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Matute on E-Scooters Hitting an Invisible Fence

Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the emergence of electronic geofences that slow down or shut down e-scooters to enforce rules of the road. Cities across California are testing the technology, which erects invisible fences to enforce speed and parking restrictions and, in some places, create dead zones. The rules change from neighborhood to neighborhood and have caused confusion and frustration among riders whose rented e-scooters come to a halt. Cities and scooter companies negotiate the restrictions, but “these aren’t on the books,” Matute said. “Given that what the companies are asked to do changes week to week, it can be hard for an individual to keep up with what’s permitted and what each company’s restrictions are.”

Visiting Scholar Has His Eyes on the Road — Literally — in Search of Wildfire Impacts Climate adaption expert Mikhail Chester focuses on infrastructure vulnerabilities in a changing environment

LUSKIN UP-CLOSE

By Claudia Bustamante

For the next year, the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin will benefit from the research and expertise of a climate adaptation specialist.

Mikhail Chester, an associate professor of civil engineering at Arizona State University, has joined the institute as a visiting scholar, focusing his yearlong appointment on studying infrastructure vulnerabilities in a changing environment.

Specifically, Chester will study how roads are vulnerable to wildfires.

“Roads are not designed for the worsening conditions of climate change,” Chester said.

The old, conventional thinking about this problem was to map the hazards: Where will it be hotter? Where will it flood? Where do the roads and bridges intersect?

“Infrastructure are not fragile, brittle things. They’re tough,” he said. “What I’ve been trying to do is shine a light on how we can think more critically about what ‘vulnerability’ means.”

Last year, California experienced its largest and deadliest wildfire season. And despite a wet winter, the state is again braced for an active wildfire season spurred by rising heat and driven by winds.

In recent years, Californians have seen wildfires burn near, and eventually cross, freeways.

And yet, “for the most part, the asphalt is OK,” Chester said. “It turns out the biggest danger to roads is after the wildfire.”

‘As infrastructure professionals ― planners and engineers ― if we can’t recognize issues and make changes, we’re going to be irrelevant.’

— Mikhail Chester

A fire will burn up vegetation, creating ground debris. It will also shift the soil chemistry, making it less likely to absorb water. The two can combine to disastrous effects following heavy rains. In what has become a routine post-wildfire concern, rocks, mud and other debris flow down hillsides left barren from recent fires and wreak havoc on roadways and other infrastructure.

While at UCLA, Chester ― who hopes to engage with professionals across multiple campus disciplines, such as urban planning, engineering, climate science and public health ― plans to connect the state’s fire forecasts and transportation infrastructure with various environmental indicators, like terrain, vegetation and soil characteristics.

“When you connect the dots and put all these things together, ideally, you come up with a better way of characterizing vulnerability,” Chester said.

Once the risks are identified, local officials and policymakers can draft an array of responses ranging from strengthening infrastructure and managing forests to detouring traffic away from vulnerable roadways.

A civil engineer with a public policy background, Chester is a leading researcher on the interface between infrastructure and urbanization. His work on the environmental impact of transportation looks beyond tailpipe emissions to assess the role of roads, fuel supply chains and manufacturing.

In Arizona, with high temperatures and flash flooding, he has explored climate adaptation and resilience. He is also currently involved in an interdisciplinary study with UCLA on the sun and heat exposure a person experiences in their day-to-day travels.

All of this work, as Chester explains, is the groundwork for a larger question: How will we manage infrastructure for the next 100 years?

The world is rapidly changing and new technology constantly emerging. People will continue to demand more from an infrastructure that is rigid and not designed to quickly and efficiently accommodate changes such as, for example, autonomous vehicles.

“I think we are woefully unprepared for how we manage infrastructure or how we think about the problem,” said Chester, whose work aims to reimagine these concepts for the 21st century and beyond.

“We are so stuck with the status quo that I’m worried whether or not we can make substantive change fast enough. I think as infrastructure professionals ― planners and engineers ― if we can’t recognize issues and make changes, we’re going to be irrelevant.”

Matute on Monetization of Google Maps

Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Fox Business about reports that Google Maps will soon launch advertising on the app — to the tune of $11 billion in annual revenues within four years, according to some estimates. The app has become so popular that its users are not expected to strongly object to the ads. “Google has developed a high-quality mapping product with a significant user base over the past two decades. That they haven’t fully monetized it sooner is the anomaly,” Matute said. Linking people with information about nearby businesses, services and events is a useful service, he added. Google has also announced plans to integrate bike riding, ridesharing and transit information into their maps. “Google Maps helps transit and commuters,” Matute said. “It provides them with easy-to-understand, actionable information in context, which can help them make informed travel decisions.”


 

Taylor on ‘America’s Worst Freeway’

Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Mashable about the prospects for relief on “America’s worst freeway” — Los Angeles’ congested 405. Mayor Eric Garcetti has called for a transportation revolution that encourages ridesharing and emission-free cars and expands the system of rail, subways and electrified buses — all by the time the 2028 Olympics come to town. The plan includes a new public transit system through the 405 corridor. However, Taylor cautioned, “if that freeway becomes free flowing, it is an invitation to use it.” Los Angeles has built an enormous commuter rail system, yet public transit use is plummeting and auto ownership is rising, he said. Though it has been met with suspicion and hostility, his solution to fixing the 405 — charging motorists to use it — is the surest way to change ingrained driving habits, said Taylor, a professor of urban planning. He concluded, “There must be consequences to driving.”


 

Taylor and De León on the Challenge of Giving Up Cars

Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke with CalMatters about ways to change the habits of Californians who are reluctant to give up their cars. “If we can create environments where traveling by other means becomes easier and easier, people will drive less,” Taylor said. “The challenge is the transition.” He added that increasing housing density could help create pedestrian-friendly cities that render automobiles such a hassle that they become an undesirable accessory. CalMatters also spoke to Kevin de León, UCLA Luskin senior analyst and policymaker-in-residence, about the dual challenge of taking on the fossil fuel industry and convincing consumers to change their ways. “You are talking about persuading [millions of] individual car drivers in the largest state in the union to drive zero-emission vehicles, or take public transportation, or ride a bike, or walk, or rideshare,” de León said. “We drive internal-combustion cars in part because they are easy.”

The Traffic Bogeyman Is Us, Manville Says

Michael Manville, associate professor of urban planning, spoke to LAist about a study examining the impact that Uber and Lyft have on road congestion. The study, which was commissioned by the rideshare services, found that they accounted for 2 to 3 percent of all vehicle miles traveled in Los Angeles County in September 2018. “If [Lyft and Uber] have confessed to slowing you down while you are in traffic, then they have confessed to sharing in the crime that you are also committing,” said Manville, a faculty fellow with UCLA Luskin’s Institute of Transportation Studies. Manville said his colleagues like to joke that a more interesting study would be to look at how much Ford and Toyota contribute to traffic congestion. “It’s fun to blame tech companies for things — they’re really easy to dislike — but congestion is something that we all cause,” he said.

Matute on the Next ‘Micro-Mobility’ Wave

Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Minneapolis Star Tribune about the Twin Cities’ love-hate relationship with electric scooters. Transportation experts say the scooters are just the beginning of a wave of shared “micro-mobility” devices. “As the scooter market gets saturated, we’ll see different devices with this business model,” Matute predicted. “Companies are working on new and niche products like electric tricycles and three-wheeled scooters. They will be more accessible and appealing to people who are over 30 and want more stability than a scooter.” He added that a two-passenger electric bike is also in the works, and Los Angeles riders are currently testing non-pedal e-bikes, a sort of bike-and-scooter hybrid that has a seat and a throttle.

Taylor on New Freeways, Same Old Congestion

Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke with KCRW’s Greater L.A. program about several freeway expansion plans in the region. For motorists hoping the projects would bring lighter traffic, Taylor tempered expectations. As the region grows, more people and goods will need to move around and the expanded freeways will eventually clog up again, he said. The key to relieving congestion is charging for the use of the road, which is “wildly unpopular” among motorists and elected officials, he said. The urban planning professor also linked the planned High Desert Freeway project, which would connect Palmdale and Lancaster with the Victorville area, to the affordable housing debate in the L.A. Basin. With resistance to higher-density housing near L.A.’s transit corridors, “we end up building out on the fringe, and then we have to accommodate the demand for the traffic out there,” he said.


 

Matute on Carbon Footprint of Electric Scooters

Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about a study attempting to tally the carbon footprint of electric scooters. The research measured several factors: the energy-intensive materials that go into making the vehicles; the driving required to collect, charge and redistribute them; and the shortened lifespan of scooters battered by use on urban streets or attacked by vandals. The study concluded that e-scooters aren’t as eco-friendly as they may seem. While traveling a mile by scooter is better than driving the same distance by car, it’s worse than biking, walking or taking a bus — the modes of transportation that scooters most often replace, the researchers from North Carolina State University found. “That actual trip somebody’s taking on the scooter — that’s pretty green,” Matute said. “What’s not green is everything you don’t see.”


 

Manville on Lessons From the Measure M Campaign

An article on Streetsblog USA featured a report authored by Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville on the transit funding initiative Measure M. Voters approved the measure overwhelmingly in 2016, largely due to a political campaign that focused on boosting the economy and easing traffic, but not on transforming the region’s car culture, the report noted. “Voters were expressly not offered a vision of a more multimodal or environmentally sustainable Los Angeles; they were mostly offered instead a vision of more jobs, better roads and easier driving,” Manville wrote. The transportation investments ushered in by Measure M have not led to higher use of public transit. “Los Angeles has a hard road in front of it in making the vision of Measure M a reality,” the report said. “An electoral victory is the end of a political process, but only the beginning of a policy process.”