Author and journalist Daniel Hernandez and professor Eric Avila explored the Latin history, features and identity of Los Angeles at a March 14, 2019, forum hosted by the Latin American Cities Initiative at UCLA Luskin. Initiative director Paavo Monkkonen, an associate professor of urban planning and public policy, moderated the forum on “Los Angeles as a Latin American City.” Hernandez, editor and host of L.A. Taco and the author of “Down & Delirious in Mexico City,” commented on corruption and infrastructure in Los Angeles, explaining that “there are things from Latin America that we should not import, [such as] the way political offices are doled out.” He noted that Los Angeles “is developing in a way that only benefits the people who already have money,” a pattern that is all too familiar in Latin American cities like Buenos Aires, Argentina. Avila, professor of Chicano studies and urban planning, researches the intersection of racial identity, urban space and cultural representation in 20th century America. According to Avila, Los Angeles is a Latin American city “in terms of population, the built environment, present-day demography, and the regional design and infrastructure.” However, he said, “Los Angeles is not a Latin American city in regard to the historically sustained efforts to whitewash and erase Spanish and Mexican past, including informal and formal practices of racial segregation, the creation of a subordinate labor force, racial hierarchies and white supremacy as a principle of urban development.” — Zoe Day
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville spoke to the Los Angeles Times about a proposed transit system to be built under the Las Vegas Convention Center. The tunnel project pitched by entrepreneur Elon Musk’s Boring Co. would connect different areas of the massive convention center as part of an ongoing expansion to be completed by 2021. Manville likened the tunnel system to trams used in airports to transport travelers to different terminals. The project is interesting but not revolutionary, he said. “All it is right now is kind of a fancy people mover through a convention center,” he said.
By Naveen Agrawal
With Metro spending billions of dollars in Los Angeles over the next few years and transit-oriented development seen as key to denser building, encouraging ridership and mitigating environmental issues, the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies hosted a panel on Feb. 20, 2019, around the topic of coupling more housing to transit.
Held in partnership with the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate as part of the Housing, Equity and Community Series, the event focused on some of the latest local and statewide developments. It featured a panel of professional and practicing experts moderated by Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy at UCLA Luskin and associate director of the Lewis Center.
Framing the discussion was UCLA Urban Planning Associate Professor Michael Manville, who shared results from a recently released Lewis Center report on what a transit-oriented future might look like, focusing on five current — and two planned — Metro rail and bus stations. The report emphasized the impact that land use patterns can have on transit ridership and neighborhood quality, and it offered recommendations for future zoning scenarios.
Manville spoke of framing a narrative around two different transit and housing systems: what we have and what we want. Among the discrepancies between the visions is that much of the city’s housing is concentrated around where train stations used to be — not where they are today.
Arthi Varma, deputy director of the city’s planning department, shared some of the early results of its Transit Oriented Communities (TOC) Affordable Housing Incentive Program. Created in November 2016 by voter approval of Measure JJJ, the TOC program is a local-density program available within one-half mile of major transit stops.
In 2018, its first full year of implementation, half of all applications for new dwelling units were filed under the TOC program, Varma said. Of the applications received since the program has been active, 18 percent (2,377 out of 13,305) are affordable units. The Planning Department issues quarterly housing reports.
Laura Raymond, director of the Alliance for Community Transit, shared her perspective on the development of the TOC program. In particular, she emphasized that many low-income communities surveyed by her organization expressed strong preference for increased density.
From a community organizing perspective, this issue is one that spans transit and housing, Raymond stressed, but discussion is also needed around labor markets and the types of jobs created near transit — as well as environmental justice.
Elizabeth Machado, an attorney at Loeb & Loeb, LLP, provided an overview of the factors that make it difficult to build in Los Angeles, which include the high price of land, zoning limitations and political challenges. The state has delegated most planning and zoning issues to localities, Machado said, but she noted the introduction of SB 50 as a move by Sacramento to accelerate local governance or force action from the top down.
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.”
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville’s comments on the progress of the Link Union Station project were featured in a Los Angeles Downtown News article. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has designed the Link Union Station project to transform the outdated Downtown Union Station into a modern transit hub with the addition of up to 10 run-through tracks. Manville explained, “With run-through tracks, the basic logic is right in the name. It allows for some vehicles like express routes to pass through without having to stop or turn around.” The project is designed to increase rider capacity, reduce wait time on the tracks, and offer shorter and more efficient rides. After five years of planning, Metro has released a draft environmental impact report and is currently accepting public feedback on the plan. According to Manville, “[The Link Union Station] project is needed if Metro intends to make the facility the hub of a growing and more connected system linking both local lines and regional light rail.”
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville’s research on “The Poverty of the Carless: Toward Universal Auto Access” was published in the Journal of Planning Education and Research. Manville and co-authors David King and Michael Smart investigated how vehicle access inequity affects low-income American households. In a society where vehicle access is becoming increasingly necessary, “anyone who can acquire a vehicle will, even if doing so is financially burdensome,” the study explained, noting that “only the most disadvantaged people [are] unable to afford cars.” The research found that “U.S. households without access to a vehicle have steadily lost income, both in absolute terms and compared to those with cars, as the landscapes around them were increasingly shaped to favor the automobile.” Facing objections to universal auto access due to factors such as carbon emissions, the study argued that, “like water and heat, access to cars should be guaranteed and perhaps subsidized for low-income households.” While the long-term goal should be to decrease driving overall, the status quo is comprised of a “small group of people who need vehicles and lack them and a large group who have vehicles and use them needlessly.” Manville and his co-authors recommended treating vehicles as essential infrastructure and working to close gaps in vehicle access for poorer Americans while aiming to decrease overall consumption by the more affluent in the long term. The research was featured a recent Planetizen article and in a Q&A with co-author King. — Zoe Day
Professor of urban planning Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris was featured on KPCC’s AirTalk discussing the viability of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s revised plan to build a bullet train from Bakersfield to Merced. In his State of the State address, Newsom declared that the original plan to build a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco would cost too much and take too long, and surprised the audience by announcing the curtailed Central Valley line. Transportation experts including Loukaitou-Sideris have stressed the importance of having enough passenger demand to make the 160-mile line worthwhile. Loukaitou-Sideris expressed her “dismay at cost overruns and lack of efficient management,” arguing that “high-speed transit needs to connect high concentrations of people in centers at the origin and at the destination.” She said it is not necessary to stop the project completely but recommended “better planning, more transparency, and increased involvement from local stakeholders and the private sector.”
In a Curbed Los Angeles article, associate professor of urban planning Michael Manville explained the obstacles to improving public transit in Los Angeles, as found in a new UCLA study. Recognizing “the extent to which we’ve organized the landscape around the car” is key to implementing a successful transit program, he argued. “Seeing that 70 percent of people support a sales tax for more transit might create a false impression that there’s a lot of consensus about building a transit-oriented city,” he said. Many voters supported the Measure M sales tax in hopes of reducing their own drive time but haven’t displayed interest in actually riding public transportation. The UCLA study concluded that transit systems thrive in places where it’s difficult or expensive to drive. In a city built for cars, Los Angeles may have to make it harder to drive in order to make public transit work.
Professor of Urban Planning Evelyn Blumenberg spoke to Wired about how cars are the best way to connect low-income people to jobs. The article noted that the progressive agenda known as the Green New Deal focuses on public transit and clean vehicles but does not account for widespread inequities in mobility. Blumenberg’s work studied the effect cars have on a person’s ability to get and keep a job. The research showed that low-income people with cars were able to move into better neighborhoods, were less exposed to poverty, and were more likely to find and keep a job. She said this is particularly true for women and caregivers. “Trying to balance unpaid responsibilities and unpaid work is just really really hard while ‘trip chaining’ on public transit, or while the kids are on the back of your bike,” Blumenberg said.
In response to LA Metro’s ongoing evaluation of different forms of congestion pricing, Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville was featured in a KCRW podcast and an article on LAist explaining how the policy works. “Congestion pricing addresses the root cause of traffic congestion: The price to drive on busy roads at busy times is too low for drivers,” Manville said. “Empirically, it’s the only policy that’s ever been shown to reduce congestion and keep it reduced.” Manville cited economic theory to explain how the “underpricing of goods, like the 405 freeway, results in a shortage.” He likened congestion pricing to metering road use, the “same way we meter the use of services like electricity or water.” Manville also offered the consolation that congestion pricing “does not have to be very prohibitive,” since “the last few vehicles entering the road are responsible for a disproportionate amount of the delay.”
InterActions LA: Inspiring Quality Transit Neighborhoods
The inaugural InterActions LA conference will discuss the opportunities to enhance neighborhoods given the sweeping $120 billion investment to expand Los Angeles’ transportation system. While “transportation transformation” headlines abound, the on-ground picture is different: Change to the necessary complementary elements is harder to see and come by.
We will explore how today’s opportunity can address decades-old inequities among people and places throughout the region. Based on existing research, we know that new transit stations alone will not improve lives. A suite of complementary approaches—station area design, neighborhood connectivity and amenities, and progressive land use policies—are required to move toward a more inclusive Los Angeles region.
InterActions LA will pair the latest academic thinking with real-world examples of positive and progressive change—an essential exchange to address the interconnected needs of improving transportation and mobility around current and future transit stations.
Who should attend:
Community-based organization members
Planners and policymakers
Planning and policy professionals
About the conference:
Presented by the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, InterActions LA is an annual conference dedicated to advancing regional growth and equity in Greater Los Angeles. Bringing together a diverse community from multiple sectors, this half-day event provides an opportunity to discuss and engage in the most pressing regional issues today. InterActions LA seeks to ignite conversation, exchange ideas, and provide knowledge on topics at the intersection of how people live, move, and work in the Los Angeles region.