Spotlight Interview: Areli Ariana Balderrama

My personal and professional goals stem from my love for the community that raised me and the wish to design neighborhoods that are safe and inclusive of everyone.
Areli Ariana Balderrama
March 21, 2023
Welcome back to the SafeTREC Spotlight Series where we highlight a SafeTREC team member and share their stories, work and interest in transportation and safety research. In today's post, meet Program and Policy Analyst Areli Ariana Balderrama.

Can you share a little bit about yourself and your role at SafeTREC?

My name is Areli Ariana Balderrama (they/them), and I grew up in Northern California, surrounded by a rich agricultural community that shapes my understanding of community, equity, and justice. I hold a Bachelor's degree in Comparative Literature with a minor in Black Studies from UC Santa Barbara. While at the University of Michigan, I collected my Master in Public Health and Master of Urban and Regional Planning. I’ve dedicated my career to honing skills in health needs assessments, injury prevention, climate change adaptation, and transportation policy. Opportunities have led me to the U.S. Virgin Islands; Bucaramanga, Colombia; and Ann Arbor, Michigan, and now I return to my home state of California. 

I joined SafeTREC because it is a space where I can apply my expertise and passion for public health and urban planning. As a Program and Policy Analyst, I work on the Community Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Training Program (CPBST) and Comunidades Activas y Seguras (Active and Safe Communities) Program (CAyS). I am thrilled to be working in community-centered transportation safety, and am elated when I do so in Spanish. 

What sparked your interest in transportation safety research?

I have fond memories of biking, rollerblading, and walking around my neighborhood with my crew of cousins and sisters. This was a concern for our guardians, who often reminded us to wear safety gear and be aware of cars while crossing the street. As I grow older, I continue to use my bike as a means of transportation for groceries, work, and entertainment. 

As an adult cyclist, I still listen to my aunts’ and mom’s safety advice. However, I take it a ‘pedal’ further by implementing strategies to build safer streets for everyone. As a former transportation commissioner in Ann Arbor, MI, I learned the decision-making process for implementing and designing safer streets for pedestrians and cyclists. My time on the commission solidified my drive for a career in transportation. 

What current projects are you working on at SafeTREC?

In communities that participate in the Community Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Program (CPBSP), I collect and analyze data from SafeTREC’s Transportation Injury Mapping System (TIMS) to identify corridors or intersections with a notable concentration of pedestrian or bike crashes. Related to this project, I am conducting a case study that examines how the CPBSP supports a community’s pedestrian and bicycle safety goals. I enjoy researching and analyzing demographics, comprehensive plans, and crash data because this is crucial to identify appropriate strategies for safer neighborhoods. On the CAyS team, I develop materials to ensure that the data we gather and present in our workshops are tailored to participants.

What issues are you particularly interested or passionate about?

I am particularly passionate about the long-term mental and physical health impacts that our neighborhoods have on children because they are a vital part of our community. As I conceptualize transportation safety, I consider the neighborhood makeup and how the role of food access and housing inform the quality of life for children and their caregivers. I firmly believe that transportation and housing are interwoven, and with a more thoughtful approach, we can have healthier communities. My personal and professional goals stem from my love for the community that raised me and the wish to design neighborhoods that are safe and inclusive of everyone. 

What do you like to do outside of work?

Backpacking and bike camping! Currently learning how to sculpt clay, basic bike mechanics, and woodworking. I have a dedicated space in my home to puzzling because it is a neat way to decompress. I try to cook as often as possible, but I am prone to cooking the same meals until a new ingredient sparks my interest. So, I welcome new recipes.

This Spotlight interview was conducted in collaboration with UC Berkeley SafeTREC. The opinions and perspectives expressed are those of the interviewee and not necessarily those of SafeTREC.