Taylor on Encouraging Use of Public Transit

Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Stateline about the future of public transit in the United States. Transit ridership, which plummeted 76% at the beginning of the pandemic, has increased in recent months, but no one is sure whether it will return to pre-pandemic levels. Taylor explained that public transit typically serves two groups: affluent people who find transit more convenient than driving and those who do not have access to cars. The first group virtually disappeared from public transit at the beginning of the pandemic. Taylor recommended implementing transit-friendly parking and land-use policies, such as reducing or eliminating parking requirements for office and residential buildings, to encourage transit use instead of driving. “Just spending more money and not doing those other things is not going to be a good investment if we continue to make it as easy as possible to drive,” Taylor said.

Traffic on the 405 Can Be Awful, but Let’s Get Real ‘The idea that someone would take this seriously is, well, alarming,’ says UCLA Professor Brian Taylor

By Les Dunseith

Anyone who has driven through the Sepulveda Pass during rush hour knows that traffic on Interstate 405 can be a nightmare. Still, it’s not as bad as it was made to seem in an altered photo that’s making the rounds on Facebook.

The image shows 19 (!) lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic snaking along the freeway just north of the Getty Center, about 3 miles from the UCLA campus. And when an Associated Press reporter decided to fact-check the photo, she turned to Professor Brian Taylor, director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies. 

Not only did Taylor have the insight necessary to debunk the altered photo, but he even had a recent picture of the real 405 to prove it. 

Here’s the fake picture:

And here’s the photo by Taylor, taken in approximately the same location (although looking southbound, the opposite direction), which offers proof that there are not 19 lanes in that stretch of freeway, but 12 — including carpool lanes in each direction that were added in 2011 and 2012 during the infamous “Carmageddon” project.

A photo of the 405 taken in March by UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies Director Brian Taylor because, he says, “who wouldn’t go around taking pictures of freeways?”

In its story about the picture, the AP provides a link to the original photograph that had been doctored to produce the viral fake, saying it appears to have been captured in 1998. It shows five lanes of traffic in each direction, with far fewer cars.

Taylor, a professor of urban planning and public policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, wrote to the AP reporter that the false image “has been bouncing around for years.” 

“It’s a bit of obvious hyperbole to (I assume) make a point about continually widening freeways to address growing traffic levels,” Taylor wrote. “The idea that someone would take this seriously is, well, alarming.”

Thanks to the AP and Taylor, Facebook has now added a notification that the photo has been altered.

Taylor on Updating Obsolete Speed Limit Rules

A Streetsblog California article on the “85th percentile rule” for setting speed limits cited Professor Brian Taylor, director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, who testified before a state Assembly committee considering legislation to change the policy. California cities currently set speed limits based on motorist behavior, under the assumption that about 85% of drivers on a given road will go at or below a reasonable speed, while about 15% will drive faster than is safe. In his testimony before the Assembly Transportation Committee, Taylor said the rule, created in the 1930s, was meant to be revisited when more evidence about science and safety was available but has instead persisted to this day. The bill, AB 43, would give local authorities more flexibility when it comes to setting speed limits and also require that pedestrian and bicycle safety be considered. The bill passed the committee on a 15-0 vote.


Taylor on Transit Opportunities in a Post-COVID Era

Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Time magazine about COVID-19’s impact on public transit systems around the world. Mass transit has seen steep declines in ridership and revenue as people have begun to work from home or opted for cars over public transportation. However, the COVID-19 disruption has also led to a global reckoning as leaders ponder how to positively reshape their cities for the post-pandemic era. “Many are arguing this pause could give us an opportunity to reallocate street space, to reconsider how much curb space we devote to the storage of people’s private property, which cars are,” Taylor said. Improving public transit and phasing out cars could lower greenhouse-gas emissions, make streets safer and more pleasant for pedestrians, and create opportunities for retail and hospitality sectors. According to Taylor, it all depends on the decisions city leaders take now to “intelligently manage automobiles” and protect public transit.


Taylor on Catering Bus Services to Transit Riders

A New York Times article about improving bus service cited a research report by Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin. Bus systems across the country are underfunded, resulting in slow, inconvenient and unreliable service. Proper investment could transform city buses into a cheap, accessible and sustainable form of public transportation. However, many transit agencies do not identify serving the poor or minorities as a goal, and instead cater to more affluent voters who are less likely to actually ride public transit. Taylor’s report suggests that public policy goals are often not aligned with “the needs of transit riders themselves, particularly the poor and transit dependent,” who wield little political or economic clout. The article suggests that transit agencies have been given a valuable opportunity to invest in bus systems because of the way the COVID-19 pandemic has altered Americans’ commuting habits.

Luskin Summit on COVID, Public Transit and Homelessness

In the Luskin Summit session “Transit Impacts: Fewer Riders, More Homelessness,” experts in urban planning and public policy discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the intersection of public transit and homelessness. Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke about the social service role of public transit and how the pandemic has affected ridership among different groups. Public transit ridership dropped suddenly and dramatically at the beginning of the pandemic but has been increasing slowly since, with returning riders more likely to be low-income and people of color, Taylor said. Conan Cheung, a senior executive at LA Metro, explained that the agency has made frequent service and fare adjustments based on changes in ridership and revenue during the pandemic. In a study of U.S. and Canadian transit systems, Associate Dean and Professor of Urban Planning Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris found that over half of the agencies reported that they see at least 100 individuals who are unhoused per day. Many agencies also noted the lack of clear policies and training on how to respond to and interact with unhoused people, as well as a lack of support from local and state governments in addressing homelessness. Steve Martingano of Denver’s Regional Transportation District shared how his department redirected funds from the police division to hire mental health clinicians, form a homelessness task force and hire a full-time outreach coordinator to address the issue of homelessness in public transit. — Zoe Day

Transit Funding as a Racial Equity Issue

A Washington Post article arguing that federal transportation policies have fostered racial inequity for generations cited research by Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin. The article said that newly confirmed Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg may not be fully aware of the complexities of allocating federal transit funding that historically have cemented existing inequities, especially in majority-Black communities. State and local transit agencies rarely make it a priority to help low-income or minority riders, the article noted, pointing to research by Taylor, a professor of urban planning. Transit spending has focused on commuter-oriented rail lines rather than bus service in deference to “the wealthier general voting public, although most members of this group rarely if ever ride transit,” Taylor’s study found. In many cases, it concluded, transit policy had failed to focus on the needs of transit riders themselves, particularly the poor and transit-dependent.


Taylor on Social Service of Public Transit

Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Wired about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on public transit services. Facing plummeting ridership, public transit agencies have cut services significantly to stay afloat. According to Taylor, transit usually serves two sets of people: those going into busy downtown areas and those who don’t have other transportation options. During the pandemic, ridership has declined among the first group due to stay-at-home orders, fears about transit as a vector for spread and the shift to remote work for many companies. As a result, the burden of public transit cuts has fallen on the people who need the system most, such as essential workers in the grocery, retail and health care sectors who continue to rely on public transit during the pandemic. “The social service aspect of public transit is even more prominent than it was before,” Taylor said.

Matute, Taylor on Prospective Promotion for Garcetti

Director Brian Taylor and Deputy Director Juan Matute of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the possibility that Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti will be appointed to a Cabinet post in the Biden administration. After serving as national co-chair of President-elect Joe Biden’s campaign, Garcetti is a potential candidate for transportation secretary. While Garcetti has only held local office, Taylor noted that he would not be the first mayor to run the federal department of transportation. Taylor added that big-city mayors like Garcetti have to know how to pull federal, state and local resources together, along with political will, to get transportation projects moving. Matute acknowledged the success of Measure M as Garcetti’s signature legacy but said he wished he “had more success in the implementation of his vision for a better Los Angeles,” given the mayor’s grasp of the intricacies of transportation planning.

Taylor on Return to ‘Normal’ Transit Ridership

Urban Planning Professor Brian Taylor was featured in a Ventura County Star article discussing the public’s hesitation to return to public transit. In the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, the number of people driving on freeways and using public transportation plummeted due to stay-at-home orders. While driving has almost returned to pre-pandemic levels, public transportation is experiencing a much slower recovery. Taylor said concerns about safety likely played a role in the recent decrease, but he attributed much of the ridership losses to the large increase in people working from home. “The question is, ‘Are we going to get back to normal?’ ” said Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin. “Well, what was normal? Normal was that we were having this erosion of riders, and that’s not necessarily the normal that the transit operators would want to get back to.”