency that spans six Southern California counties, held the competition during its annual regional conference, which occurred in Palm Springs from May 5th to May 6th this year.


To participate in the showcase competition, students submitted ArcGIS StoryMaps that used Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data from SCAG’s Open Data Portal. According to the competition guidelines, desired projects were to demonstrate innovative solutions to sustainability-related planning issues on a local or regional scale, and would be evaluated on criteria such as innovation, feasibility, and presentation. 


With Dr. Giuliano as the PI of the project, Dexter’s StoryMap, titled, “Visible fear: Accidents far outweigh concerns of emissions”, studied local perceptions of heavy freight traffic in Southeast Los Angeles (SELA). The formal study area included 16 cities and Los Angeles neighborhoods across the region.


Sue Dexter, Ph.D. candidate, USC Price 


The study initially sought to capture the effect of freight traffic in this region through an environmental justice lens, as freight movement is associated with air toxins, pollution, and traffic congestion. Data sources such as the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment reveal the negative impact these outputs have on local communities through their high pollution burden scores.

However, once the study entered its community engagement stage, Dexter and the team found that safety, not health or environmental effects, was the most significant concern associated with freight traffic for local residents. A focus group of residents from the area shared that the heavy presence of trucks in their neighborhood contributed to fear and anxiety stemming from visibility concerns for drivers and pedestrians.


Dexter and the team supported these local perceptions with crash data in SELA neighborhoods gathered by the California Highway Patrol, finding a higher rate of truck incidents fatalities as a percentage of total occurrences than other areas in the vicinity. A higher share of truck-involved accidents in these neighborhoods occurred on city streets (55%) than on highways (45%).


Share of comments by category of concern (Source: Sue Dexter)


Over the course of the study, Dexter and the team broadened the project’s focus from solely environmental impacts to public safety. The StoryMap’s conclusion provided mitigation strategies in SELA neighborhoods meant to not only reduce the emissions output of heavy freight in these areas, but vehicle and pedestrian crashes involving trucks as well. 


This study came out of a partnership between USC, METRANS, and the SELA Collaborative, a non-profit organization based in Bell Gardens with a stated mission of strengthening SELA communities, encouraging innovation, and driving regional systemic change.


Dexter has been with the Price School since 2017 and also works for METRANS part-time in a research position. Her research interests include sustainable urban freight, transportation planning and land use policy, and environmental policy. 


About the Author:

Jacob Wong is a first-year graduate student pursuing a Master of Public Policy degree at the Price School of Public Policy. He is curious about issues in urban policy and transportation planning. He is a recent LA transplant, and in his free time he enjoys exploring the area and the local food scene.