At the Intersection of Extreme Heat, Urban Planning and Public Policy

News outlets covering the effects of extreme heat on California communities have put a spotlight on UCLA Luskin’s wide-ranging research on climate change. CapRadio and the Sacramento Bee spoke with V. Kelly Turner, who studies the intersection of extreme heat and urban planning and has witnessed the inequitable impact of dangerously high temperatures on low-income communities. The Los Angeles Times spoke to Juan Matute, deputy director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, about the lack of shade provided at thousands of bus stops across Los Angeles County. He urged officials to follow the lead of desert cities that use trees, street furniture and shade canopies to protect transit riders from the harsh climate. And the Southern California Association of Governments shared a live demonstration of the California Healthy Places Index: Extreme Heat Edition, developed through a partnership including the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation to teach communities about heat vulnerability and resources available to them.


Matute on Measuring E-Scooters’ Carbon Footprint

A Wired article assessing the green credentials of electric scooters cited Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin. Measuring the full environmental impact of e-scooters is a complicated task that must factor in how and where they’re operating, Matute said. Over an e-scooter’s lifecycle, carbon emissions come from the production of its materials and components; the manufacturing process; the shipping of the scooters to wherever they’re going to be used; the collecting, charging and redistributing of the scooters; and their disposal. To bring down their carbon footprint, some manufacturers are pursuing improvements to their equipment and operations, including developing scooters with a longer lifespan and introducing swappable batteries, which reduces the number of trips required to keep the fleets powered.


Lewis Center/ITS Operations Manager Is UCLA’s 2022 Rising Star UCLA honors Whitney Willis with an award that recognizes someone who is already making a positive impact and shows leadership potential

By Stan Paul

UCLA Luskin has a new rising star for 2022.

Whitney Willis, operations manager for the Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS) and the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies at UCLA Luskin, has been named this year’s Rising Star awardee by UCLA’s Administrative Management Group in partnership with Campus Human Resources.

The 2008 UCLA alumna, who has worked at the Luskin School for nearly six years, was selected from among 14 nominees in the Rising Star category, one of three Excellence Awards bestowed annually to UCLA staff members. Criteria for the award include the potential to make a positive impact, establishing a leadership role, and pursuing both training and development opportunities.

Willis exemplifies these criteria and more, according to UCLA Luskin supervisors and colleagues who consider her not only a rising star, but already a star.

Willis’ supervisor Juan Matute, deputy director of ITS, describes her as an out-of-the-box thinker who has streamlined and automated a number of the center’s business systems and services. During her time at the School, Willis has established best practices for administration, events and student oversight, while lending support and training to staff from other UCLA Luskin research centers, he said.

In addition to training herself in process improvement and learning to use new tools, Willis has sought formal training from within and outside UCLA, Matute added. She completed UCLA’s Professional Development Program in the 2019-20 academic year and is now pursuing a master’s in public administration at Cal State Northridge. Matute said she is already applying what she is learning to budgeting and financial analysis tasks at UCLA.

Willis also serves as an advisor for the UCLA Staff Assembly’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Task Force.

In a letter of support, Professor Evelyn Blumenberg, who is Willis’ supervisor in her role as director of the Lewis Center, noted the challenges of Willis’ position, which involves managing a diverse portfolio of responsibilities. These include grant administration and reporting, budgeting and resource management, administrative support for events, management of facilities projects and the distribution of financial aid.

“Ms. Willis’ leadership, exceptional organizational skills and commitment have been integral to the success of the Lewis Center,” Blumenberg said.

Despite time constraints, keeping up with her graduate school classes, and the day-to-day working challenges of the academic year, Willis says she has always viewed her role as operations manager as striving to be a “champion of productivity within ITS and Lewis Center.”

“This award is special to me because it means that I might be even a small part of a community of so many other great people who are committed to doing their best in serving students, diverse communities, and supporting the growth and well-being of the staff community,” Willis said.

Gas Hike a Litmus Test for Mass Transit, Matute Says

Juan Matute, deputy director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the impact of soaring gas prices on transit ridership in Los Angeles. The article said many Angelenos are concerned about the number of homeless people and the increase in violent crime on the Metro, which slashed its bus and rail service this year amid a COVID-fueled driver shortage. Many transit planners have argued that the cheap cost of driving vehicles keeps commuters from jumping on a bus or train. Matute noted that the spike in gas prices will now serve as a litmus test for mass transit. “If driving gets 50% more expensive because of the increase in gas prices and you’re not seeing a corresponding increase in ridership, maybe there’s something you have to look at about their service, improving it, whether it be reliability, safety or passenger experience,” Matute said.

Matute on the Resurgence of E-Scooters

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.

Matute on Democratizing Parking Data and Access

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.

Matute Proposes Consolidated Public Transit Platform

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.

Matute on Prioritizing Safety of E-Scooter Services

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.

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

Matute on Low-Speed Travel Network Plans

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.”