Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies, was featured in a Los Angeles Times column about rising gas prices in California. On July 1, the state’s gas tax will rise by 3.2 cents to 50.5 cents per gallon. While many are opposed to raising gas prices, the tax is projected to bring in $7 billion this fiscal year to pay for much-needed repairs. Furthermore, road work and infrastructure projects can be done while fewer people are driving due to stay-at-home orders. Taylor, a professor of urban planning and public policy, explained that the gas tax also discourages use of fossil fuels at a time when the planet needs to be much more serious about addressing climate change. “It encourages people to move around by means other than burning fuel,” he said. “In a sense, a gas tax should put itself out of business by ultimately eliminating our reliance on fossil fuels.”
When it comes to beating the Southern California heat, small-scale interventions can have a big impact. If you’ve ever waited for the bus on a hot summer day, you’ve felt how a shady tree or a covered bus shelter can help keep you cool. Despite these tangible benefits, few studies have focused on micro-scale, or street-level, interventions to reduce heat for pedestrians and transit riders. A new grant from the California Strategic Growth Council will fund a UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation analysis of these micro-scale cooling strategies to mitigate heat at bus stops and other streetscapes. V. Kelly Turner, assistant professor of urban planning and associate director of the Center for Innovation, will lead the project, which aims to empower communities, particularly disadvantaged and heat-vulnerable communities, to cost-effectively design cooling solutions for pedestrians and transit riders. This focus on active transportation can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and local pollution while creating climate-resilient neighborhoods. Community-engaged research will center on four historically disadvantaged areas that are vulnerable to extreme heat — Pacoima, Watts/South Los Angeles, Ontario/Inland Valley and Oasis/Coachella Valley. These communities represent a range of climate zones and built environment forms in Southern California. The project, part of the Center for Innovation’s large body of climate adaptation and resiliency research, will also leverage ongoing partnerships among UCLA, Kounkuey Design Initiative and the state’s Transformative Climate Communities program. — Michelle Einstein
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville spoke to the Boston Globe about an uptick in traffic as the Boston metropolitan area reopens. Transit officials view the increased congestion as a real-time experiment to determine how much traffic the region’s highways can take before hitting their tipping points. Manville explained that, once a road nears capacity, each additional vehicle gums things up exponentially. “In ‘The Three Stooges,’ the classic trope is they all try and go through a door at once and they get stuck. If they had just walked through individually, not only could all of them have gone through the door but an almost infinite number of people could have gone in behind them,” he said. “You can have an incredibly high flow going through a door, or on a road, as long as a critical mass isn’t trying to do so at once.”
Fox 10 News in Phoenix spoke to Assistant Professor of Urban Planning V. Kelly Turner about research measuring how a person experiences heat. The interview, conducted during a triple-digit heat wave in Arizona, focused on a mobile weather station known as MaRTy, invented by Turner’s research partner, Arizona State University Assistant Professor Ariane Middel. The robot collects climatological data to determine “mean radiant temperature,” which “gives us a sense of how pedestrians experience heat, not just how the ground feels to the touch,” Turner explained. The research adds to the body of knowledge surrounding the urban heat island effect, which makes high temperatures in cities even more unbearable. Turner and Middel have been walking MaRTy around urban areas in Phoenix, Tempe and Los Angeles to help city leaders determine which areas would benefit most from increasing shade and planting trees.
Super Quiz Bowl — a longstanding UCLA Luskin tradition — went virtual this year due to COVID-19, but enthusiasm remained high with nearly 250 competitors participating via home computers and cellphones in a trivia night held May 28. “From this mighty group, we had 19 faculty and staff, 110 students and 119 alumni,” said organizer Tammy Borrero, the School’s director of events. “This was our highest participation since its inception eight years ago.” Individuals and groups were able to compete simultaneously in the six-round tournament while enjoying a quick home-cooked meal or sofa snack and favorite beverage, thanks to Borrero and a team of staff and faculty who served as game hosts, co-organizers and participants. All three of the School’s graduate programs and the undergraduate Public Affairs major formed creatively named teams including PhDs in PJs, Mighty MURPs and Categorial Exemption. This year’s group prize went to a combined team of urban planners and social welfare graduate students, which evened out department standings across all years of competition, according to organizers. Plans are already underway to bring the event back under the tent next year.
Team Competition Winners
First Place: Plucky Opposers (Social Welfare and Urban Planning) Hanako Justice (SW), Julia Kulewicz (SW), Sam Speroni (UP), Arthur Sun (SW), Meagan Wang (UP)
Second Place: All Coast All Stars (Public Policy) Robert Gamboa, Brian Harris, Eric Schroer, Samuel Stalls, Sean Tan
Third Place: La Croix Taste Test (Public Policy) Adam Barsch, Jess Bendit, Rosie Brown, Dickran Jebejian, and Zachary Steinert-Threlkeld
Individual Competition Winners
First Place: Melody Wang, Urban Planning and Social Welfare
Second Place: Michael Busse, Urban Planning
Third Place: Nathaniel Singer, Undergraduate Program
Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Fast Company about what public transit might look like after the coronavirus pandemic ends. Public transit ridership has dropped dramatically as a result of stay-at-home orders and the closure of non-essential businesses, but Taylor noted that some will need to return to using public transit eventually. “Public transit is really good at moving a lot of people in the same direction at the same time. That’s when the music happens,” said Taylor, a professor of urban planning and public policy. Public transit riders may see changes such as sanitation tools on board, masks and gloves, more frequent service, different routes, or even fare-free service. This summer, Taylor will be working on a project looking at alternative ways to measure transit performance in a system where social distance will have to be maintained.
Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris co-authored an opinion piece in Next City that recommended ways to better accommodate older adults as cities reopen. Even as stay-at-home orders are being lifted, fear of infection continues to prevent many older people from engaging in simple activities such as walking to a neighborhood park or sitting and reading a book on a public bench. Loukaitou-Sideris and co-author Setha Low, a professor at City University of New York, pointed to grocery stores, many of which have “created special hours for older patrons to shop without the fear of bumping into crowds.” The authors recommended retrofitting parking lots and waiting areas with more seating and shade that would allow older people to wait comfortably in line. “Simple, affordable steps like these will ensure that we are taking into account the lingering fear and isolation that threatens the well-being and health of the most vulnerable citizens — our seniors,” they concluded.
Assistant Professor of Urban Planning V. Kelly Turner was featured in an Arizona Republic article about her research on combating climate change and lowering urban temperatures. Turner partnered with climate scientist Ariane Middel to research the effect of surface-cooling solar reflective paint on how a person walking along the street feels the heat. “The broad lesson has to do with the fact that we need to be sensitive to context when we make decisions,” Turner said. “If the end goal is urban heat island mitigation, then we want to do something different than if our end goal is pedestrian comfort. They’re not the same thing, and they can’t be conflated.” Research like Middel’s and Turner’s is essential for cities developing heat mitigation techniques and investing in new infrastructure. It’s important to develop strategies using a combination of tools that address the specific needs of different city blocks and neighborhoods, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, they said.
Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris spoke to the Daily Beast about the long lines expected once lockdown ends and businesses reopen. New limits on the number of people allowed inside an establishment at a time could result in lines that stretch down entire blocks, cutting into curb space and affecting the experience of pedestrians. “In most places, sidewalks have become quite empty,” Loukaitou-Sideris noted. “Unfortunately, that means sidewalks do not have the amenities that are necessary for people to stand in line.” Many urban planners are hoping to make American cities more walkable to allow for continued social distancing post-lockdown. Loukaitou-Sideris said she hopes to see “some kind of retrofitted amenities — movable seating, more shading and protection from the sun” — to accommodate people who must spend more time waiting in lines.
JR DeShazo, director of UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation, was featured in an ABC News article discussing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on electric vehicle sales. Electric vehicles, or EVs, are already more expensive than their gasoline-powered equivalents, and widespread economic insecurity as a result of the pandemic has made Americans less likely to buy one during this time, even if they can afford it. DeShazo, a professor of public policy and urban planning, predicted that the pandemic may usher in new environmental policies around the country. “A lot of states are talking about sustainable stimulus package incentives for vehicles that would include used and hybrid vehicles, charging equipment at home and at work, and subsidies for clean transportation,” he said. “In some ways the pandemic has made people appreciate life without all this car-created pollution. It has changed how people think about EVs.”