Posts

Cuff Comments on Miracle Mile Makeover

Dana Cuff, professor of architecture, urban design and urban planning, commented in a Los Angeles Times story on a number of new and updated cultural venues — including museums and a Metro Purple Line station — set to open in the early 2020s in the western portion of L.A.’s Miracle Mile. In anticipation of new development along Wilshire Boulevard’s Museum Row, the article questions whether adequate planning has gone into the public space surrounding the new projects. “We have this museum district, but the stuff that holds everything together is the part we call the city, and that is the part that Los Angeles has never gotten right,” Cuff said. The founding director of cityLAB at UCLA added, “There is no there there. … There is no urban design that has been created for this chunk of Wilshire that will be one of the most pedestrian and populated parts of the city.”


 

L.A. Parking: How Did We Get Here?

When LAist set out to create a primer on the lightning-rod issue of L.A. parking — why it’s so exasperating, how we got here and where we are headed — it went straight to the experts at UCLA Luskin: Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies; Donald Shoup, distinguished research professor of urban planning; and Associate Professor Michael Manville. As our reliance on cars grew in the years after World War II, minimum parking requirements were seen as essential, Matute said. Now, instead of too little parking in L.A., there is too much, Shoup argued. Some cities are relaxing parking requirements for new housing in high-density areas. After analyzing one such program, Manville found that it led to lower costs and more parking flexibility. The primer also cited Shoup’s book arguing that there is no such thing as free parking — the costs are just passed along to the entire community, including nondrivers.


 

Loukaitou-Sideris on Scooters and Sidewalk Wars

Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris spoke to the Washington Post about the rancorous fight over sidewalk space in the age of electric scooters. Citing “Sidewalks: Conflict and Negotiation Over Public Space,” co-authored by Loukaitou-Sideris, the article noted that turf wars between “sidewalk-grabbers” have evolved since 2000 B.C. until the “scooter hell” of today. “But is it a hell made by scooters, or just made apparent by them?” the article’s author asks. “I see this conflict more as an outcome of bad decisions and bad design,” Loukaitou-Sideris said. “Cities kept widening the streets and narrowing the sidewalks, and downgrading activities to accommodate only walking. … I don’t mean to say sometimes scooter drivers are not obnoxious. But I’d say it’s a less obnoxious use than cars.”


 

Taylor on the ‘Longest Freeway Revolt in California History’

Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, was quoted in a Los Angeles Daily News story revisiting the 60-year grassroots battle against extension of the 710 Freeway. A group of South Pasadena residents known as the Freeway Fighters launched the campaign against connecting the 10 and 210/134 freeways in 1959, when the proposed route would have cut through their hometown. Different iterations of the freeway extension plan came and went until November 2018, when Caltrans abandoned the effort. “What is unusual about this one is how long it went on,” Taylor said of the 710 fight. “This is the longest freeway revolt in California history.” Called heroes by some and obstructionists by others, many of the Freeway Fighters recently shared their stories in an oral history project by the California State Library.


 

Matute on the Consequences of Lower, Slower Bus Ridership

Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, wrote a Los Angeles Times op-ed about the severe consequences of declining bus ridership. As the average speed of buses on the region’s congested roads has declined to a sluggish 12 mph, average occupancy has sunk to 12 passengers. “There are few means of transportation more energy-efficient than a packed bus — and few more wasteful than an empty one,” Matute wrote. In addition to clogging traffic and squandering taxpayer dollars, near-empty buses are inefficient greenhouse gas emitters that could prevent Los Angeles from doing its part to fight climate change, he wrote. Citing ITS research, Matute argued for “tactical” bus-only lanes that can be installed and reversed daily to reduce peak congestion. “Lower, slower ridership is costing us hundreds of millions of dollars that could be used to improve the system instead of sustaining its inefficiencies,” Matute said.


 

Yaroslavsky Offers In-Depth Look at Quality of Life Survey

Los Angeles Initiative Director Zev Yaroslavsky presented an in-depth look at the findings and methodology of the fourth annual UCLA Luskin Quality of Life survey on ABC 7’s Eyewitness Newsmakers program. After surveying Los Angeles County residents about their satisfaction in nine different categories, Yaroslavsky’s initiative found that cost of living continues to be the No. 1 concern for the fourth consecutive year. Young people, renters and people in low-income brackets are at the greatest risk of being harmed by high housing costs, he told ABC 7 host Adrienne Alpert. Yaroslavsky also weighed in on the SB50 upzoning proposal, which he described as a “one-size-fits-all approach that wouldn’t actually solve the affordable housing problem.” Yaroslavsky said his opposition to SB50 was echoed by the survey results, in which a majority of both homeowners and renters preferred to have new apartment building built in multi-family zones only.


conceptual drawing of Elon Musk's people mover under Las Vegas Convention Center

Manville on Elon Musk’s Vegas People-Mover

Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville spoke to the Los Angeles Times about Elon Musk’s underground people-mover for the Las Vegas convention center’s expansion. Musk’s Boring Co. secured a $48.7-million contract after the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority board approved construction of the roughly mile-long transit loop. Manville was surprised to learn that an underground plan was more affordable than a proposed elevated rail because tunneling is often more expensive. Based on the few details released by the Boring Co., Manville said it would be difficult to assess the project. “This is kind of a market test for him. Can he now build something that is more commercially viable than what he’s done with his test tunnel in Hawthorne?” Manville said. “But there’s nothing intrinsically interesting about building a tunnel to move people around. That’s what a subway is, right?”


 

Loukaitou-Sideris and Wachs on High-Speed Rail Project

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.


Wachs Defends Controversial Plan to Combat San Diego Traffic

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.


Lewis Center Director Evelyn Blumenberg at the inaugural InterActions LA event on regional growth and equity. Photo by Amy Tierney

First Conference on Regional Growth and Equity Tackles Transportation and Communities UCLA scholars, nonprofit representatives discuss how to use multibillion-dollar investment to address regional inequities

By Claudia Bustamante

Los Angeles is populous and diverse, but that distinction also produces inequality. There are disparities in housing costs. Amenities vary across neighborhoods. Many low-income families struggle to make ends meet despite impressive gains in employment.

During an inaugural event focusing on regional growth and equity, the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies convened a group of experts to discuss how to leverage a sweeping, taxpayer-supported $120-billion investment in Los Angeles’ transportation system to address decades-old disparities.

Following the 2016 passage of Measure M, Metro committed $52 billion in sales tax revenue for capital investments throughout the county. The agency is looking to accelerate 28 projects by the time Los Angeles hosts the 2028 Summer Olympics. Senate Bill 1 approved in 2017 designated another $54 billion to fix roads, to relieve congestion, and to improve transit and trade corridors throughout California.

“The question is how can we improve the quality of communities by taking advantage of the ongoing and major regional investments in public transit,” said Evelyn Blumenberg MA UP ’90 Ph.D. ’95, director of the Lewis Center and professor of urban planning, at “InterActions LA: Inspiring Quality Transit Neighborhoods,” held April 18, 2019, at The California Endowment.

“It is precisely in these moments of rapid change when there is a window of opportunity to do something different,” Blumenberg said. “Hopefully, it’s to engage in more equitable outcomes that better connect residents to economic opportunities, that protect and expand affordable housing, and that improve the health and robustness of the L.A. region.”

Paul Ong, UCLA Luskin research professor and director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, has done extensive research on the role of urban structures on the reproduction of inequality. He said this topic is an important one for discussion.

“We, as a society, make neighborhoods,” Ong said, “and neighborhoods make us. The type of neighborhood we live in determines not only today’s quality of life but the trajectory over generations.”

Multiple approaches to improve neighborhoods were discussed. They include progressive housing and land use policies, stationary design, neighborhood amenities and community engagement.

Key among the discussion was the need to focus on people who use transit and their specific needs. For example, women, older adults and people with disabilities make up about 60 percent of Los Angeles’ transit ridership. Those transit users have specific concerns about safety and security while walking to stations, waiting and riding transit, said Madeline Brozen MA UP ’11, deputy director of the Lewis Center.

“If we’re not planning for specific groups in an intentional way, it’s not likely we’re going to see the shifts we want to see from these investments,” Brozen said.

Julia Stein, project director at the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at UCLA Law, said the city’s Transit Oriented Communities program, which provides incentives to developers to build near major transit stops and include affordable housing units, provides an opportunity to address some issues.

Since the program’s inception in 2017, about 2,400 affordable units have been proposed, of which 42 percent are reserved for extremely low-income households.

Attendees also heard about specific efforts being conducted in the city by nonprofit organizations, including improvements along Avenue 26 near Lincoln Heights and Cypress Park spearheaded by LA-Mas. The nonprofit agency engaged with community members to generate design improvements and creative wayfinding on a quarter-mile stretch near the Metro Gold Line station.

The end result was impressive, but Avital Aboody from LA-Mas said the permitting process was complex, expensive and time-consuming.

“We had the expertise and time to navigate this process, but that may not be the case for community members or grassroots organizations that may want to do this in their community,” she said.

Lessons Learned Outside L.A.

Outside California, the Twin Cities region in Minnesota has a reputation for being progressive. But the community deals with stark racial disparities, which date back to decades of systemic racism, like redlining, according to Owen Duckworth, director of organizing and policy at the Alliance, a Minnesota-based coalition of community-based organizations and advocacy groups.

Now that the region is investing in transit infrastructure such as an expansion of a rail line that connects downtown Minneapolis to St. Paul, there is an opportunity for communities to have greater impact.

“Government agencies want to deliver on equity. That’s the buzzword,” Duckworth said. “We can’t have equitable outcomes by continuing inequitable processes in planning.”

Another theme echoed by many panelists is community engagement — making sure residents’ input is not merely tokenized by developers and government organizations.

Community members provide valuable insights as experts in their own neighborhoods.

“Our partners want to be partners to government agencies in community development, but there’s no compensation for these organizations. They mostly volunteer their time,” said Thomas Yee of LA THRIVES.

“Everything from here on out needs to be collaborative. We need to get away from silos. We need to work together,” Yee added.

Multiple Objectives

Blumenberg ended the event by saying it is clear that multiple objectives must be met to ensure quality transit neighborhoods. To name a few, planners must consider housing, traffic, environmental concerns, access to opportunities, safety and security issues around mobility.

The solutions must be equally diverse — tailored to the different neighborhoods and communities throughout the region, she said.