“Transit Crime and Sexual Violence in Cities: International Evidence and Prevention,” a new book co-edited by Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, has just been published. The book presents case studies from 18 cities on six continents to demonstrate the widespread incidence of crime in transit environments, primarily targeting women and young people. “Sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence in public spaces are everyday occurrences for women and girls around the world and a threat to the overall sustainability of the city,” wrote Loukaitou-Sideris and co-editor Vania Ceccato of the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden. Concerns about physical safety aboard public transit systems can deter individuals from fully participating in school, work and public life, they noted. The book identifies urban planning improvements to safeguard passengers and ensure that cities become more accessible and therefore more sustainable. Contributors to the book, published by Routledge, represent several disciplines, including environmental criminology, architecture and design, urban planning, geography, psychology, gender and LGBTQ studies, transportation and law enforcement. In the book’s foreword, Juma Assiago of UN-Habitat’s Safer Cities program wrote that the publication “contributes to our quest for safer, inclusive, resilient, equitable and sustainable cities and human settlements.”
Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Fast Company about what public transit might look like after the coronavirus pandemic ends. Public transit ridership has dropped dramatically as a result of stay-at-home orders and the closure of non-essential businesses, but Taylor noted that some will need to return to using public transit eventually. “Public transit is really good at moving a lot of people in the same direction at the same time. That’s when the music happens,” said Taylor, a professor of urban planning and public policy. Public transit riders may see changes such as sanitation tools on board, masks and gloves, more frequent service, different routes, or even fare-free service. This summer, Taylor will be working on a project looking at alternative ways to measure transit performance in a system where social distance will have to be maintained.
Brian Taylor, professor of urban planning and public policy and director of UCLA’s Institute of Transportation Studies, was featured in a CityLab article about the post-pandemic future of public transit. Taylor explained that bus and rail ridership tends to be more sensitive to economic changes than other modes, and the financial effects of coronavirus are poised to stretch long into the future. Passengers will inevitably return in dense cities, such as New York City and San Francisco, where transit is critical for thriving urban economies to function, he said. However, he predicted that some would-be passengers are likely to continue to work remotely even after restrictions are lifted, and others may instead choose to drive or bike. U.S. ridership has been in decline since 2014, and Taylor’s research has found that the largest drops in ridership have come from groups that were traditionally the heaviest, most economically dependent users of transit, such as low-income immigrants.
Urban Planning Professor Evelyn Blumenberg spoke to USA Today about the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on low-income households and workers. While transit ridership has dropped across the country since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, millions of Americans must continue riding public buses and trains to commute to work, go to the grocery store or visit the doctor. Experts say most of the people who have stopped riding public transit are white-collar workers who can work from home and who tend to be white; those who still rely on public transit, possibly putting themselves and those they encounter at risk, include many of the country’s poorest workers. “As always, higher-income households have more choices,” said Blumenberg, director of the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies. “For low-income workers who have to take transit, they’re in a confined place, in close proximity to other people. Their problems are compounded. They have no other option.”
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville spoke to the San Diego Union-Tribune about the threat that the COVID-19 pandemic poses to plans to expand public transit in San Diego. A tax proposal for ElevateSD, a $24-billion plan to expand public transit and build a new commuter rail system, may be postponed as ridership plummets and fare revenue dwindles due to the pandemic. The government planning agency has announced that it will wait until the pandemic subsides to release a blueprint for the plans. Widespread unemployment, economic upheaval due to the pandemic and new fears about riding public transit may be obstacles to securing the two-thirds voter approval required for such a tax increase. “If you were an opponent of public transit finance, could you pounce on COVID as a new talking point to try to derail a ballot initiative?” Manville asked. “I wouldn’t be surprised if someone takes a shot at that.”
Experts from the Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS) at UCLA Luskin are weighing in on the financial burden that the COVID-19 health crisis is placing on public transit agencies. “The virtues of public transit are precisely at odds with coping with the pandemic. … We now have essentially a mandate to not move, to not have a lot of people together anywhere,” ITS Director Brian Taylor told the Hill. The article also quoted Emeritus Professor Martin Wachs, who leads research into transportation finance at ITS. Both ridership and sales tax revenues are down, Wachs said, but transit is “a public service that we must keep operating during the crisis because people who have no option other than transit need to shop for food and get to doctors’ offices and hospitals.” On Curbed LA, ITS Deputy Director Juan Matute said Los Angeles’ Metro system may be forced to cut service dramatically or delay work on key projects. He also noted that, once the health crisis has lifted, “if there’s a severe recession, people who are out of work but still need to get around will become reliant on Metro.”
Michael Manville, associate professor of urban planning, spoke to Curbed LA about measures being taken to combat traffic congestion in Los Angeles. According to a newly released index on congestion and mobility, the typical Los Angeles driver logged 103 hours of traffic in 2019. The index also found that the metro area is home to the two most congested stretches of road in the country, on sections of the 5 and 134 freeways. Among other strategies to lighten traffic, transit agencies plan to expand rail lines. While this would provide an alternative to driving, it may not reduce traffic, Manville cautioned. “It basically allows people to avoid exposure to congestion. But if you want to actually improve congestion on the 405, the unfortunate truth is that you have to toll the 405,” he said.
UCLA Luskin faculty and students were well represented at January’s Transportation Research Board annual meeting in Washington, D.C., and much of their research was highlighted on Streetsblog USA’s Talking Headways podcast. Brian Taylor, professor of urban planning and director of the Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS), and MURP student Yu Hong Hwang presented an updated analysis of the standard for setting speed limits, which has been in place for decades. MURP student Cassie Halls spoke about her research on the impact of a bus-only lane on Los Angeles’ Flower Street; Halls’ work won “Best Master’s Student Poster Presentation” at the annual meeting. ITS postdoctoral fellow Andrew Schouten discussed his research showing a decrease in public transit use among immigrant communities, possibly due to settlement patterns and an increase in car ownership. In the first Talking Headways episode, Taylor and Hwang’s comments begin at the 1:45 minute mark and Hall’s at the 18:16 minute mark. In the second episode, Schouten’s comments begin at the 23:28 minute mark.
In a CalMatters article, Brian Taylor, professor of urban planning and public policy and director of the Institute of Transportation Studies, weighed in on the prospect of offering free public transportation to youth to boost ridership across the state. Student ridership and overall ridership have increased dramatically in Sacramento following the implementation of a transit program that allows students in pre-kindergarten to high school to ride the region’s buses and light rail for free year-round. In an effort to emulate the Sacramento program at the state level, Assembly Bill 1350 would require all California transit agencies to offer free passes to anyone 18 and under in order to get state funding. Taylor said AB 1350 is a “small step in the right direction that could have positive effects,” although he believes “it would be best as part of a broader package to improve transit.”
Martin Wachs, distinguished professor emeritus of urban planning, spoke to Mashable about the effectiveness of car bans on selected urban thoroughfares. Cities such as New York, San Francisco and Seattle, as well as Oslo, Norway, and Barcelona, Spain, have banned cars from certain roads at certain times, with positive results. Wachs spoke about the growing support for people-friendly streets and unpolluted surroundings. “We are in a period of awakening over safety, quality of life and the nature of our physical environment,” he said. The article also quoted Jacob Wasserman, senior research manager at the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin. A century ago, Los Angeles boasted the nation’s largest electric railway, but city planners abandoned the transit system to launch a system of concrete freeways, the article noted. “I’m a scholar of public transit, but I would never blame someone for taking a car to work because designers designed our city this way,” Wasserman said.