Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Spectrum News about the changing landscape of e-scooter technology. During the COVID-19 pandemic, fears of sharing space with strangers on mass transit appears to have resulted in increased reliance on e-scooters. For example, the company Bird reported that the average e-scooter ride length is 58% longer compared to pre-pandemic levels. “Maybe what would have been a three-mile Uber ride pre-pandemic is now a three-mile scooter ride,” Matute said. At the beginning of the pandemic, many scooter companies suspended operations, but technology and safety improvements are contributing to a resurgence in e-scooter popularity. “Customer expectations are changing,” Matute said. “Getting on one of these more advanced scooters is a safer experience than some of these early-generation scooters that are still out in the wild.” He noted that the newer vehicles are sturdier, have a longer range and feel more comfortable over a longer ride.
Juan Matute, deputy director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, was featured in a Dot.LA article about taking advantage of Los Angeles’ hidden parking spaces. According to Matute, the most straightforward way to cut down on congestion is by ensuring fewer cars are on the road in the first place. Still, new apps such as Metropolis can play an important role in “eliminating some of the most obvious and wasteful impracticalities associated with parking.” Even in dense areas like downtown Los Angeles, where a parking spot seems impossible to locate, there is abundant parking concealed in parking garages. The Metropolis app allows drivers to access parking facilities that are registered in the database without obtaining a ticket or paying at a booth; instead, the owner’s credit card is charged automatically. “These apps are addressing the issue where you only know about parking you can see,” Matute said.
UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies Deputy Director Juan Matute was featured on a “Connect the Dots” podcast episode about the future of public transit following the pandemic. “Those using transit in Los Angeles tend to be lower-income than cities like San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and even New York, where there is more white-collar commuting,” Matute explained. As a result, Los Angeles saw relatively high pandemic ridership compared to pre-pandemic levels. “Diversity of mobility options helps serve those who want or need to get around without a personal vehicle,” Matute said. “The introduction of micro-mobility, such as e-scooters and bike share, provide additional options for people to get around.” Matute said he would like to see a platform where people could access many forms of transportation in one place, which would make it easier for transit riders to get around.
Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Dot.LA about Superpedestrian, an e-scooter startup that aims to prioritize rider and pedestrian safety. Some e-scooter companies have faced lawsuits from riders over bodily injury and death. Superpedestrian says it has spent years improving its technology to protect vulnerable pedestrians and alert the user when they are breaking the rules. According to Matute, focusing on safety makes it easier for cities to adopt micro-mobility like e-scooter services. “Having self-regulating technology like Superpedestrian has is really attractive to cities because they can approve scooters to go in without worrying so much about users behaving badly,” he explained. “People have died because of vehicle system failures, brakes not being up to snuff.” Superpedestrian recently made its debut in Los Angeles with 5,000 LINK e-scooters.
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 Academic Award of Excellence for the paper “School Transportation Equity for Vulnerable Student Populations Through Ridehailing: An Analysis of HopSkipDrive and Other Trips to School,” authored by doctoral student Samuel Speroni and advised by Urban Planning Professor Evelyn Blumenberg
- The Academic Award of Merit for the paper “Need for Speed: Opportunities for Peak Hour Bus Lanes Along Parking Corridors in Los Angeles,” written by Mark Hansen MURP ’20.
- The Planning Landmark Award of Excellence for the UCLA Lake Arrowhead Symposium, a series of virtual sessions centering on transportation and the pandemic.
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
Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Spectrum News about the creation of a low-speed travel network in South Bay cities in Los Angeles County. The South Bay Cities Council of Governments recently approved a resolution to implement a Local Travel Network, which would aim to reduce traffic, lower greenhouse gas emissions and improve street safety. The network would designate low-speed streets for neighborhood electric vehicles such as GEM cars, e-bikes, e-scooters, electric skateboards and other forms of zero-emissions personal mobility devices. “The concept is a great idea … but I’m not quite sure about the implementation,” Matute said. He added that it “would really be quite neat to be able to get around some larger swaths of area in L.A. with those types of vehicles that aren’t highway legal but are still practical ways to get around in a place with Southern California’s weather.”
Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the expansion of mass public transit in Los Angeles. After several years of declining ridership, Metro ridership dropped by 70% at the beginning of the pandemic. However, the city took advantage of the opportunity to accelerate construction of public transit projects like the Purple Line, which will extend from downtown Los Angeles to Westwood. Matute called the Purple Line extension “the most important transit project in America, outside of Manhattan” because it links L.A.’s high-density corridors. It also may offer a quicker route than a personal vehicle, unlike bus options that double or triple commute times if they don’t have a dedicated traffic lane. Although transit in L.A. has predominantly been used by those trying to minimize costs, the new Purple Line expansion will be significant in that it also offers a time advantage, he said.
Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, was featured in a Guardian article about the strengths and shortcomings of Eric Garcetti’s administration during his time as mayor of Los Angeles. There is a possibility that Garcetti will cut his second term as mayor short to take a position as a U.S. ambassador and eventually return to pursue a higher office in the federal government. In Los Angeles, reviews are mixed about his efforts to address climate change, pollution, the affordable housing crisis and economic inequality. On transportation issues, Matute pointed out that the mayor succeeded in pushing a key funding measure in 2016 and set commendable goals for improving mobility and safer streets. However, the “execution of his plans has been slow and haphazard,” Matute said. “There was a lot of promise for changing mobility in Southern California that came through in plans … but they’ve fallen short of implementation.”
Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Wall Street Journal about the growing role of technology in public transit service. New York, London and Los Angeles are releasing new apps and digital versions of their subway maps, which give riders access to information about how close a train is to their station as well as any closures or delays. Matute explained that the new platforms are designed with more focus on the user experience than some predecessors, which first appeared on app stores around 2010 and were often neglected by transit agencies afterward. “These apps just fell out of favor and ended up being removed from the marketplace,” he said. The growth of ride-share services like Lyft and Uber and competition with other navigation apps such as Google Maps and Apple Maps has prompted public transit agencies to invest resources in improving the digital experience for riders.
A team of 10 UCLA professors has earned a $956,000 award for a project that will combine their expertise in engineering, urban planning, public health and environmental law to address the rapid increase in the number of extreme heat days in Los Angeles.
The prize is funded by a 2015 donation from the Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation.
The project, called Heat Resilient L.A., will over the next two years determine where and when people moving around the city are most vulnerable to the effects of extreme heat — a problem being caused by climate change — and assess which communities most need cooling interventions.
Based on their findings, the team will design new cooling structures and work with local stakeholders to determine where they should be installed. The team has designed a prototype structure that resembles a bus stop shelter, but in addition to a roof that provides shade, it also uses a combination of radiant and evaporative cooling technologies to provide “passive cooling” for those nearby.
Throughout the project, the researchers plan to engage directly with communities to produce the best possible design for the cooling structures and choose the best possible locations. Among the elements that helped the project stand out: its focus on equity and community engagement, and its use of devices other than shade and trees to provide cooling for local hot spots.
“What’s unique right now is that we have access to a portfolio of solutions and technologies that hadn’t been either thought of as plausible solutions or, frankly, available even just a few years ago,” said Aaswath Raman, a member of the Heat Resilient L.A. team and an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering. Raman, who is designing the cooling structures using technology that has been developed in recent years at UCLA and elsewhere, said the project is an opportunity to explore the real-world use of emerging cooling technologies and materials.
That should not only help Los Angeles communities but also provide insights that he and others can use to continue building better technologies.
‘We wanted to bring together brilliant minds at UCLA who had never collaborated before, and push them to bring fresh ideas to the table.’ — Cassie Rauser, executive director of the UCLA Sustainable LA Grand Challenge
The winning project was chosen through a new UCLA initiative that upended the traditional model for conceiving and funding research projects. The program, called the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge Sandpit, emphasized connection, experimentation and blue-sky thinking.
In all, eight teams made up of more than 60 faculty members from 27 UCLA departments participated.
The program culminated in December with an online pitch event that worked more like the TV show “Shark Tank” than a typical call for proposals. Instead of preparing dense written submissions, the teams had to sell their research projects — all focused on sustainability — to a panel of jurors that included UCLA deans as well as chief sustainability officers from the city and county.
The Heat Resilient L.A. pitch was led by Raman; V. Kelly Turner, an assistant professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin; and David Eisenman, a professor in residence at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.
The other members of the winning team are Cara Horowitz, co-executive director of the UCLA Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment; Sungtaek Ju, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and of bioengineering; Travis Longcore, associate adjunct professor at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability; Juan Matute, deputy director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies; Gregory Pierce, associate director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation; Kirsten Schwarz, associate professor of urban planning; and Walker Wells, lecturer in urban planning.
“The sandpit was definitely not business as usual, and that was the point,” said Cassie Rauser, executive director of the UCLA Sustainable LA Grand Challenge, a campuswide initiative to help transform Los Angeles into the world’s most sustainable megacity by 2050. “We wanted to bring together brilliant minds at UCLA who had never collaborated before, and push them to bring fresh ideas to the table. This type of interdisciplinary problem-solving is absolutely critical for addressing Los Angeles’ complex sustainability challenges.”
Competitors were invited to develop projects that directly address goals outlined in sustainability plans put forward by Los Angeles County and the city of Los Angeles, while paying particular attention to environmental justice and equity. The “sandpit” name was meant to encourage participants to bring a childlike sense of curiosity, openness and possibility into the process.
Teams and research concepts formed over the course of three months of online workshops designed to push participants out of their disciplinary bubbles and intellectual comfort zones — a critical aspect of the experience, according to Turner, who has studied what makes interdisciplinary collaborations work.
“So often it is about the informal interactions that get folks comfortable with being uncomfortable with each other, so that they can come up with the really innovative ideas,” she said.
The seven teams that did not win the grand prize will each receive $25,000 in seed funding from the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge, which will also provide continued research development support to help the teams further develop their ideas and pursue full funding from external organizations.
“One of the most exciting aspects of the sandpit is that we heard eight fantastic pitches,” said Eric Hoek, a UCLA professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge. “Any of those projects could make a significant, tangible contribution toward our city’s and county’s sustainability goals, and we’re excited to help them all realize their potential.”