Matute on L.A. Public Transit Boom

Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the expansion of mass public transit in Los Angeles. After several years of declining ridership, Metro ridership dropped by 70% at the beginning of the pandemic. However, the city took advantage of the opportunity to accelerate construction of public transit projects like the Purple Line, which will extend from downtown Los Angeles to Westwood. Matute called the Purple Line extension “the most important transit project in America, outside of Manhattan” because it links L.A.’s high-density corridors. It also may offer a quicker route than a personal vehicle, unlike bus options that double or triple commute times if they don’t have a dedicated traffic lane. Although transit in L.A. has predominantly been used by those trying to minimize costs, the new Purple Line expansion will be significant in that it also offers a time advantage, he said.

Matute Reflects on Garcetti’s Legacy as Mayor

Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, was featured in a Guardian article about the strengths and shortcomings of Eric Garcetti’s administration during his time as mayor of Los Angeles. There is a possibility that Garcetti will cut his second term as mayor short to take a position as a U.S. ambassador and eventually return to pursue a higher office in the federal government. In Los Angeles, reviews are mixed about his efforts to address climate change, pollution, the affordable housing crisis and economic inequality. On transportation issues, Matute pointed out that the mayor succeeded in pushing a key funding measure in 2016 and set commendable goals for improving mobility and safer streets. However, the “execution of his plans has been slow and haphazard,” Matute said. “There was a lot of promise for changing mobility in Southern California that came through in plans … but they’ve fallen short of implementation.”

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Storper on Post-COVID Life in Cities

An article in Econ Focus about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on life in cities mentioned a 2020 paper co-authored by Urban Planning Professor Michael Storper about the predicted short- and long-term effects of the pandemic. In their paper “Cities in a Post-COVID World,” Storper and co-authors Richard Florida and Andrés Rodríguez-Pose examined the pandemic and resulting lockdown as a forced experiment and made predictions about the social scarring and need to secure the urban built environment against future risks. They argued that despite opportunities for remote work, online shopping and other alternatives to face-to-face interactions, the demand for urban amenities will remain strong after the virus-induced lockdowns are lifted. “It is highly unlikely that COVID-19, despite its high levels of devastation in certain cities, will derail the long-standing process of urbanization and the economic role of cities,” they wrote. “Nonetheless, even if cities will not shrink or die from the COVID pandemic, they will certainly change.”

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Taylor on Encouraging Use of Public Transit

Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Stateline about the future of public transit in the United States. Transit ridership, which plummeted 76% at the beginning of the pandemic, has increased in recent months, but no one is sure whether it will return to pre-pandemic levels. Taylor explained that public transit typically serves two groups: affluent people who find transit more convenient than driving and those who do not have access to cars. The first group virtually disappeared from public transit at the beginning of the pandemic. Taylor recommended implementing transit-friendly parking and land-use policies, such as reducing or eliminating parking requirements for office and residential buildings, to encourage transit use instead of driving. “Just spending more money and not doing those other things is not going to be a good investment if we continue to make it as easy as possible to drive,” Taylor said.

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Manville Imagines Congestion Pricing in California

Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville spoke to American Automobile Association (AAA) Magazine about the prospect of congestion pricing in Southern California. Congestion pricing is a traffic-reduction strategy that aims to reduce the number of cars on clogged roads by making driving more expensive and, therefore, less appealing. Supporters point out that congestion pricing has successfully reduced gridlock in major cities, including London, Singapore and Stockholm, and that many people warm up to the strategy once they experience the benefits. When stay-at-home orders took effect early last year, Southern Californians experienced a region without gridlock firsthand, Manville said. “To the extent that you convince people that pricing is the policy path that gets you to a situation like that, then people having had this experience might help the cause,” he said. Congestion pricing is also a powerful revenue-generating tool, and the funds can be directed to other transportation projects and services.

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Blumenberg on Lack of Equity in Transportation Sector

Evelyn Blumenberg, urban planning professor and director of the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, was cited in a Bloomberg Government article about President Biden’s efforts to promote equity in his administration. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has pledged to consider the needs of minority communities when evaluating old projects or considering new ones, but he has also acknowledged the hurdles that exist — including in the Transportation Department itself. The department’s employees are 74% male and 70% white, and these demographic trends have been consistent for at least 20 years, if not longer. Many transportation projects have negatively impacted lower-income people and communities of color, an issue that has been exacerbated by the lack of diversity in transportation policy officials. Blumenberg commented that the transportation needs of low-income communities have only been “sporadically addressed” on the national level. 

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Traffic on the 405 Can Be Awful, but Let’s Get Real ‘The idea that someone would take this seriously is, well, alarming,’ says UCLA Professor Brian Taylor

By Les Dunseith

Anyone who has driven through the Sepulveda Pass during rush hour knows that traffic on Interstate 405 can be a nightmare. Still, it’s not as bad as it was made to seem in an altered photo that’s making the rounds on Facebook.

The image shows 19 (!) lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic snaking along the freeway just north of the Getty Center, about 3 miles from the UCLA campus. And when an Associated Press reporter decided to fact-check the photo, she turned to Professor Brian Taylor, director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies. 

Not only did Taylor have the insight necessary to debunk the altered photo, but he even had a recent picture of the real 405 to prove it. 

Here’s the fake picture:

And here’s the photo by Taylor, taken in approximately the same location (although looking southbound, the opposite direction), which offers proof that there are not 19 lanes in that stretch of freeway, but 12 — including carpool lanes in each direction that were added in 2011 and 2012 during the infamous “Carmageddon” project.

A photo of the 405 taken in March by UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies Director Brian Taylor because, he says, “who wouldn’t go around taking pictures of freeways?”

In its story about the picture, the AP provides a link to the original photograph that had been doctored to produce the viral fake, saying it appears to have been captured in 1998. It shows five lanes of traffic in each direction, with far fewer cars.

Taylor, a professor of urban planning and public policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, wrote to the AP reporter that the false image “has been bouncing around for years.” 

“It’s a bit of obvious hyperbole to (I assume) make a point about continually widening freeways to address growing traffic levels,” Taylor wrote. “The idea that someone would take this seriously is, well, alarming.”

Thanks to the AP and Taylor, Facebook has now added a notification that the photo has been altered.

Taylor on Updating Obsolete Speed Limit Rules

A Streetsblog California article on the “85th percentile rule” for setting speed limits cited Professor Brian Taylor, director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, who testified before a state Assembly committee considering legislation to change the policy. California cities currently set speed limits based on motorist behavior, under the assumption that about 85% of drivers on a given road will go at or below a reasonable speed, while about 15% will drive faster than is safe. In his testimony before the Assembly Transportation Committee, Taylor said the rule, created in the 1930s, was meant to be revisited when more evidence about science and safety was available but has instead persisted to this day. The bill, AB 43, would give local authorities more flexibility when it comes to setting speed limits and also require that pedestrian and bicycle safety be considered. The bill passed the committee on a 15-0 vote.

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Manville on Making Space for Driving Alternatives

Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville spoke to KCRW’s Greater L.A. about the return of traffic in Los Angeles. While streets and freeways were empty at the beginning of the pandemic, traffic levels have returned to about 90% of pre-pandemic levels in the region. According to Manville, L.A. needs to go much further when it comes to alternatives to driving. “As someone who studies this, but also as a cyclist and a pedestrian, Los Angeles has a very long way to go,” he said. “We are not a bold-moving city in this regard at all.” He pointed to efforts to create more space for bikes, pedestrians and buses in cities including Portland, Seattle and San Francisco. Local residents and politicians are the biggest barrier to changing the transportation industry, Manville said, but he hopes politicians will consider the needs of the overwhelming majority of residents instead of focusing on the loudest voices on both sides.

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Shoup Reflects on Evolution of Parking Industry

Urban Planning Professor Donald Shoup wrote an article in Parking Today about changes in the parking industry over the last 25 years. For most of the 20th century, the industry was stagnant, with parking meters that “looked identical to the original ones introduced in 1935,” Shoup explained. Since he published “The High Cost of Free Parking” in 2005, new technologies have made it possible to measure occupancy, charge variable prices for curb parking and make paying for parking much easier. Using license-plate-recognition cameras, parking apps and voice commands, many cities have been able to adopt demand-based pricing for curb parking. Shoup predicted that in the future, artificial intelligence may be able to determine optimal parking spots for price and time. “Better parking management can improve cities, the economy and the environment,” Shoup wrote. “The parking industry can help save the world, one space at a time.”

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