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On the Road to Safer Streets in LA’s Koreatown: YMCA Leader and Waymo Engineer Share Why They Think Waymo Could Help

The vibrant community of Koreatown in Los Angeles is the city’s most densely populated neighborhood where people of all ages criss-cross the neighborhood’s streets on their way to school, work, church, grocery shopping, and recreation. 

Rae Jin knows this community well. She grew up here and now works as Executive Director at the Anderson Munger Family YMCA in the heart of Koreatown, a thriving community hub anchoring the neighborhood.

“It doesn't matter where you're from, what age, there's always things that people can do together at the Y,” Jin shares, who began her career at the YMCA as a children’s tumbling class instructor. “The organization does a lot of good work in the community and I wanted to be a part of that… Seeing all the opportunities that the YMCA can provide for all ages really drew me in to make a career out of it.”

Jin sees how many people come to the YMCA on foot and how they must navigate LA’s wide streets and fast traffic before they make it safely through the doors.

“With a lot of the vehicles, it gets a little concerning with the seniors and families during traffic time,” Jin shares. “People may think that it's just a walk and a jump and a skip away, but you just don't know what may happen from that point A to point B.”

Jin believes new transportation innovations like autonomous driving technology could improve road safety on Koreatown’s streets. Waymo’s technology not only sees other road users and anticipates what they may do next, but drives with their safety as a foundation for making decisions.

“I think autonomous driving would decrease the amount of fatalities in our community,” Jin says.

The need for safer roads is urgent – both in Koreatown and in LA more broadly. Currently, lots of people and lots of cars create a deadly streetscape for Koreatown’s vulnerable road users, including pedestrians, cyclists, scooter riders, and wheelchair and motorized chair users. Three tragic crashes happened last year alone. An 83-year-old woman was killed in Koreatown near the YMCA in a hit-and-run, a 22-year-old e-scooter rider was hit by two vehicles, one of which fled the scene as the man died, and police believe a person found dead on a sidewalk was a victim of a hit-and-run.  

Jin says she worries in particular about the many senior citizens who walk or take public transportation to the YMCA for food distributions, activities, and to meet with friends.

“We just want to make sure that all the seniors get to the Y in a safe manner,” Jin says. 

One sunny day, Jin took a ride around Koreatown in a Waymo vehicle with Jennifer Iglesias, a Waymo Engineer who lives in Koreatown. While Waymo’s 24/7 fully autonomous ride-hailing service, Waymo One, has not yet broadly launched in LA, Waymo is going on tour giving Angelenos access to ride across many of the city's most popular neighborhoods, including Koreatown.

“I always love this screen,” says Iglesias, pointing to a passenger screen that lets riders track the car’s route and see what Waymo sees with its vision system. “When we see some pedestrians and cyclists, you'll see that they even display differently on there.”

In addition to being designed to obey road rules like speed limits, Waymo’s autonomous driving technology is designed to use its 360-degree vision system to account for everyone around the vehicle at all times, including vulnerable road users. The technology not only sees other road users, it is designed to differentiate them, anticipate what they may do next, and make proactive, defensive driving decisions to maximize safety for everyone on the road. 

“We have over 29 cameras on the vehicle looking in all directions – ones that are good for dark lighting, bright lighting – and some on the side, which are very important, and multiple LIDARs,” Iglesias emphasizes. “You always have those extra eyes looking out for you.”

After the ride, Jin says she enjoyed her autonomous journey around Koreatown.

“I would say that taking Waymo was fun,” Jin shares. “It was exciting, it was different.” 

Iglesias says she is excited for a future when autonomous vehicles like Waymo will be in Koreatown.

“I jump up and down every time I see a Waymo go by,” Iglesias shares. “There's speeding and red light running and having more vehicles that will pay due diligence will make the space safer for everyone.”

Jin is also looking forward to a future where everyone can get from point A to point B safely in Koreatown.

“Safety means that you can get to enjoy life, enjoy what you like to do, enjoy meeting your friends, enjoy not thinking about what could happen,” Jin says. ”I want to invest in what will make Koreatown safe.”

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