Doctoral Student Honored for Transportation Research

Julene Paul, a Ph.D. student in urban planning, was named the 2021 student of the year by the Pacific Southwest Region University Transportation Center, a federally funded network of eight partner campuses in Arizona, California and Hawaii. Paul works closely with the Institute of Transportation Studies and the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies at UCLA Luskin. Her research includes a study of the effects of COVID-19 on transportation behavior, an investigation into trends in automobile ownership, and a deep dive into BlueLA, an electric-car-sharing program that provides services to low-income areas of Los Angeles. She has presented some of her work at national conferences and has been published along with her co-authors, including her advisors, Evelyn Blumenberg and Brian Taylor. Paul’s interest in transportation was stoked while studying urban policy and working as a research assistant for the Education Innovation Laboratory as an undergraduate at Harvard University. Later, while pursuing her master’s degree in city and regional planning at Rutgers University, Paul worked for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. After graduating from Rutgers, she went on to work as a program manager at the Federal Transit Administration. When asked for advice for the current generation of urban planning students, Paul recommended taking advantage of internship opportunities and seeking out mentors from these experiences. She also encouraged students to venture out beyond their required classes when possible. Paul said a UCLA Law course in employment law challenged her to think critically about transportation policies and their effects on workers.


 

Taylor on Setbacks to Memphis’ Public Transit Vision

Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke with the nonprofit newsroom MLK50 about changes to the public transportation system in Memphis, Tenn. Ridership on Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) lines plummeted during the COVID-19 pandemic; current labor shortages have made it difficult to hire an adequate number of bus drivers; and the city’s plan to overhaul the transit system by 2040 remains underfunded. A recent round of cuts to routes and services has caused disruptions to riders, 71% of whom are from households earning less than $20,000. Taylor said that the people who use MATA are likely forced to by circumstances: Either they have to, because they can’t drive or don’t have a car, or they want to, because parking where they’re going is expensive. The second group “vanished” during the pandemic, Taylor said, noting that, when a bus system operates as infrequently as once an hour, it’s almost exclusively for the first group.

Manville on Shifting Dynamics of City Life and Work

Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville spoke to CNET about recent changes in living and commuting patterns. The shift to remote work for many during the pandemic accelerated an existing trend of people moving outward to areas surrounding their former homes in big urban centers. “Once you were deprived of the opportunities that a fully open Los Angeles or, for that matter, a fully open San Francisco offered you, it was very hard to justify the cost of housing here,” Manville said. The pandemic has also had a large impact on traffic patterns and use of public transit. At the beginning of the pandemic, “traffic just plummeted to levels we have probably not seen in 100 years,” but congestion and traffic have almost returned to pre-pandemic levels as the economy has reopened, Manville said. The article also cited UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies Director Brian Taylor regarding the variables that lead to traffic congestion.


Taylor on Political Economy of Transit Projects

Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, joined St. Louis on the Air to discuss the political motivations behind transportation projects. The passage of President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill has prompted discussion about the potential expansion of the MetroLink light-rail line in St. Louis. While light rail is popular among politicians and residents who use it as an occasional alternative to driving, most essential workers would benefit more from improved frequency and reliability of bus services. According to Taylor, “Opportunities to cut ribbons in front of things is much better [for elected officials] than making broad improvements.” He explained that while transit users benefit from improved service, politicians prefer dramatic, concrete improvements that will garner more political support from all voters. “The issue with a light-rail line is that most people don’t ride transit, but almost everyone can see the light-rail line,” Taylor said.


Taylor Encourages More Responsible Driving

Brian Taylor, director of UCLA’s Institute of Transportation Studies, spoke to Vox about how to end the American obsession with driving. The transportation sector is one of the biggest sources of pollution, but many U.S. cities are built for drivers. Taylor explained that parking is often capitalized into the costs of the goods you buy, as opposed to selling parking spaces at their true value. “The default is that the storage of private vehicles tends to get priority if you look at how we’ve allocated curb space, and that creates all sorts of problems,” said Taylor, a professor of urban planning and public policy. To disincentivize street parking, Taylor suggested that municipalities raise the price at meters, manage curbs differently or remove parking altogether in some areas, allowing only for loading, unloading, and scooter and bike traffic. He imagined a future where drivers are more responsible for these costs and are more judicious of their car use.


Manville, Taylor on How to Get Traffic Under Control

Urban Planning faculty members Michael Manville and Brian Taylor spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the return of L.A. traffic levels to pre-pandemic levels. “Traffic is a product of people having places to go,” said Manville, but he noted that “it’s the last few vehicles on the road that are responsible for most of the delays.” Manville argued that congestion pricing is key to reducing traffic. “Traffic congestion arises because there’s excess demand and scarce road space,” he said. He also pointed out that congestion pricing can be used to increase equity “because the absolute poorest people don’t drive … [and] no one suffers from congestion more than people stuck on a bus.” Taylor added that “when traffic demand is near or above the capacity of the street and highway system, any changes — adding or subtracting relatively few cars — can have a significant effect on delays.”

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ITS, Lewis Center Win Research Awards to Help Shape California’s Future UCLA Luskin-based centers join an ambitious initiative aimed at forging strategies for the state's long-term success

Two centers housed at UCLA Luskin have received research awards from California 100, an ambitious statewide initiative to envision and shape the long-term success of the state.

The Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies will evaluate current facts, origins and future trends in housing and community development, while the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies will look into transportation and urban planning. In total, researchers from four UCLA organizations will spearhead three of the 13 California 100 research areas.

The Lewis Center will summarize California’s housing market and outline a vision for how policy changes could lead to a brighter future for the state’s residents, with a particular focus on increased equity and housing production. Working alongside cityLAB UCLA and the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley, the Lewis Center team will also create a visualization of this future through creative techniques of diagramming, drawing and rendering to help readers picture the possibilities for California’s communities.

UCLA ITS will delve into transportation policy contradictions: California has invested substantially in public transit, while other public policies encourage driving and work against transit. As the state looks to meet its climate and equity goals, transportation systems — and the land use context surrounding them — will play a key role.

Research for both projects is slated to begin over the summer and be complete by December 2021, and will lead to a set of policy alternatives for the future of California. The policy alternatives will be developed in conjunction with research teams from the other California 100 issue areas.

The California 100 Commission is a multi-generational advisory body that will develop recommendations for the state’s future and test those recommendations across a broad set of policy areas by directly engaging Californians.

“From climate change to aging populations and rapid changes in industry, California will face enormous challenges in the years ahead,” said Kathrick Ramakrishnan, California 100 executive director. “We are fortunate to be able to draw on the deep talent of researchers in California to produce evidence and recommendations that will inform robust public engagement and set the state on a strong, long-term trajectory for success.”

About the California 100 Research Grants

California 100 is a new statewide initiative being incubated at the University of California and Stanford University focused on inspiring a vision and strategy for California’s next century that is innovative, sustainable and equitable. The initiative will harness the talent of a diverse array of leaders through research, policy innovation, advanced technology and stakeholder engagement. As part of its research stream of work, California 100 is sponsoring 13 research projects focused on the following issue areas:

  • Advanced technology and basic research
  • Arts, culture and entertainment
  • Education and workforce, from cradle to career and retirement
  • Economic mobility and inequality
  • Energy, environment and natural resources
  • Federalism and foreign policy
  • Fiscal reform
  • Governance, media and civil society
  • Health and wellness
  • Housing and community development
  • Immigrant integration
  • Public safety and criminal justice reform
  • Transportation and urban planning

Taylor on Post-Pandemic Traffic Patterns

Urban Planning Professor and Director of the Institute of Transportation Studies Brian Taylor spoke to the Los Angeles Times about changing traffic patterns in Los Angeles as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and life returns to a post-pandemic normal. The pandemic altered traffic and transit patterns, with many businesses transitioning to remote work. As the economy reopens, traffic levels have increased, but the next few months will signal how long-lasting the pandemic’s impact on traffic patterns will be. Vehicle travel is increasing in part because more businesses and activities are opening up, prompting people to drive more often and farther from home. Taylor explained that congestion is “spatially and temporally” structured, meaning that it occurs when many travelers are going to the same destination at the same time. “If we go back to pre-pandemic living and working patterns, driving and traffic levels are likely to be similar to before,” he said.


Taylor Emphasizes Need to Improve Transit Service

UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies Director Brian Taylor was featured in a Los Angeles Times commentary about plans to revive transit ridership in Los Angeles by dropping fares. LA Metro approved a pilot program eliminating fares for students and low-income riders. Metro relies on riders for only 5% of its revenue, with the majority of revenue coming from sales taxes in Los Angeles. However, some riders are still concerned about the speed, reliability and accessibility of public transit services. According to Taylor, Metro’s data-based improvements to its bus routes are a promising way to revive ridership by reallocating service. Increased service frequency, decreased wait times, and investments in lighting, added shelter and other safety measures at bus stops could attract more ridership than free fares, he said. Taylor pointed out that riders, even those with low incomes, are more sensitive to changes in service than changes in price.


Wachs, ITS Honored with APA Planning Awards

The American Planning Association’s Los Angeles section bestowed multiple awards on the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin and also honored the late Martin Wachs, professor emeritus of urban planning. Wachs, who passed away unexpectedly in April 2021, received the Planning Pioneer Award for his lifelong work as a renowned transportation scholar. The Institute of Transportation Studies won the following honors:

The American Planning Association is a national organization that aims to unite leaders and professionals across the field of planning. Every year, the organization’s Los Angeles section recognizes the outstanding work, best practices and thought leaders that impact the built and natural environment in Los Angeles County.— Zoe Day