Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Wall Street Journal about a decline in driving across the United States. The average number of miles driven per person has declined since its peak in 2004, the report said, citing migration to dense urban areas; young adults’ preference to use alternate modes of transportation; more online working, shopping and streaming; and a growing population of retirees who no longer commute to jobs. The trend is a break from the past, when the country’s driving pattern moved in sync with the economy, with people driving more when times were good. “In the midst of a fairly substantial economic recovery between 2009 and 2017, we’re seeing a decline in person trip-making, which suggests that something pretty fundamental is going on here,” Taylor said.
Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Curbed LA about a proposal to eliminate fares for public transportation in Los Angeles County. Offering free rides on buses and trains would get cars off the road, build ridership and reduce carbon emissions, proponents say. Taylor noted that it would be difficult to predict how the program would impact the whole system — particularly its capacity to handle increased rush-hour ridership — without trying it out. Curbed LA also cited research on free fares conducted by urban planning doctoral student Teo Wickland, who worked on the California Statewide Transit Strategic Plan. Wickland noted that eliminating fares would speed up bus service, where the boarding process is slowed every time riders struggle to find their fare card or come up with exact change.
Brian D. Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to KCRW’s Greater L.A. about shelved plans to expand the 710 Freeway through the San Gabriel Valley. Taylor, a professor of urban planning, said the project was one of many freeway expansion proposals to face opposition. The major difference, he said, was that much of the 710 project was completed. “The dilemma we have is, as we built fewer and fewer of the projects that were to be the planned network, we ended up making the freeways that were built larger and larger,” disrupting surrounding communities, Taylor said. Now that the freeway will not be extended on land that had been procured, officials have an opportunity to develop an already built-up area, he added. “The larger nut to crack, which is how not to have chronic congestion, probably doesn’t lie in building more of these kinds of highways,” Taylor concluded.
Urban Planning Professor Brian Taylor spoke with the Mercury News about a proposed “mega-measure” to turn the Bay Area’s extensive network of rail, buses and ferries into a coordinated transportation network. A $100-billion-plus transportation sales tax that could go before voters in nine counties as early as 2020 would fund the plan. The reforms under consideration include coordinating timetables, standardizing ticket prices and adopting the same maps. Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, said the individual agencies were created to serve local, rather than regional, customers, adding that smaller bureaucracies tend to be more accessible and cost-effective. However, he said, “right now we have a system, and a tradition, where each transit agency has its own map, its own color scheme, its own way to organize fares, its own way to describe its services.”
Among the featured speakers was John Zimmer, Lyft co-founder and president. Photos by Will Livesley-O'Neill
By Will Livesley-O’Neill
Getting around Southern California has never been easy. But the infamously congested region has grown even more complicated with the arrival of new private services — including ridehail companies such as Lyft and Uber and electric scooter operators such as Bird and Lime — looking to disrupt how people travel.
As in any field impacted by technology-fueled disruption, transportation policymakers want to find ways to adapt. And that requires taking stock of what the transportation system is meant to do and, more importantly, whom it is meant to serve.
This was the focus of the 28th annual UCLA Lake Arrowhead Symposium, hosted by the Institute of Transportation Studies (UCLA ITS) and Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, in October. At the university’s retreat center in the San Bernardino Mountains, dozens of the nation’s leading experts on transportation and land use policy pondered the symposium’s theme, “From Public Transit to Public Mobility.”
The changing nature of travel means different things for elected officials, planners, academics, advocates and tech leaders. But everyone fundamentally agrees that, as LA Metro chief planning officer and symposium panelist Therese McMillan put it, “there’s a public interest in how private activity happens in a public space.” The modes may change, but the mission of a safe, effective, accessible transportation system remains the same.
John Zimmer, co-founder and president of Lyft, set the tone for a discussion of balance between tradition and innovation. Lyft has been actively expanding beyond ridehailing into other forms of mobility, including e-scooters and automated vehicles. The company’s stated goal of providing more options for consumers and reducing the number of people driving
alone benefits the environment — as well as those profiting from the service.
But the way that some tech companies roll out new products — a “move fast and break things” model — often leads to public backlash.
Southern California has been ground zero for arguments about the traffic tie-ups and sidewalk clutter allegedly caused by ridehailing and scooters. Public officials are being forced to make policy on the fly — although some such as Francie Stefan, chief mobility officer in Santa Monica, describe that as an opportunity. Santa Monica recently partnered with Lyft, Uber, Bird and Lime to introduce new regulations on the number of e-vehicles in the city while funding infrastructure improvements.
“[We] made a conscious choice to embrace new technology and work through some of the kinks that are inherent in change,” Stefan says.
Technology also gives cities the chance to innovate and to fulfill some hard-to-implement planning goals. Willa Ng, an associate director at Google’s Sidewalk Labs, presented an example at her panel on “coding the curb.”
“If we need to do more stuff at the curb, and we need to have those spaces constantly turning over, we can’t have it managed by a static aluminum sign,” Ng explains, outlining how creating a flexible digital management system could allow the same section of curb to be used for parking, ridehail drop-offs, delivery unloading, or as a bike and scooter lane depending on the time of day. New transportation technology can crowd and complicate the use of public space, but it can also help make sure the space is better used to benefit the most people.
For example, Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, a professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin, recently spoke to the University of California for a story and accompanying video about e-scooters titled, “What the battle over scooters gets wrong.”
Urban planners recently adopted a model known as “complete streets” that involves rethinking how shared space is divided between a street and a sidewalk, Loukaitou-Sideris says. This model abandons the assumption that streets are for cars and sidewalks are for pedestrians.
“The complete street perceives the street as a space where different transportation modes can coexist: not only cars, but also buses, and lanes for trams, bicycles and scooters,” according to Loukaitou-Sideris. “Nobody wants to compromise the safety of anyone by mixing these modes. So that’s where planning and design needs to come in.”
People-centered design — of services, systems and infrastructure — is at center stage in these policy discussions. Technology needs to be a tool to help improve transportation for people, not an end goal in itself.
“A lot of people are really annoyed with private capital coming into the mobility space without understanding people’s travel needs,” says Clarrissa Cabansagan of the Bay Area climate change nonprofit TransForm. But tech disruption will be worthwhile if it provides people with more options to get around besides driving their own car, she says.
Urban Planning Professor Brian D. Taylor, director of UCLA ITS, co-authored a groundbreaking 2018 study that found that Southern Californians are buying more cars than ever and turning away from public transit. That’s the exact opposite outcome of what policymakers had sought and shows the need to set new priorities for shared public spaces.
“We have to manage the automobile more intelligently. We can’t just allow people to drive anywhere they want, anytime they want,” Taylor says. “We need to create environments that are more conducive to travel by foot, by bike, by scooter or by public transit.”
New and old mobility services could work hand-in-hand to reduce private car travel. Ideally, technology should improve, not replace or eliminate, traditional transit, according to transportation experts.
“We should really focus on making the core strength of transit something we do incredibly well,” says Houston-based planner and author Christof Spieler, who spoke at the conference. With transit ridership falling across most of the country, new policies need to make riding the bus as easy as hailing a Lyft, he says, noting that public transit can move many more people much more effectively than any ridehail vehicle or scooter.
Bay Area transportation advocate Ratna Amin argues that focusing on riders as people, not cogs in a machine, is key.
“When we think about public transit as a utility, we focus on the bare minimum: We got the service out, it’s clean enough, the doors opened, the bus stop is there and it’s labeled,” Amin says. “We need to actually talk to people and find out what their experience is, and try different possibilities out to see if they improve the experience.”
Seattle is one of just a few American cities to see an increase in transit ridership in recent years. Terry White, the deputy general manager of Seattle’s transit operator, believes one factor has been key to success: an emphasis on making sure service is equitable.
“Transportation is a human right for everyone,” White says. “We’re trying to make sure everyone gets an opportunity to
That’s ultimately what a better transportation system will mean — mobility for all, regardless of whether they take a bus or ride a scooter. Efficient use of public space lessens the need for gridlocked, polluting private vehicles.
The disruption of old transit methods is still in its early stages, with plenty of blind spots to be navigated. But as Juan Matute, deputy director of UCLA ITS, recently told LA Weekly, it’s important to remember that the disruption from new technology is likely to lessen over time.
“The safety hazards are comparable to those for automobile use,” Matute said of the new innovations, particularly e-scooters. “We’ve had over 100 years to figure out a lot of things.”
UCLA Luskin’s Brian Taylor lent his expertise in housing and transportation to a KPCC story on the broken dreams of America’s mid-century suburbs. The story focused on Lakewood, a bedroom community that epitomized the good life in California when it was developed in the 1950s. Since then, nearby industries have collapsed and traffic congestion has become acute. “We don’t build the housing we need, then we have huge ramp-ups in housing costs, which has big economic impacts and means people often live much farther from where they would like to, which makes the traffic worse,” said Taylor, professor of urban planning and director of the Institute of Transportation Studies. What California needs, he said, is more housing in areas closer to jobs, rather than the exurban sprawl that has compounded the problem. The story also aired on American Public Media’s “Marketplace,” beginning at the 9-minute mark.
By Les Dunseith
Donald Shoup, distinguished research professor of urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, is the 2017 recipient of the Distinguished Educator Award — the highest honor bestowed by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP).
The award is conferred every two years to honor significant contributions to the field of planning, and it recognizes scholarly contributions, teaching excellence, public service, and contributions that have made a significant difference to planning scholarship, education, and practice. Shoup is the second current member of the UCLA Urban Planning faculty to win this award; Professor Emeritus Martin Wachs won in 2006 when he was at UC Berkeley. Two other UCLA faculty members also won the award: John Friedmann in 1987, and Harvey Perloff, the inaugural recipient in 1983.
Perloff and Shoup are two of only three people who have won both the ACSP’s Distinguished Educator Award, which is given to academics, and the American Planning Association’s National Excellence Award for a Planning Pioneer, which is given to planners who have made important innovations in planning practice. This unusual combination of both awards highlights UCLA’s commitment to both academic excellence and practical relevance in urban planning.
Shoup said the latest award is particularly gratifying because it’s for education. “Universities reward you mainly for research and publication. It’s why we say, ‘Publish or perish.’ And I think most academics believe their lasting contribution will be their research,” he said. “But I think that our most important contribution is through teaching. If we have any influence — if there is going to be anything to remember after we are gone — I think it will be through the successful careers of our students who will be changing the world for the better.”
Professor Vinit Mukhija, the current chair of Urban Planning, remembers coming to UCLA as a job candidate when Shoup was department chair. Shoup’s manner then became a model for Mukhija to follow years later. “Donald was one of the first people I met on campus. His philosophy is to help people feel comfortable so they can share and present their best ideas. He takes that philosophy into the classroom, where he likes to engage students in a deliberative, non-confrontational manner as they discuss ideas that challenge accepted policy practices.”
During his tenure of more than 40 years at UCLA, Shoup has built an impressive record of accomplishment and scholarship, producing insightful research that has been truly influential on public policy. According to Urban Planning Professor Brian Taylor, Shoup is an “internationally recognized authority on parking policies and their effect on urban development and transportation. Though largely overlooked by academics for years, parking policies significantly influence land use development and travel behavior in U.S. metropolitan areas and in rapidly developing urban areas across the globe.”
“The High Cost of Free Parking,” Shoup’s widely acclaimed book (originally published in 2005, and revised and reprinted in 2011), was based on decades of research on parking policies. It also was based on years of listening.
“When I was younger, I focused much more on analysis and publication. As I began to see how policies got adopted, I became much more oriented toward the concerns of public officials,” Shoup said of how his approach has evolved over the years. “I have always tried to engage with practicing planners and city officials who will have to implement anything that I recommend — to hear their objections and concerns.”
The Distinguished Educator Award is selected from candidates nominated by faculty at ACSP member schools, which consist of universities with departments and programs offering planning degrees or programs that offer degrees affiliated with planning. Most are in the United States, but some member schools are located internationally.
“The conventional wisdom on good parking policy across the world is now defined by Donald’s research. Our students are fortunate to have been involved in the development of these ideas from the start.” — Professor Vinit Mukhija, chair of Urban Planning
The nomination letter included testimonials about Shoup from renowned scholars at UCLA and other universities:
- “… in recent years he has become one of the most widely cited urban planning scholars in the world. … [Shoup] is literally the world’s leading expert in the subject matter on which he specializes while admirably fulfilling all of the other responsibilities of a senior faculty member.” (Martin Wachs, UCLA and UC Berkeley)
- “Don is probably the most creative, original planning scholar who has been at work during the past several decades, and this is certainly so within the field of transportation.” (Alan Altshuler, Harvard University)
- “What impresses me most … is his willingness to take his ideas and writings and be fully engaged in public debate and action over them. It is not an exaggeration to say that he has been one of the most powerful forces in the nation for bringing sanity and good sense to our work with urban communities.” (Michael Dukakis, UCLA, former Massachusetts Governor and Democratic Presidential nominee)
- “Over the years I watched him create literally many generations of students who went on to implement his ideas in cities throughout the U.S. and world. It would be difficult indeed to find another scholar who has had as much impact on the practice of urban planning.” (Genevieve Giuliano, University of Southern California)
Shoup’s most important scholarly contribution has been his research related to how parking policies affect land use and urban travel.
Said Taylor, “Through more than three dozen publications on the role of parking in cities, Professor Shoup has almost single-handedly convinced a previously skeptical audience of planners and elected officials about the critical importance of parking policy to urban planning, transforming planning practice to a degree unmatched by any of his contemporaries in the planning academy.”
“The conventional wisdom on good parking policy across the world is now defined by Donald’s research,” Mukhija said. “Our students are fortunate to have been involved in the development of these ideas from the start.”
Shoup said that his research approach tends toward finding solutions to practical problems. “My focus is to look at areas where the prices that people pay are substantially below the cost of what they consume. Traffic congestion is a good example. Drivers in peak hour traffic pay far less than the cost they impose on other drivers and in the process they aggravate traffic congestion.”
His forte — parking policy — is another example. “The price that drivers pay for parking is usually far below the cost of providing it,” Shoup said. “Drivers park free at the end of 99 percent of all automobile trips in the United States. But all this free parking costs a lot of money.”
As his research progressed, he was struck by the lack of equity in parking. People who are too poor to own a car, or who prefer not to own one, receive no benefit.
“If you ride the bus or ride a bike or walk to work, you get nothing. But if you drive to work, you get to park free in a very expensive parking place. It leads to overuse of automobiles, creating air pollution and traffic congestion.”
When cities charge fair market prices for on-street parking and spend the meter revenue to finance added public services, they can improve the lives of everyone. Shoup’s work has inspired cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Pasadena, Austin, Houston, Seattle, and many others to change their approach to parking.
Shoup has four degrees in electrical engineering and economics from Yale University. At UCLA he has served as chair of Urban Planning and as director of the Institute of Transportation Studies. And he practices what he preaches — walking or biking to campus every day, even after his “retirement” in 2015.
This dedication comes in part from his perception that he has been fortunate to have worked in Los Angeles, a city where his ideas about land use, traffic, and parking are particularly important and where civic leaders — some of whom count themselves among his legion of followers, known as Shoupistas — have been willing to listen to his advice.
Great city. Great university. Great professor. It all adds up to a career filled with great accomplishments.
From left, Veronica Siranosian with AECOM, Sam Morrissey with Iteris, and Eric Shaw, director of the Washington, D.C., Office of Planning, participated in a panel discussion at the 10th UCLA Downtown Los Angeles Forum on Transportation, Land Use, and the Environment. Photo by Stan Paul
By Stan Paul
Autonomous vehicles, once considered science fiction, are quickly becoming a reality.
With the technology and testing of driverless cars and trucks progressing rapidly, private industry is investing. At the same time, planners and policy makers are confronting another challenge: How will technology, policy, governmental legislation and industry practices come together to make the potential benefits of autonomous transportation a reality that is responsible, equitable and good for the environment?
To address these issues, two UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs research centers — the Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS) and the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies — used their April 13, 2007 transportation conference to focus on the implications of autonomous vehicles. The 10th UCLA Downtown Los Angeles Forum on Transportation, Land Use and the Environment brought together speakers representing the technology industry, along with planning researchers, and practitioners in the government and private sectors.
This year’s downtown forum, held at the California Endowment Los Angeles Conference Center was titled, “Steering Connected and Automated Mobility in the Right Direction.” Speakers and expert panels provided a look at the policy aspects of ridesharing and driverless transportation, from liability and equality viewpoints to greenhouse gas emissions and infrastructure. The panelists also discussed how the anticipated disruption of autonomous vehicles might play out locally, across California and around the nation.
Lauren Isaac, director of business initiatives for EasyMile, a high-tech mobility startup, discussed how connected and automated technologies may shape the future.
“What the data shows is that there needs to be either a costs savings or a time savings” to get people to participate, Isaac said. “There needs to be some benefit to a user to make that decision. The good thing is because of the way technology is evolving there’s great potential for both.”
Governments also play a part by providing HOV lanes and infrastructure for a faster ride, she said. “I think those are the kinds of levers that both technology providers and government can pull.”
Isaac said that freight companies will most likely be the No. 1 sector among the early adopters. “That industry is really interested in this,” she said, citing a shortage of drivers and huge cost savings that could come from moving goods this way.
“On the passenger side, I think without question we’re seeing the best response come from the younger generation,” she said, noting that there is also significant interest from the senior and disabled communities. “That being said, the challenge is how do you transfer people in wheelchairs or if they need additional help? People still rely on humans to get into the vehicles. So there’s still a lot of issues to work out around the para-transit piece,” Isaac said.
Chris Ganson, a senior planner from the California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, described some of the research he has seen. “The plus side here is — with a lot of this kind of thinking on automated vehicles — it’s really kind of this funny combination of research and futurism that’s going on,” Ganson said. “We’re extrapolating from our current experiences to try to figure out what things might be like in the future, and what we might need to do about them, but there is a lot of convergence in that thinking.”
Despite this, he said, “We have some tough things to do policywise and politically to receive these autonomous vehicles into our society.”
Ganson also said that it makes sense to be proactive while planning for the future. “While you’re repaving … or building a new transit system, adding the technology now saves 10 times the cost of putting it in later,” he said.
Maya Buenaventura, assistant policy analyst at the RAND Corp., provided a quick primer on common law, tort law and liability issues that would come with taking humans out of the driver’s seat, as well as product liability issues for manufacturers of autonomous cars and parts. There may be some uncertainty in the details initially, she explained, but many of the longstanding concepts of common law that apply to personal injury and property damage would also apply to autonomous vehicles.
“The outcome might not be optimal from a social welfare perspective right away,” she said. “Judges need to start thinking in the long term — what are the long-term costs and benefits — if this is something they’re just going to pick up as autonomous vehicles get introduced. But it is not clear that there are any better options.
“Another thing that we’ve come to realize is the identity of potential defendants isn’t going to be very different when autonomous vehicles are introduced,” Buenaventura added. “There’s still going to be, potentially, lawsuits against the driver, against manufacturers, against the component part manufacturers. And suits against these defendants already exist today.”
For Eric Shaw, director of the Washington, D.C., Office of Planning, “This question of why we want to be ‘smart’ in the first place is actually a question we haven’t answered yet. For us, it’s not just smart vehicles, it’s smart planning. We need to understand how to be smart.”
Shaw, a pre-Luskin 1998 UCLA graduate minored in what was then policy studies, said his city’s overarching commitment is to spatial and racial equity, which must be balanced with the goal of livability, new innovation and understanding urban efficiency.
“We are having crazy growth in our city,” Shaw said of Washington. “We’re a historic city, one of the oldest cities in the nation. We’re one of the most planned cities in the nation.”
With equity and access in mind, Shaw pointed out that the nation’s capital has a huge income disparity. He asked whether creating a system around pricing automatically creates a system that excludes the city’s low-income residents.
With this in mind, Shaw said that his department was looking at a number of scenarios for the city’s future.
“We’re not afraid to test; we’re not afraid to pilot. So we are looking at some of the best practices, looking at ideas of shared mobility and performance, and we’re not afraid to get it all right before we do that,” Shaw added. “We’re OK to test and take some risks, but with the same question right now — racial equity, spatial equity of land use of the built environment.”
Brian D. Taylor, professor of urban planning and director of both the ITS and the Lewis Center, pointed out the importance of addressing the issues covered in the forum.
“The presentations and discussion made clear that the rise of shared, connected and autonomous vehicles poses significant new challenges for transportation planners and policymakers, and in addition cast existing challenges into sharper relief,” Taylor said. “Addressing these challenges head-on today will help to ensure that we steer these new systems in the right direction.”
In his lecture, Joseph Schofer of Northwestern University talked about what urban planning forecasters "can can do in a situation where we don’t always get it right.” Photo by Les Dunseith
By Les Dunseith
In the realm of transportation planning, significant time, effort and money go into the process of forecasting, but the gap between predicted outcomes and reality remains a persistent problem for many projects.
“Forecasts don’t always get it right,” said Joseph Schofer, professor of civil and environmental engineering and associate dean of faculty affairs at Northwestern University. Schofer spoke on the topic of forecasting the future during the 10th annual Martin Wachs Distinguished Lecture, held at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs on April 4, 2017.
The Wachs Distinguished Lecture features prominent and innovative scholars and policy makers who draw on many years of research and thinking in the field of transportation. Created by the students in honor of Emeriti Professor Wachs, the lecture rotates between UCLA and UC Berkeley, respectively.
This year’s lecture invitee, Joe Schofer, provided a wide-ranging view about forecasting – a prominent feature of transportation planning. In Schofer’s talk titled “When Forecasting Fails: Making Infrastructure Decisions in an Uncertain World,” he explained that learning to accept the inherent limitations of the forecasting process is a necessary first step in helping planners improve their predictions of cost, utilization, performance and impact.
“Don’t expect that the gap between predicted outcomes and reality is going to get really small,” Schofer told a crowd of more than 50 scholars, planning professionals and transportation decision-makers who came to hear him. “The world is changing at a faster and faster pace. And those big sources of uncertainty — sources of risk — often are outside the transportation system.”
Schofer’s lecture focused less on the shortcomings of forecasting than on “improving decisions by systematic learning from experience,” as Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies and professor of urban planning, described the topic during his introduction of Schofer.
Schofer acknowledged the significance of the occasion during his opening remarks, taking a moment to recognize the presence in the audience of his “dear friend and colleague of a lot of years. This is not just another lecture. It’s me giving the Martin Wachs lecture,” said Schofer, who also cited Wachs’ “immeasurable impact on ideas in transportation, transportation planning, transportation policy and transportation finance.”
In his lecture, Schofer focused on “what we can do in a situation where we don’t always get it right.”
For starters, he said, planners need to understand that they can never know everything there is to know about the dynamics of human behavior. It’s also important to keep in mind the rapid pace of change in today’s world.
“Changes that are going on right now literally make it impossible to forecast what the future is going to be like,” Schofer said. He pointed to examples such as the proliferation of cellphones, which enhance the speed of communication but negatively impact the capacity to do telephone-based polling research.
Schofer also pointed to other factors that limit forecast accuracy. “Data aren’t complete. There might be better models that we can use. Perhaps those models are not even available to us yet,” he said.
Although transportation experts are making strides and “using better and better data all the time, it’s not a calculus problem; we will not get infinitely close to zero error,” Schofer said.
He also noted that it’s common for forecasts to be impacted by unforeseen factors. For instance, major infrastructure projects often experience cost overruns and construction delays when previously unknown grave sites of historical or cultural significance are found during excavation.
On Being Grounded
Dealing with uncertainty may be avoided if planners make an effort to ground their projects firmly in the reality of previous experience. When forecasting a new project, planners must “ground that by finding out what someone else has experienced,” Schofer said.
The idea of looking at case studies and data related to past events is an essential element of evidence-based decision making, he said.
Some projects face the added complication of being based on visionary thinking — the “visionary ideas of interesting people,” he said. “It’s very difficult in a forecasting situation to go against that because you are dealing with somebody who has a firmly held vision, who is really committed to a particular idea.”
The goals of a visionary leader may outweigh an expert’s forecasts in the decision-making process, Schofer noted. The upside, he said, is that a diligent and resourceful planner can seize the opportunity in these situations to approach that visionary leader directly.
“You may be able to get his or her attention, which may be an opportunity to talk about a more realistic forecast,” Schofer said.
In most circumstances, however, it’s data that drives forecasting, and Schofer said he has seen some promising signs in getting access to better and more useful information.
Among the notable efforts he cited was a federal effort to mine existing administrative data, not to collect new information, to make better-informed decisions during evaluation of social programs.
In the medical field, he noted an effort known as the Cochrane Collaboration that is a loose confederation of people in medical research around the world who have an agreement to produce evidence-based information and to advocate for sharing of that information.
“A bunch of people around the world who have agreed to share data, agreed to work together, are bringing together data from a variety of studies to amplify the impact of that data,” Schofer said.
It’s a model that could easily translate to transportation planning, he said, an “opportunity to look at cases, to bring cases together, and to codify that.”
Schofer envisions a sharing of information among scholars, doctoral researchers, professionals and, perhaps, even journalists, in which information about the success or failure of infrastructure projects would be gathered into a database that could be accessed by “every one of us who wants to ask the question, “How well is this going to work in my town?’”
The shared data would be available for forecasters to evaluate, either analytically or qualitatively, and decide if there’s something useful from which they can learn.
For this type of case-based reasoning, it’s important to have a large dataset from which to draw conclusions. It’s also important for the cases to be kept up-to-date.
“The cases that we studied two years ago or 10 years ago, those are dead,” Schofer said. “We have to look at what’s happening right now.”
On Being Flexible
Given the limitations they face, Schofer said, it’s also important for transportation forecasters to be flexible in their thinking. In his lecture, he called this strategic incrementalism.
Think of it as hedging against uncertainty, he said, “getting ready for something different to happen that you didn’t expect to happen, and maybe putting some dollars against it, so that you are ready for it. So you can preserve future flexibility.”
In practical terms, this might mean erecting a building at a certain height but with the foundation and structure to allow it to become taller should the need for additional space later arise. It could mean building a bridge with one roadway but adequate architectural support to add a second deck later.
It means taking a long view when building major infrastructure projects, then monitoring, collecting data and watching closely to see how the new project actually gets used. If a project has design flexibility in the beginning, any future expansions can proceed at greater speed and at lower cost.
“We have to convey the notion of flexibility and adaptability and real options with the public and decision-makers,” Schofer said. “What you need to say is: “Let’s be a little looser about this, a little more flexible, to get what you really need.’”
Making better decisions in an uncertain world, Schofer said, involves collecting, analyzing and sharing as much data as planners can. Better information leads to better forecasting.
“In the end,” Schofer said, “it’s all about learning.”
The grant will allow "faculty and students to conduct needed research on the many transportation challenges facing our region,” said Brian Taylor, director of the UCLA ITS and a professor of Urban Planning at UCLA Luskin.
By Stan Paul
Thanks to a multimillion-dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, faculty, staff researchers, and students affiliated with the UCLA Luskin Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS) will be part of a new regional transportation center that will tackle some of the most important transportation issues facing America.
“Universities are at the forefront of identifying solutions, researching critical emerging issues and ensuring improved access to opportunity for all Americans,” U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said in announcing more than $300 million in grants to 32 University Transportation Centers (UTCs) nationwide, selected from among 212 proposals submitted. “This competition supports the future transportation workforce by providing students with opportunities to take part in cutting-edge research with leading experts in the field.”
UCLA Luskin’s ITS will collaborate on this new center with USC and universities in four states — California, Nevada, Arizona, and Hawaii — as well as the U.S. Pacific Island territories. The new Pacific Southwest Region University Transportation Center is one of ten new federal regional centers, and will focus on transportation issues facing the southwestern and Pacific regions of the U.S.
“We are thrilled to be a partner in this new university transportation research center, and by the opportunity it presents to our faculty and students to conduct needed research on the many transportation challenges facing our region,” said Brian Taylor UP PhD ’92, director of the UCLA ITS and a professor of Urban Planning at UCLA Luskin. Taylor noted that the new center will address new transportation technologies, improving mobility for vulnerable populations, improving transportation system resilience and protecting the environment, and managing mobility in high-growth urban areas.
“This new center will help the Institute of Transportation Studies continue to recruit the best and the brightest transportation students to UCLA for graduate study, and it will in addition support both faculty and students across the campus in conducting a wide range of research projects — from harnessing the benefits of cleaner technology-driven smart mobility, to better serving the mobility needs of the poor,” explained Taylor, who also leads the Luskin School’s Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies.
The five-year, $14-million DOT grant will be matched by an additional $14 million from the California Department of Transportation and other sources to support a wide array of research, education and technology transfer programs at the consortium member universities. Taylor said the new center will bring at least $500,000 per year to UCLA, with more than half of that amount funding graduate student fellowships and research projects.
The new Pacific Southwest Region UTC will be directed by USC professor Genevieve Giuliano, who in winter and spring of 2016 was the Harvey Perloff Distinguished Visiting Professor of Urban Planning in the UCLA Luskin School. The other participating institutions in the consortium are Cal State Long Beach, UC Davis, UC Irvine, the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Northern Arizona University and Pima Community College.