Keeping L.A. Connected Is Topic of Annual City Hall Day

Graduate students from throughout UCLA Luskin gathered in downtown Los Angeles on Feb. 16 to participate in the 18th UCLA Luskin Day at Los Angeles City Hall. The longtime tradition brought together students and local leaders from government, nonprofit agencies and the community to discuss and learn more about how the city can prioritize first-mile and last-mile investments in transportation. The Luskin School joined with UCLA’s Office of Government and Community Relations to partner with the office of city councilmember Katy Yaroslavsky to address transportation in preparation for large-scale events such as the Summer Olympics, soccer’s World Cup and the Super Bowl. Urban Planning Professor Brian Taylor of the Institute of Transportation Studies served as this year’s faculty advisor. Discussion touched on local projects such as the Metro Purple Line expansion and the pending Sepulveda Transit Corridor and Crenshaw/LAX Transit projects that will seek to speed up city transit and make it easier for riders to get to their preferred destinations. Other transit policy choices relating to street-level access for bikes, scooters, walking and rolling were mentioned, as were ridehail and parking policies. “Events like Luskin Day at City Hall provide students with invaluable hands-on experience to learn about public policy in local government,” said Kevin Medina, director of the Office of Student Affairs and Alumni Relations, which organized the event. The students’ policy recommendations will be presented to Yaroslavsky in May, Medina said.

Update: Read the students’ policy recommendations 

View more photos from the day on Flickr

UCLA Luskin Day at Los Angeles City Hall

Taylor on Public Transit’s Pivotal Moment

Brian Taylor, professor of urban planning and public policy, spoke to Vox and CalMatters about the downward trend in public transportation ridership, which remains well below pre-pandemic levels. Taylor told Vox that the median American rides public transportation a total of zero times a year, so legislators may view it as a low priority for funding. Taylor suggests reframing the issue to cater to more of the public’s concerns. “When framed as a social service, transit hasn’t done well securing funding. But when it’s framed as an environmental benefit or as getting people off the road, that can work,” he said. Public transit is also grappling with an ongoing labor shortage, Taylor told CalMatters. Many transit operators retired or shifted to work with lower health risks, such as trucking, he said. One factor is that drivers don’t want to police behavior, including dealing with growing mental health, drug and homelessness crises showing up on public transit.


The Past, Present and Future of Transportation Access Author and scholar Robert Cervero says long-ago research by his late mentor, Martin Wachs, still has relevance for today’s planners and policymakers

By Les Dunseith

When UC Berkeley Professor Emeritus Robert Cervero was asked to deliver the 15th annual Martin Wachs Distinguished Lecture, he was initially hesitant. 

“But it dawned on me that a really important foundational piece of work that was published one-half century ago, 50 years ago, was Marty Wach’s paper on accessibility,” said Cervero during a Feb. 28 presentation in honor of his former urban planning mentor and colleague. “And why don’t I wrap my talk … around the theme of that paper and try to show how it really shaped my own research in this field and, I would suggest, generations of other people as well.”

Titled “Physical Accessibility as a Social Indicator,” the article by Wachs and T. Gordon Kumagai continues to influence planning policy, said Cervero, who earned his doctorate in urban planning at UCLA in 1980 and joined UC Berkeley’s city and regional planning faculty, where he remained until 2016.

“The article really highlights a number of different contexts of which accessibility should really be an overarching principle that guides what we do in this field of urban planning and transportation,” Cervero said.

During introductory remarks, UCLA Luskin Professor Brian Taylor mentioned that the lecture was the first in the series to be presented without Wachs himself in attendance. The longtime urban planning scholar taught at both UCLA and UC Berkeley before his death in 2021. Members of the Wachs family, including his wife, Helen, were in attendance. 

Presented in conjunction with the Luskin Lecture Series, Cervero’s talk was titled, “Accessibility, Social Equity, and Contemporary Policy Debates,” and he spoke about how the concepts put forth 50 years before still have relevance today, especially in regard to how access to transportation contributes to the well-being of people living in cities. 

“Marty made the point with his co-author that this sensibility happens at multiple scales. It’s regional access to jobs or medical facilities, but it’s also at the micro-scale of ‘Do you have access to, say, a bus?’” said Cervero, who said he built on this notion in his own research about socioeconomic matching in terms of the realities of transportation access. A person might live in a transit-rich area, for example, “but if you’re in a wheelchair, and the buses don’t have wheelchair ramps, then you don’t have great transit access.”

In the 1970s, few scholars prior to Wachs had written about these types of human components to transportation access. “To me, it was truly revolutionary,” Cervero said. 

For example, Cervero found that people living in central city neighborhoods often bear disproportionately higher costs for transportation services. Because they make frequent off-peak trips for necessities like groceries, they end up paying a lot more than affluent suburbanites taking fewer trips over longer distances.  

The disparity also was apparent when he and other researchers looked at why people who seemed to have public transit options readily available to them choose to rely primarily on their vehicles instead. 

“A lot of these individuals were people like working moms who had very complex travel patterns,” Cervero said. “They have a child to drop off at the child care center and then go to their job. They were taking vocational courses at night and had to get there at a time when public transit service was bad. They had split-shift weekend jobs when transit services are notoriously lousy. So, they need a car.”

In looking at the concepts articulated by Wachs so many years before, Cervero also found lessons that can be applied to some of today’s planning and policy debates. One example is the idea of a “15-minute city,” a place designed by planners to ensure that most people have ready access not just to work but to the other necessities of daily life within 15 minutes of their homes.

The idea is laudable, but it has its critics. 

“If you really insist on this, you potentially stifle economic competition. Companies don’t want to thinly distribute activities everywhere,” said Cervero, as some in the audience of UCLA faculty, staff, students and alumni nodded their heads in agreement. “So, this idea of a 15-minute city really runs in the face of what economists have long argued are important economic drivers towards the economic growth and performance of a city.”

In his career, Cervero has consulted on transportation and urban planning projects worldwide, including recently in Singapore. “They’ve come up with this idea of the 20-minute town and the 45-minute city. You can reach a lot of things within 20 minutes. But when it comes to employment, when it comes to going to see a sporting event or buying a car or going to a regional hospital with specialized medical care, that’s a 45-minute city. So, I think we’re getting a lot better articulation and sensible policy.”

During a Q&A session after his formal presentation, Cervero spoke with UCLA Professor Adam Millard-Ball and took questions from the audience. When asked to talk more about his global experience, he explained that much of the scholarly work to date has focused on urban life in the United States and Europe. 

Some of today’s researchers focus on climate change impacts and how to find “a little more efficiency out of electric mobility or ridesharing or whatever. But in the grand scheme of things, over the next 20 or 30 years, 80% to 90% of urbanization is not going to happen in the Global North. It’s going to be in south Asia and Africa, and whatever happens there is going to swamp any and everything we do here, particularly in the rates of carbon emissions and so forth.”

In the developed world, the focus is often on how to get people from the central cores to jobs in suburbia. That’s less true in places like Mexico, South America, Indonesia and other parts of Asia. 

“It’s a totally different landscape. Most of the poor are not in cities but in far-flung suburbs or towns. When you’re talking about lack of access, it’s a two- to three-hour, one-way daily commute,” Cervero said. “The amount of time and resources you have to invest is enormous just getting to and from where you need to be in order to have the earnings to cover basic needs.”

He was also asked about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting rise in remote work.

“Historically, we think of physical proximity,” said Cervero, noting that when workers have highly specialized skill sets they depend on interactions in teams of people with other specialized skills to thrive. 

“The whole idea of access being tied to location is being somewhat thrown around by all these rapidly evolving, powerful kinds of technological advances,” he said. “Technology is transforming. The notion of physical proximity as we all know it has long driven the idea of cooperation. But maybe it happens less.”

Established by students, the Wachs Lecture Series features prominent and innovative scholars and policymakers in the field of transportation. The UCLA Luskin Lecture series brings together scholars with local and national leaders to discuss solutions to society’s most pressing problems. This event was organized by UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs and Institute of Transportation Studies, for which Taylor has served as the director and Millard-Ball the interim director. Cervero was the director of UC Berkeley’s counterpart to ITS for many years.

View additional photos on Flickr

UCLA Lecture by Robert Cervero

Watch a recording of the lecture on YouTube

On the Fiscal Politics Behind American’s Vast System of Freeways

A new book co-authored by Brian Taylor, professor of urban planning and public policy, tells the largely misunderstood story of how freeways became the centerpiece of U.S. urban transportation systems, and the crucial, though usually overlooked, role of fiscal politics in bringing this revolutionary type of road system about. “The Drive for Dollars: How Fiscal Politics Shaped Urban Freeways and Transformed American Cities,” published by Oxford University Press, argues that the way we raise and spend transportation revenue has shaped our transportation system and the lives of those who use it, from the era before the automobile to the present day. “Our approach is to ‘follow the money,’” wrote Taylor and co-authors Eric A. Morris of Clemson University and Jeffrey R. Brown of Florida State University. “Our fundamental argument is that freeways in general, interstate freeways in particular, and urban freeways most of all were importantly shaped by money — the constraints caused by the lack of it, the means of raising it, the politics of dividing it, the policies for spending it and the incentives promoted by it.” “The Drive for Dollars” also offers guidance for the present and future on how to fund and plan transportation more equitably, provide travelers with better mobility, and increase environmental sustainability and urban livability. The book is dedicated to the late Martin Wachs, the UCLA and UC Berkeley transportation scholar known for his passion for planning history and transportation finance as well as his commitment to teaching.


ITS, Lewis Center Have Thrived for Decades

The Institute of Transportation Studies was created within the University of California in 1947 and has been in permanent existence at UCLA since 1994. The Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies marked its 30th year in 2020 with a grand celebration just six days before COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic. Both remain influential and productive, promoting a faculty-student research relationship that for many is a hallmark of the Luskin School experience. Here are interviews with the two current directors and a handful of alumni. 

Brian Taylor, UCLA double-alumnus, longtime professor and director of the Institute of Transportation Studies

Why are UCLA and ITS the right fit for you?

Oh, I keep coming back to UCLA. I transferred from Berkeley to UCLA as an undergraduate … and went to graduate school at Berkeley. And then I came back to UCLA for my Ph.D. in urban planning, but at the time it was in the Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning. I taught [at another university] for a while and then was recruited to come back to UCLA a third time. 

I understand that I was the first faculty member hired in the “School of Public Affairs.” My appointment began July 1st, 1994, and the School began on July 1st, 1994, at midnight. 

What we know today as the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California … was created by the California Legislature in 1947 to examine the growing transportation needs for the state of California after World War II. The original branch was at UC Berkeley, and eventually a branch was opened at UCLA. It existed from the 1950s into, I believe, the early 1970s, primarily in engineering. … They used to crash test cars in what is now the sculpture garden. They had the tracks, and they’d run them up with the dummies in the cars. 

[That version was later moved] from UCLA to Irvine. … In 1994, the branch at UCLA was reestablished, but instead of being in civil engineering, it was established in what’s now the Luskin School of Public Affairs. And the founding director was Professor Martin Wachs. 

Transportation is the thing that everybody’s an expert in. Because they all travel. 

What makes it unique is that transportation is one of the things that connect all of human activity. It’s education, communication. Where we live, where we work, where we shop, where we play, how we relate to friends. We’ve learned what it’s like to do it by Zoom and that’s one way. And the other way is to come together. And if you come together for activities, whether it’s manufacturing, or to socialize, or to see a sporting event or to go shopping, those things all require transportation systems. 

The transportation program at UCLA is fairly unique among universities. … Others tend to have their centers anchored in engineering, and it is very much an infrastructure focus. We are anchored in a school of public affairs. And because of that, our transportation experts, who are known around the world, are not, quote-unquote, transportation experts. They’re people who focus on transportation around some realm. So, take [professor] Donald Shoup. He was basically a land economist who realized that parking had huge effects on urban development and the environment. And as a land economist, he’s become one of the most prominent transportation scholars in the country.

Only the late Marty Wachs and I, and now [recent faculty addition] Tierra Bills as the third, were actually first and foremost transportation people, even though we’re widely considered as one of the top transportation research centers in the country. And because we bring in these experts from these other fields who see the connections to urban design and safety, to the environment and to economic outcomes in poverty, to all of these things connected to transportation, [it] has made us so relevant and so intellectually rich as a result.

How do students benefit from being associated with ITS?

ITS, like many of the other centers, has for years devoted substantial funding to students, offering scholarships to recruit outstanding students, diverse students to the Luskin School. At this point it’s millions of dollars in scholarships. We are the largest single funder of students at UCLA outside of — I have been told this repeatedly — outside of the graduate division in terms of funding our students.

Is there a signature event or a signature activity?

Oh, yes. It’s the UCLA Lake Arrowhead Symposium on the Transportation-Land Use-Environment Connection. We’ve been doing it since ’91. It’s at UCLA’s Lake Arrowhead Conference Center, and we are known internationally for this symposium. It has led to changes in policy at the state and federal level. We have had secretaries of transportation in California, the head of the Federal Transit Administration, and we’ve had prominent academics from around the world
to speak.

Any unmet challenges or missed opportunities over the years?

I think urban planners could have been more intentional about addressing transportation justice and equity issues.

And there is — I hate to use the word disturbing — but the view of transportation in the eyes of many public officials, whether on the right or the left, often involves big projects, concrete and steel. They might favor some projects or oppose others. So, often we are approached and asked, “What can you do to help us? How do I get approval for this project or kill this other project?” But when we engage with public officials, rarely do they just say, “This is a vexing problem. What can we do to address it?”

Urban Planning alumni Andrew Mondschein PhD ’12 of the University of Virginia and Anne Brown MURP ’14, PhD ’18 of the University of Oregon worked with ITS while students; Lance MacNiven MURP ’16 is the national zero-emission lead for WSP USA, a civil engineering firm

How does your career today relate to your time at UCLA?

Mondschein: I’m still really interested in travel behavior and expanding the idea of what accessibility is and how we understand that concept. And that all came from the opportunities, the things that I experienced and the things I got to work on at UCLA. I do work on accessibility, particularly looking at cognitive mapping and understanding how people actually understand the opportunities that are available to them and the way that transportation systems shape that.

MacNiven: Although I never worked for ITS directly, I was very close with Brian [Taylor], and he was kind of a partial advisor with the late, great Marty Wachs for my capstone project. I am the national lead for zero-emission vehicles and fleet planning support and serve as a project manager for
the transition to zero-emission vehicles, primarily for transit and freight.

My capstone was connected to L.A. Metro bus system ridership and basically improving ridership. … I’m back on the bus side primarily with the zero-emission aspect. A lot of my studies and research with ridership and trends definitely inform the duty cycles and other things that we look at on the zero-emission side.

Brown: I’ve always been in transportation equity. Essentially, with the rise of shared mobility during my six years at UCLA, that’s the angle I went. UCLA provided flexibility to pivot into this whole new opening. Back in 2014, we just had no idea what was going on with any of these services.

What stands out about your time at UCLA?

Brown: Brian [Taylor], Evy [Blumenberg] and Marty [Wachs] were some of my primary advisors the entire time
I was at UCLA, kind of like surrogate parents and grandparents in a work context. They all came to my wedding. It’s just a wonderful community.

The support goes beyond the classroom. It’s out of the classroom on research projects. But there’s depth of care that they really invest in you as an individual. And it goes beyond graduation, too. We’re in regular touch. It feels like any time an email pops up or the call comes through, it’s like no time has passed.

Mondschein: Fundamentally, the people at ITS were so supportive and could take anyone that was excited and engaged in transportation and encourage them to think how it might have benefit to society and might be able to change the world.

It was really a special kind of unique environment to be able to talk to like-minded people in a little bit of an educational hothouse. It was a lot of fun.

MacNiven: The professors, you know, it’s full of brainiacs; we could spend all day talking about how smart they are. But it’s the human connection that really draws people in and keeps us tight. 

When I first came to UCLA, reading about [Wachs, Taylor and Shoup], I was intimidated. I was like, “Oh, man, there’s Brian Taylor.” But then you get to know him. And, quite honestly, a lot of the times I’m talking to Brian Taylor it’s about college basketball.

Marty was my capstone advisor. He was busy but he accepted me. And I would go to his house on the weekends, you know, to basically bug him with questions. And there were times when my wife had our car, and he would offer to come pick me up to go to his house on a Saturday. 

That stuff sticks with you forever. It really shows the community.

Brown: I think about advice I was given early on but have not yet mastered. It’s to think, “What are the questions? What’s the purpose of doing the research?”

You can use research to answer questions that can better transportation, better society, better connect people to opportunities. 

I can’t look at a new technology without thinking, “Well, what do we do with this? How can we harness this to better the public good? What are its potential pitfalls and how do we avoid those?” In a lot of ways, my professors are the voices in my head that continue to drive my research agenda. They trained me in their own style. And I am forever grateful for that.

MacNiven: There’s no perfect silver bullet to this in terms of which transportation system we should favor. We deal with this a lot on the zero-emissions side because everyone seems to think that zero emission is the silver bullet to solve all our environmental problems.

But we’re always trying to think about the pros, and the cons. Who are the winners? Who are the losers? And let’s
zoom in on those “losers” a little bit to see how we can mitigate those situations.

It’s not just producing great research, but also trying to translate it into practice. 

two men and a woman sit in large white chairs and talk

UCLA Luskin scholars Allen Scott, left, Evelyn Blumenberg and Paul Ong have each led the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies during its three-decade history.

Evelyn Blumenberg MA UP ’90, Ph.D. ’95, a faculty member since 1995 and director of the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies since 2018

Who works with the Lewis Center and has it changed over its three decades of existence?

I was first involved with the Lewis Center as a student. I did projects through the Lewis Center when I was a doctoral student [when it was still] in the School of Architecture and Urban Planning. 

The overall mission of the Lewis Center has held constant, but within that broader mission, each of the directors put their own stamp on the kinds of policy issues they were engaged in, and on who they were collaborating with.

And the areas of emphasis have evolved with the directors. Currently, we do “live,” “move” and “work” as our three areas. A lot of “live” is focused on affordable housing qualities of neighborhoods. “Move” is the work we do on transportation in the region. And “work” reflects our interest in jobs and the regional economy. 

We work with students in all of the graduate and undergraduate degree programs.

The Lewis Center, like some of the other centers in the Luskin School, helps fund capstone projects in all three departments. And there are also students who get funding from the Lewis Center and write policy briefs that are based on their work.

We also help solicit some of the capstone projects. We do a broad solicitation, but many of [the clients] are alumni. Some of them had been involved in Lewis Center projects when they were students. It’s like, where we try to match our great students with great projects. And that’s one way in which former students who are now alums can participate. 

How do faculty benefit from their association with the Lewis Center?

Faculty are really good at academic research. And they can figure out how to fund academic research. And, you know, they have to produce academic scholarship in order to get promoted. That happens with or without the Lewis Center. 

The Lewis Center allows them to amplify the policy implications of their research. 

Certainly, they apply for funds through the Lewis Center, and that helps their academic portfolio. But the big advantage is that we have the ability to help them promote their findings to communities, to elected officials and to other stakeholders. 

And we do it in a number of ways. We create reports and policy briefs. We have started a podcast around housing and affordable housing. We structure a lot of our events around the scholarship of faculty. They can use those events as a way of getting out their research and the policy and planning recommendations that fall from it.

And being involved with Lewis Center is a vehicle for bringing faculty and students together on topical areas. As an individual faculty member, oftentimes you’re working on your own. The centers offer a collegial place to interact and to creatively think about how to pursue policy interventions. 

We’ve had meetings where all we do is brainstorm. We think about bringing faculty and students together to think about what the next round of research should be. So, it’s
an incubator.

I got into this business to make a difference, right? To improve communities, to make life better for low-income households. This is an opportunity to translate the research into policy, and to do it with others.

Taylor Reimagines California Dream With Fewer Cars

Brian Taylor, director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, authored an opinion piece for the Southern California News Group about the urban landscape of California. “California’s reliance on low-density, sprawling development, with its wide streets and freeways and ubiquitous free parking, requires most Californians to travel by car for almost all of their trips, whether or not they own a car or want to drive that much,” wrote Taylor, a professor of urban planning and public policy. This emphasis on driving is expensive, takes up a lot of land and is harmful to the environment. Residents without access to personal cars, who are disproportionately Black and Latino, are increasingly left behind. Taylor proposed making metropolitan and transportation planning more urban-focused. Increasing housing density, eliminating parking mandates and improving public transit would help improve housing affordability and meet climate goals, he argued. “De-centering cars in central cities can make cities more sustainable, accessible and lively places,” Taylor wrote.

UCLA Scholars Publish Reports on Future of California Transportation, Housing

UCLA scholars have published two new reports on the future of California, as part of the California 100 initiative. One paper, issued by the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, focuses on recommendations for transportation and urban planning. The authors describe policy alternatives around four possible scenarios:

  • Residents will need cars to get around.
  • There will be more city living and lots of traffic.
  • Multiple modes of travel will be available, but car travel remains the primary one.
  • It’s easy to get around without a car.

The second report, produced by the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, cityLAB UCLA and the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley, puts forth policy suggestions based on two interrelated factors: how much (and where) housing is built, and how much planners prioritize social and racial equity. The transportation and housing reports were published in concert with two other California 100 analyses, one on energy and the other on technology. Nine additional reports are expected to be published this spring.

Read more about the UCLA-led California 100 reports.

Faculty Reported Among Top 2% in Scholarly Citations

Eighteen faculty members affiliated with UCLA Luskin are included in a listing of the top 2% for scholarly citations worldwide in their respective fields as determined by an annual study co-produced by Stanford University researchers. The 2021 report is a publicly available database that identifies more than 100,000 top researchers and includes updates through citation year 2020. The lists and explanations of study methodology can be found on Elsevier BV, and an article about the study was published by PLOS Biology. Separate data sets are available for career-long and single-year impact. The researchers are classified into 22 scientific fields and 176 subfields, with field- and subfield-specific percentiles provided for all researchers who have published at least five papers. The following current and past scholars with a UCLA Luskin connection met the study’s criteria to be included among the most-cited scholars:

Laura Abrams

Ron Avi Astor

Evelyn Blumenberg

Randall Crane

Dana Cuff

Yeheskel Hasenfeld (deceased)

Aurora P. Jackson

Duncan Lindsey

Susanne Lohmann

Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris

Thomas Rice

Ananya Roy

Robert Schilling

Donald Shoup

Michael Storper

Brian Taylor

John Villasenor

Martin Wachs (deceased)