Transit Forum Focuses on Impact of Mobility Innovations UCLA scholars join government, nonprofit and private sector representatives to discuss declining ridership in an era of emerging mobility services

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.

Disruption

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.

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Image of high-speed rail line under construction in Fresno in 2017

Wachs on the Future of California’s Bullet Train

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

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

Wachs Discusses Freeway Tolls and Traffic Congestion

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.


Wachs on the Nation’s Crumbling Infrastructure

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.”


 

Robert Poole: Rethinking America’s Highway Institutions

Robert Poole: Rethinking America’s Highway Institutions

Thursday, November 15
12:15 – 1:45 p.m.
Room 4320B, Public Affairs Building
Lunch will be served, beverages not provided
Robert Poole is the director of transportation policy at the Reason Foundation and the author of the new book “Rethinking America’s Highways, in which he argues that 20th century governance and funding model for highways is failing to solve chronic problems such as congestion, deferred maintenance, and poor resource allocation decisions, in addition to inadequate funding. He argues that other major utilities (electricity, telecommunications, water supply) are governed and funded very differently from highways, and that major 21st century highways should be re-configured as network utilities. He cites precedents for this in other countries and in the better performance of U.S. toll roads than of comparable highways. He also outlines a possible transition from the status quo to highway utilities, starting with the Interstate highways.
Mr. Poole’s work has introduced HOT lanes, express toll lanes, dedicated truck lanes, and long-term public- private partnerships to U.S. transportation. He has advised federal and state transportation agencies, testified before congressional and legislative committees, and served on advisory boards and commissions.

New Research Weighs Impact of Gas Tax Repeal

A new report co-authored by Martin Wachs, UCLA Luskin distinguished professor emeritus of urban planning, assesses California’s transportation revenue stream and the potential impact of a ballot measure to repeal the state’s gas tax. The tax was part of a law adopted in 2017 to fund road repairs and maintenance, along with new transit projects and infrastructure upgrades. Proposition 6, on the Nov. 6, 2018, ballot, would repeal the law and require voter approval for future increases in transportation-related taxes. The study by the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) at San Jose State University projects that, between now and 2040, California would lose approximately $100 billion in transportation revenue if Proposition 6 passes. “California’s ability to plan and deliver an excellent transportation system depends upon the state having a stable, predictable and adequate revenue stream,” said Wachs, lead author of the report. The study also measured voter sentiment about how to pay for transportation improvements. “Of clear importance to the public is assurance that the revenue is being spent efficiently and on things that they care about such as maintenance, safety improvement and programs that benefit the environment,” said Hannah King, a Ph.D. student specializing in transportation planning at UCLA Luskin. King is co-author of the report with Asha Weinstein Agrawal, director of the MTI National Transportation Finance Center.

 

Wachs Comments on History of California’s Controversial Gas Tax

Martin Wachs, UCLA Luskin distinguished professor emeritus of urban planning, commented on the history of California’s controversial gas tax in a recent Mercury News article looking at what drivers actually are taxed per gallon of gas. “The idea was not that you would be taxing gasoline,” Wachs said, “but you would be charging drivers for their use of the roads.” Wachs said that the first gas tax instituted nearly a century ago in California was intended to offset the costs of maintenance by charging people benefiting directly from roads.


 

ITS Launches New Digital Magazine: Transfers

Policymakers and professionals need important research to improve our transportation system, but it too often languishes behind the intimidating walls of academia. Transfers Magazine, a new biannual digital publication led by faculty and staff at the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, aims to break down those walls by distilling the expert knowledge of scholars into tangible links to action. Donald Shoup and Martin Wachs, distinguished professors of urban planning at UCLA Luskin, serve as senior editors for Transfers. Each issue will feature shorter, more readable versions of peer-reviewed, previously published academic journal articles with the goal of making research accessible to students, policymakers, the press and the general public. Transfers is the flagship publication of the Pacific Southwest Region University Transportation Center (PSR), a research consortium of eight universities in Arizona, California and Hawaii. The inaugural issue was released on May 16 and features new studies from PSR scholars, including UCLA Luskin faculty members Evelyn Blumenberg, Brian D. Taylor, Gregory Pierce and Shoup, on key questions for transportation policy. The issue is now available online, and readers can receive future issues sent directly to their email by subscribing. Between issues, the Transfers staff will connect research updates, student projects, expert opinion and campus news to current events in the transportation world on the The Circulator blog and on Twitter.

Transfers is the flagship publication of the Pacific Southwest Region University Transportation Center.

Remembering the ‘Father of Urban Planning’ John Friedmann — renowned author, pioneer of theory and founding leader of UCLA Urban Planning — is remembered by colleagues, family and former students at memorial service

By Zev Hurwitz

The late John Friedmann is widely regarded as having pioneered the field of urban planning theory.

“Some call him the ‘Pope of planning’; others call him the ‘Father of Urban Planning,’” said Martin Wachs, distinguished professor emeritus of urban planning, during a memorial for Friedmann on Nov. 2, 2017. “He always chuckled and giggled about those labels, and he really didn’t take them seriously,” Wachs said, pausing and then lowering his voice. “I think, secretly inside, he really did.”

This mix of honorific praise, bittersweet memory and wry humor was commonplace as friends, family, former colleagues and Luskin students — current and past — joined together at the UCLA Faculty Center to remember Friedmann, who passed away in June at the age of 91. In addition to his work in urban planning theory, Friedmann presided over the founding of Urban Planning at UCLA in 1968 and served as its chair four times.

“While this is a memorial to celebrate John, it’s impossible to avoid feeling sad,” current chair of Urban Planning Vinit Mukhija said in his opening remarks.

Mukhija noted that Friedmann had remained close with the Luskin School of Public Affairs even after leaving Los Angeles in the late 1990s when his career and personal life took him to Melbourne, Australia, and then to Vancouver, British Columbia. At the time of his death, the department was hoping to have Friedmann return to Westwood to teach the Planning Theory course in the Ph.D. program, Mukhija told the crowd of more than 50 attendees.

“I think it would have been terrific for our doctoral students to have that, but unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be,” Mukhija said.

Mukhija, Wachs and others spoke of Friedmann’s elite standing in the field of urban planning. Friedmann wrote 18 books and more than 200 book chapters and articles. By themselves, his writings are cited more frequently than the aggregate works of any single planning program in the country, except for the Luskin School’s Department of Urban Planning.

“He was the intellectual force behind what we call ‘planning theory,’” Wachs said, noting that Friedmann also taught at MIT and in countries such as Brazil, Chile and Korea, as well as providing guest lectures at major universities around the world.

Friedmann’s accomplishments were many, but those in attendance also heard about a few of his foibles. Longtime love and wife Leonie Sandercock talked less of Friedmann the educator and more of Friedmann the man: “I feel so lucky to have spent 32 years next to this man, who I adored, and I struggled with and I rolled my eyes at, and I shared my life with. I’m happy that his life touched so many others.”

Sandercock and Friedmann fell in love while corresponding via handwritten letters as pen pals when Friedmann was at UCLA and Sandercock was in her native Australia. A highly accomplished planner herself, Sandercock said Friedmann’s intellectual acumen never waned. “He was still living fully,” Sandercock said of her husband’s final days.

Friedmann was often reflective, Sandercock said, telling of a recent encounter after a walk through nature, when Friedmann ticked off the “lucky things” that had led him to this point in life. Meeting Sandercock was one, she said with a smile. Being denied tenure at MIT was another — it led him to pursue career-changing research in Chile. And then there was the invitation from then-Dean of Architecture Harvey Perloff to come to UCLA and start the Urban Planning program.

In that instance, many of those in attendance felt like they were actually the lucky ones. Lucy Blackmar, assistant vice provost for undergraduate education initiatives at UCLA, recalled a phone conversation with Friedmann back when UCLA Urban Planning was in its infancy and Friedmann gave her the green light to pursue further education.

“I credit John Friedmann with my intellectual awakening,” Blackmar said. “Really, John was an educator, he was a thought leader, he was a global citizen, a man for all seasons and he had an insatiable intellectual appetite.”

Several other former students shared their memories of Friedmann during the memorial, including Goetz Wolff and Stephen Commins, both of whom later became Luskin urban planning lecturers. UCLA Luskin professors Ananya Roy and Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris also spoke about Friedmann, saying he had provided inspiration to them long before they actually had a chance to meet him in person.

Cellist Anne Suda played throughout a reception that preceded the sharing of memories, an homage to Friedmann’s own appreciation of the instrument.

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To honor the legacy of John Friedmann’s contributions to the field of planning we have established the John Friedmann Memorial Fellowship Fund. Recipients of the fellowship at UCLA Luskin will carry Friedmann’s legacy as leaders and change agents in our world today. If you would like to make a gift, please go here.