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Transportation and Isolation: Serious Challenges for Diverse, Older Angelenos Research conducted by UCLA Luskin and USC Leonard Davis — and supported by AARP — examines travel, technology and mobility issues

In an effort to identify solutions to improve the lives of older adults and people of all ages and abilities, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, with the support of AARP, recently conducted surveys of diverse, older Angelenos, exploring their travel patterns, use of technology, and the mobility problems they face.

“We united on one common goal, the importance for understanding community needs, opportunities, and barriers that can support, create and sustain livable and age-friendly communities in Los Angeles,” said Nancy McPherson, State Director of AARP. “We know that the more connected and engaged people are with their community, the more likely they are to age successfully and remain living in their homes for as long as possible, as the vast majority wish to do.”

The UCLA research team focused on identifying mobility and travel patterns by conducting focus groups and interviews with 81 older adults in the neighborhoods of Koreatown, Westlake and East Hollywood, including adults visiting St. Barnabas Senior Services (SBSS), a local organization that provides health and social services. The UCLA report, “Bolstering Mobility and Transportation Options for Low-Income Older Adults,” found that:

  • Participants expressed difficulty in getting around, often endure long transit trips and uncomfortable or scary walking environments and social hazards that could cause them to trip and fall, significantly reducing their independence and quality of life.
  • For many, walking around their neighborhoods is the primary mode of transportation; however, there are significant physical and social impediments that constrain mobility.
  • A small number own cars and many rely on family and friends to drive them. Use of point-to-point travel services (e.g., taxis, ride-hailing services) is rare and constrained by finances.
  • Many lack competency with technology to order ride-hailing services.
  • Mobility constraints affect the number and frequency of trips.
  • Differences exist among study participants in regard to the numbers of social and recreational trips. Older adults visiting SBSS take a larger number of daily trips and have a higher likelihood of making social and recreational trips than those who are not visiting SBSS.

“Mobility affects the quality of life. Decreased mobility means also decreased access to city amenities or jobs, and socialization opportunities, as well as a higher risk for social isolation. Our findings suggest that certain improvements both in the physical environment and in the transit and paratransit services can help increase the mobility of low-income, older adults, and we articulate these improvements in our report,” said Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, Associate Dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. “We are welcoming the opportunity to join forces with the AARP and our USC colleagues and advocate for more age-friendly California cities.”

For more information on the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies report, “Bolstering Mobility and Transportation Options for Low-Income Older Adults,” click here.

In recent years, there has been a growing focus on the consequences of loneliness and isolation, especially among older adults. While adoption of technology and social media has the potential to reduce isolation, issues such as cost, disinterest and lack of the skills needed to use various devices may hinder older adults’ adoption. Los Angeles’ ethnically, linguistically and geographically diverse population of older adults made it an ideal location for the USC Leonard School of Gerontology to explore how this population uses technology and the extent to which they believe it can improve connectivity and reduce isolation.

The USC research team conducted six focus groups in English, Spanish and Korean at SBSS with 48 older adults living in a low-income area of Los Angeles, home to a diverse, largely immigrant population. Key findings from this report, “Aging in Place in Los Angeles: Recognizing Challenges to Social Connectedness,” include:

  • A relatively high use of some technology among this engaged group, as well as a wide range in social connectivity with family, friends, and members of the community;
  • Although some older adults did not have the resources or the desire to use technology, others used mobile phones, smart phones, tablets, and computers – either in combination or alone – for purposes of contacting their family and friends, accessing health care information, getting the news, shopping, and watching television;
  • Cost, disinterest, and lack of the skills needed to use various devices hindered older adults’ adoption of technology and social media;
  • Many older adults indicated a reluctance to adopt newer technology because they preferred to communicate in-person and they expressed concerns that technology is too complicated or too expensive; others used it for entertainment, to plan local and long-distance travels, and to communicate with their loved ones.

“Our findings suggest that although technology isn’t a cure all for loneliness, it can be a tool in the tool box for addressing social isolation. Policy makers and tech developers need to consider how older adults currently use technology, how it can better suit their needs, and barriers that prevent them from using it effectively,” said Kate Wilber, USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology professor. “We are thankful that AARP and our UCLA collaborators recognize the importance of addressing social isolation and look forward to working toward solutions that benefit older adults in Los Angeles and beyond.”

For more information on USC’s “Disrupting Isolation in Housing for an Aging Population,” click here.

Matute on the Rise of Electric Scooters in L.A.

Juan Matute, deputy director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, spoke to PBS News Hour about electric scooters in the Los Angeles region. While Santa Monica has been more lenient toward electric scooters, cities such as Milwaukee have prohibited them completely, Matute said. Bird bypassed licensing in Santa Monica, he said, explaining, “They wouldn’t have been able to get a license because there wasn’t a category for what they were doing. They wanted to demonstrate something, show that it worked and then attract additional rounds of financing.” When Lime, another electric scooter company, entered the market, Matute said it saturated the market to make it more convenient for people to try them. Electric scooters are intended to solve mobility issues in the city, Matute said. “It kind of remains to be seen what types of trips the scooters are displacing,” he concluded.


 

Urban Planning Students Take Home Scholarship Awards

Four UCLA Luskin Urban Planning students were winners at the 2018 Women’s Transportation Seminar, Los Angeles Area Chapter, annual scholarship awards dinner held Nov. 8 in downtown Los Angeles. Two doctoral students, Hannah Rae King and Miriam Pinksi, each won Myra L. Frank Memorial Graduate Scholarships of $10,000 and $7,500, respectively. Urban planning master’s student Cassie Halls is the inaugural winner of the $5,000 Stantec scholarship. Halls was also among award winners – with urban planning master’s student Kidada Malloy – at the American Public Transportation Foundation’s annual conference in Nashville this past October. Joceline Suhaimi, a student in UCLA Luskin’s Urban and Regional Studies undergraduate minor, also received a WTS award. Suhaimi, who is majoring in civil engineering, won the Ava Doner Undergraduate Scholarship. “Transportation is a basic human need, and I want to make it accessible to all people, regardless of age, ability, income and car ownership,” said Suhaimi, who will receive $10,000. “This scholarship will allow me to continue education and pursue my career goals.” Allison Yoh, MA UP ’02 Ph.D. ’08, served as co-emcee for the awards. Yoh is now director of transportation planning for the Port of Long Beach. WTS-LA is a chapter of WTS International founded in 1977. The organization has more than 6,500 members (men and women) with 79 chapters in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. — Stan Paul


Shoup Offers Remedy for Pensacola’s Parking Woes

Donald Shoup, distinguished research professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin, recently spoke at Pensacola, Florida’s CivicCon to address the city’s chronic issues with parking, including huge swaths of unused parking lots. According to the Pensacola News Journal, Shoup proposed three reforms to improve the city’s inefficient parking system: remove off-street parking requirements, charge the right prices for on-street parking and use parking revenue to improve public services on the metered streets. Shoup gave in-depth breakdowns of how each idea would improve the system as a whole. He also cited real-world examples of cities, such as Pasadena, where identical reform programs were successfully implemented. The overarching message behind Shoup’s presentation was that Pensacola should replace all on-street parking with a meter system; money raised from the meters would go directly back into the community to fund civic improvements to infrastructure, landscaping and general beautification. If all of his recommendations were adopted, Shoup argued, they would work in tandem to increase foot traffic and property values.


 

Manville Comments on L.A. Traffic, Public Transportation and Potential Solutions

UCLA Luskin transportation expert Michael Manville is featured in a podcast and short film about traffic and public transit in Los Angeles. Besides negative impacts on drivers’ health, wallets and mental well-being, traffic is a large issue for people living near large roads, who may suffer harmful consequences from pollutants. In the NPR podcast, “The One Way to Reduce Traffic,” Manville, an associate professor, argues that the solution to traffic jams is to “price roads with a congestion charge, a dynamic type of toll that would rise and fall based on the demand for the road at different times of day.” Manville explains that the “majority of the delay in traffic is caused by the last few cars getting on the road.” A toll that would get 4-5 percent of drivers off the road could increase average speed by 15-20 percent. In his Streetfilms appearance, Manville highlights the limitations of Los Angeles’ approach to public transportation. With bus ridership falling and a prioritization of cars over buses, Manville identifies the root of the issue as a “fight over space.” He stresses urgency, saying “congestion in our major urban areas is getting worse.”


 

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.

 

Taylor Comments on Environmental Impact of Electric Scooters

Brian Taylor, professor of urban planning, commented in a Vox story on the rapid proliferation of electric scooters in U.S. cities. While scooters could benefit the environment by replacing car trips, they might also discourage walking. “Some of those walk trips are likely to be taken away at the shorter end, and some of those car trips are those at the long end,” said Taylor, who also serves as director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin. Taylor said scooters could encourage the use of public transit by solving the so-called “last mile” problem. “There’s the West L.A. rail station that’s a 22-minute walk from me. … I took a scooter the other day, and it took me five minutes,” Taylor said.


 

Matute Says Idea of Underground Route to Dodger Stadium May Have Merit

Juan Matute, lecturer in urban planning and deputy director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation, commented in a Los Angeles Times story about a proposed 3.6-mile tunnel to ferry baseball fans between Dodger Stadium and a nearby Metro subway station. Elon Musk, above, and his Boring Company proposed to whisk riders in zero-emission, high-speed pods, following another company’s proposal to build an above-ground gondola connection between L.A.’s Union Station and the stadium. “It doesn’t seem like Dodger Stadium’s traffic problems have been solved as a result of the bus-only lanes,” Matute said. “It seems like people have a different available option to get there, and this could be another different viable option.”


 

New Grants Totaling $4.1 Million Will Build Climate Resilience UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation is a partner in two climate research grants from the Strategic Growth Council

By Colleen Callahan

Record-breaking heat and scorching summer wildfires are signs of a hotter California. As part of efforts to further knowledge and action on climate change, the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) is part of two winning partnership grants ─ totaling more than $4 million ─ awarded by California’s Strategic Growth Council.

The Council’s new and competitive Climate Change Research Program is part of California Climate Investments, a statewide initiative that is putting billions of cap-and-trade dollars to work reducing greenhouse gas emissions, strengthening the economy, and improving public health and the environment. Both grants will benefit disadvantaged communities in particular.

Measuring the Impacts of Climate Change on Vulnerable Communities to Design and Target Protective Policies

A nearly $1.5-million grant led by LCI involves multiple studies of heat-related climate impacts, as well as factors that make populations and communities vulnerable, plus opportunities to build resilience. Climate change could exacerbate existing inequities, and LCI will develop tools to help government agencies target responses and empower communities.

“The goal is to increase the climate resilience of California’s vulnerable communities in the face of rapidly increasing extreme heat events,” said JR DeShazo, the grant’s principal investigator and LCI director.

The researchers include R. Jisung Park, an LCI scholar and an assistant professor of public policy and environmental health sciences at UCLA Luskin, who will assess climate change impacts on low-income workers. Gregory Pierce, associate director of research at LCI, will assess the climate risk of vulnerable built environments — including affordable housing — to better inform protective policies.

Collaborations with government agencies, nonprofit organizations and community leaders will be integral to the work. For example, civic partners will oversee the development of geographic tools to identify areas disproportionately affected by heat-related climate change and vulnerability factors. Stakeholders will also be able to identify policies, funding and other opportunities to increase resilience in vulnerable areas and among vulnerable populations such as low-income workers and residents.

The analysis of resilience opportunities will also be collaborative. A partnership with the Liberty Hill Foundation and community-based organizations will test a coordinated outreach pilot called Opportunity Communities to promote clean and affordable energy, transportation and associated financial assistance for low-income households. Researchers will assess the effectiveness of this strategy to build financial and health resilience to climate change impacts.

Climate Smart Communities Consortium

A partnership grant led by UC Davis and the UC Institute of Transportation Studies will also involve LCI. This $2.6-million grant to a multifaceted group of researchers from seven academic institutions will tackle the challenge of transportation-related environmental impacts, which fall disproportionately on low-income communities of color. Researchers will seek solutions that reduce emissions and improve the mobility and quality of life for California’s most vulnerable communities.

LCI will collaboratively study interrelated areas of innovative mobility, electrification and freight movement, using equity and policy engagement lenses as crosscutting themes. Research will center on regional case study initiatives and statewide initiatives to demonstrate findings.

The Strategic Growth Council brings together multiple agencies and departments to support sustainable communities emphasizing strong economies, social equity and environmental stewardship. For updates during implementation of the latest grants, see LCI’s climate action program at innovation.luskin.ucla.edu/climate.

 

Matute Comments on State Debate Over Driving Limits and Climate Change

Juan Matute, deputy director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, commented in a story on the California Air Resources Board’s efforts to reduce daily driving, or vehicle miles traveled (VMT), as a way to curb greenhouse gas emissions in the state. “As electricity becomes cleaner, the proportion of total statewide [greenhouse gas] emissions from transportation is increasing,” Matute said in a story that originated with the San Diego Union-Tribune. “Cars have a long turn-over cycle, and our urban and regional design has an even longer time horizon for change.”


 

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