An Agence France-Presse story featured comments by Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, professor of urban planning, and Martin Wachs, professor emeritus of urban planning, on the status of California’s high-speed rail project. The original plan to connect Los Angeles and San Francisco was revised by Gov. Gavin Newsom in February to link Merced and Bakersfield instead, a distance only a third of the originally planned route. Construction delays and unexpected budget increases have prompted criticism of the “train to nowhere.” Loukaitou-Sideris weighed in on the curtailed route. “It absolutely does not make sense,” she said. “Any transit project needs big [urban] centers as origins and destinations, and so to have something like that … all but kills the project.” Wachs agreed, arguing that “California should have capitalized on its existing rail network, including that currently dedicated to freight.” The AFP story was picked up by several news outlets, including Yahoo! News and Daily Mail.
Martin Wachs, distinguished professor emeritus of urban planning, spoke to the San Diego Union-Tribune about the county’s newest plan for improving traffic. The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) proposed a controversial plan to invest in a high-speed commuter rail and implement congestion pricing on existing freeways. The proposal shelves planned freeway expansions, which experts have found does little to solve traffic congestion. According to Wachs, “the only proven way to reduce traffic is congestion pricing.” While the policy has been politically unpopular in the U.S., it has “increased highway capacity in the 30 or 40 places it’s been done around the world.” While the rail would not necessarily reduce traffic congestion, it would accommodate population growth in the region while reducing greenhouse gases from cars and trucks. “Transit enables higher density development and reduces vehicle miles traveled in relation to the population, whereas highways are associated with more dispersed growth,” Wachs explained.
Martin Wachs, professor emeritus of urban planning, commented on the prospect of congestion pricing in Los Angeles on KPCC’s Airtalk. To reduce traffic, New York passed a proposal to implement congestion pricing in the form of tolls on vehicles entering Manhattan, prompting speculation about the prospect of congestion pricing in other big cities like Los Angeles. In Stockholm, Wachs explained, citizens voted to implement congestion pricing after a seven-month trial period because “they valued the reduction of congestion more highly than they were worried about the cost of entering the congested area.” Wachs predicts that “the Manhattan experiment will reveal how Americans feel about congestion pricing.” While some critics argue that congestion pricing is regressive taxation, Wachs responded that “congestion itself is regressive. Congestion pricing provides an alternative, but it doesn’t require the low-income person to pay the fee if there is an alternative,” such as public transit.
Martin Wachs, distinguished professor emeritus of urban planning, was quoted in a San Diego Tribune article about two proposed tax hikes that would serve to fund a new and dramatically improved public transit system for the San Diego area. It is speculated that the success of the new transportation bill might not be entirely secure, mostly due to the amount of money that San Diegans would have to pay with the introduction of not one but two tax increases. Wachs said he thinks the bill would have increased success if it was limited to a single tax increase. Furthermore, officials must make clear to voters exactly what implications the bill and any subsequent tax increases would have, he said. “It’s pretty clear that voters need to have a relatively straightforward understanding of what is happening, and they will vote ‘no’ if they don’t understand what the measure is or they think another measure is coming soon,” he said.
In an LAist article, Urban Planning Professor Martin Wachs commented on the history behind the lack of one-way streets in Los Angeles compared to East Coast cities. Los Angeles built wide roads to accommodate the automobiles and streetcars popular in the first half of the 20th century, Wachs said. The wide streets and long blocks characteristic of Los Angeles would make one-way streets difficult, he added. Los Angeles experimented by converting Pico and Olympic to one-way streets to ease traffic for the 1984 Olympics, but complaints from residents and business owners resulted in the restoration of two-way traffic. “One-way streets tend to work best when blocks are short and streets are narrow, so cars can easily loop around to reach their destination. When there are five or six lanes of traffic, like Venice Boulevard, cars have to merge over too many lanes to make a turn and the flow of traffic gets messy,” Wachs explained.
By Claudia Bustamante
Across the country, public transit ridership has been declining.
But that isn’t the story in Seattle. Terry White, deputy general manager at King County Metro Transit, said that can be attributed to the agency’s community efforts.
Speaking at the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies’ 12th annual Downtown Forum on Transportation, Land Use and the Environment held March 1, 2019, at the Japanese American National Museum, White said an organization that doesn’t reflect its community will lose trust.
“We’ve been making a concentrated effort that the folks that make up our outreach and leadership teams reflect the communities we go out and serve,” White said. “I don’t think it’s an accident that we have better relationships since 2014.”
King County Transit, which most recently won the American Public Transportation Association award for outstanding transit system, makes more than 400,000 trips per day and has seen all-time-high ridership as more people move into the Seattle area.
Joining White at the forum were UCLA scholars, and government, nonprofit and private sector representatives who share other real-world examples of how to tackle declining transit ridership, especially in an era of emerging mobility services.
The forum focused on successful public-private partnerships that could fill gaps in transportation services. Other topics included effective uses of data to manage mobility, practical innovations that can yield great gains for transit ridership, and how new mobility technology and services can enhance equity and quality of life.
Speaking specifically to how a big-city transportation department can put equity first was Ryan Russo, director of Oakland’s Department of Transportation, which was recently formed as a new model of urban mobility centered around progressive policies that aim to recognize and address past injustices.
Russo said the Bay Area city’s legacy of redlining is still seen and felt throughout the area, which means that departmental projects must be considered through an equity lens. Dedicated monthly meetings are held to strategize ways of infusing equity into projects. For example, Paint the Town combined community art and traffic safety through street murals.
For every project approved in less disadvantaged communities, at least two were approved for low-income neighborhoods.
“Transportation and street management isn’t about getting people from A to B,” Russo said. “It’s the way we will serve our community.”
Partnerships and Pilots
In light of the proliferation of private mobility companies, the forum discussed different ways the public sector could partner with these companies to meet transportation needs.
One example came from HopSkipDrive, a ridehailing service for school-aged children, which partnered with Los Angeles County to provide free rides to foster youth. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, foster youth were provided core protections for school stability, meaning that districts need to provide transportation to keep these students in their schools of origin. Many foster youth bounce from school to school, and they graduate at far lower rates than do their peers.
“We are not meant to replace school bus companies. We are designing our systems to ride alongside school buses and existing transportation systems. That way we can provide mobility opportunities and access for all kids,” said Qiana Patterson, senior director of public partnerships.
In fact, finding innovative ways to partner with the private sector to tackle the biggest transportation issues of the day is something that Metro has been doing through its Office of Extraordinary Innovation.
Its unsolicited proposal process has yielded more than a dozen contract awards and proofs of concept for key projects, including the Sepulveda Transit Corridor, a gondola to Dodger Stadium, mobile tolling and bus electrification.
“The public sector is reluctant to admit they have a problem,” said Nolan Borgman, Metro senior transportation planner. “You need to admit that there is a problem that you don’t know how to solve.”
In Santa Monica, the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, along with the rise of electric scooters, drove city officials to authorize a pilot program to offer more mobility choices and gain a better grasp on the use of shared public space.
Declining ridership has also forced many public agencies to adopt innovations to improve transit.
In Everett, Massachusetts, a pop-up bus lane is being utilized to improve mobility and connections to major nearby destinations like Boston. Instead of conducting traditional outreach, City Planner Jay Monty said a pilot project incorporated outreach and gleaned real-time public feedback. The part-time lanes only for buses went quickly from pilot project to a statewide model, and today more than a dozen similar Tactical Transit Lane projects have sprung up across the country as a means of improving mobility.
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville said that neither new trains or lanes free up space on roads over time. What has worked — where it has been implemented — is congestion pricing.
Speaking to the fairness and equity concerns that come up when congestion pricing is discussed, Manville said that not only was the entire transportation system financed regressively through gas taxes, sales taxes and registration fees, but pricing access to roads could produce revenue to offset the costs for low-income individuals.
“Congestion harms people who live in low-income communities with disproportionate low vehicle ownership,” Manville said. “They have to bear the higher health and pollution burdens of driving, which leads to higher rates of preterm births and other negative health outcomes — and thus inheriting poverty.”
Earlier this year, Metro decided to move forward with a two-year study of congestion pricing, evaluating different pricing methods, including per-mile charges and tolls in specific areas.
Even though all the new mobility options may make it seem otherwise, we are not living through a particularly disruptive period of transportation, said Martin Wachs, emeritus professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin. People have long been using the same language to describe new mobility — from bicycles and jitneys in the 19th and 20th centuries to today’s ridehailing companies like Lyft and Uber, as well as electric scooters.
Instead of reacting to technology, Wachs said, agencies should create policy that builds upon the capacity of innovation.
Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Urban Planning Martin Wachs spoke to the Los Angeles Times about California’s beleaguered plan to build a high-speed rail line that had initially sought to link San Francisco and Los Angeles. Concerns about the time required and cost of the rail’s construction continue to be raised following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s State of the State speech. “There’s an enormous amount of uncertainty,” said Wachs, a member of the peer review committee monitoring the business plans of the high-speed rail project. “You can’t be completely sure of what it will cost,” he added. “The technology changes as it’s being built, the demand pattern changes as it’s being built.”
From Public Transit to Public Mobility
12th Annual UCLA ITS Downtown Los Angeles Forum on Transportation, Land Use, and the Environment
Presented by the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies
Date: March 1, 2019
Location: Japanese American National Museum (Aratani Central Hall)
100 N. Central Ave., LA,CA 90012
Registration: 8:45AM – 9:00AM
Event Program: 9:00AM – 5:00PM
Reception: 5:00PM – 7:00PM (Hirasaki Family Garden)
The 12th UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies Downtown Forum grapples with the public sector’s response to the dual trends of emerging new mobility services and declining public transit ridership.
What does the increasing role of private mobility options in cities mean for transportation agencies, public transit providers, cities, and the traveling public? Should innovation be encouraged, quashed, or managed? Many regions in California are making big investments in public transit to create a viable alternative to driving; are these burgeoning new services a threat or opportunity for these investments?
The 12th Annual Downtown Forum will explore implementation of the strategies discussed at the October 2018 Arrowhead Symposium, a 3-day in-depth examination of what’s happening in urban mobility amidst an inundation of new options, to how public agencies are adapting to accommodate, manage, and incorporate, and compete with new options while continuing to serve the public interest. The Downtown Forum advances strategies to implementation in four areas seen as critical to the public sector’s response to new mobility:
- Successful models for the public sector to partner with private companies providing public mobility service
- How public agencies can effectively obtain and use data to manage public mobility
- Identifying and implementing the most impactful, cost-effective incremental changes to streets and transit service in order to double public transit ridership in the next decade
- Coordinating implementation of new technologies and mobility services to enhance equity and quality of life
AICP credits available.
Lunch Provided. RSVP at https://uclaitsdtla2019.eventbrite.com
UCLA Luskin’s Martin Wachs, distinguished professor emeritus of urban planning, commented in a Los Angeles Times article about freeway tolls and other revenue-generating methods that could get drivers off the road and help reduce traffic congestion. The issue has prompted L.A. Metro officials to push for a study of congestion pricing in Los Angeles, which includes controversial steps such as converting some carpool lanes to toll lanes and charging drivers by the number of miles they travel. The anticipated billions of dollars in revenue could help expand the region’s transit network. “This would take a very dynamic leader and a very committed leader, and most American politicians back away when they see the opposition,” said Wachs, who said he supports the idea as a good first step. The story also mentions a new study by UCLA Luskin’s Michael Manville that analyzes the reasons that people support transit projects.
Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Urban Planning Martin Wachs spoke to the Los Angeles Times about rebuilding dilapidated infrastructure in the United States. In 2017, the American Society of Civil Engineers conducted an evaluation of U.S. infrastructure and gave it a D+. These results mean that there is “significant deterioration” and “strong risk of failure.” Wachs commented, “I think there is a need to both renew — by that I mean repair deterioration and bring things up to good operating condition — and there’s a need to modernize.”