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Getting a Handle on the Future Transportation experts join with policymakers and entrepreneurs to tackle the impact of disruptive technology on urban mobility

By Will Livesley-O’Neill

Getting around Southern California has never been easy. But the infamously congested region has grown even more complicated with the arrival of new private services — including ridehail companies such as Lyft and Uber and electric scooter operators such as Bird and Lime — looking to disrupt how people travel.

Motorized scooters are often seen at UCLA.

As in any field impacted by technology-fueled disruption, transportation policymakers want to find ways to adapt. And that requires taking stock of what the transportation system is meant to do and, more importantly, whom it is meant to serve.

This was the focus of the 28th annual UCLA Lake Arrowhead Symposium, hosted by the Institute of Transportation Studies (UCLA ITS) and Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, in October. At the university’s retreat center in the San Bernardino Mountains, dozens of the nation’s leading experts on transportation and land use policy pondered the symposium’s theme, “From Public Transit to Public Mobility.”

The changing nature of travel means different things for elected officials, planners, academics, advocates and tech leaders. But everyone fundamentally agrees that, as LA Metro chief planning officer and symposium panelist Therese McMillan put it, “there’s a public interest in how private activity happens in a public space.” The modes may change, but the mission of a safe, effective, accessible transportation system remains the same.

John Zimmer, co-founder and president of Lyft, set the tone for a discussion of balance between tradition and innovation. Lyft has been actively expanding beyond ridehailing into other forms of mobility, including e-scooters and automated vehicles. The company’s stated goal of providing more options for consumers and reducing the number of people driving

alone benefits the environment — as well as those profiting from the service.

But the way that some tech companies roll out new products — a “move fast and break things” model — often leads to public backlash.

Southern California has been ground zero for arguments about the traffic tie-ups and sidewalk clutter allegedly caused by ridehailing and scooters. Public officials are being forced to make policy on the fly — although some such as Francie Stefan, chief mobility officer in Santa Monica, describe that as an opportunity. Santa Monica recently partnered with Lyft, Uber, Bird and Lime to introduce new regulations on the number of e-vehicles in the city while funding infrastructure improvements.

“[We] made a conscious choice to embrace new technology and work through some of the kinks that are inherent in change,” Stefan says.

Technology also gives cities the chance to innovate and to fulfill some hard-to-implement planning goals. Willa Ng, an associate director at Google’s Sidewalk Labs, presented an example at her panel on “coding  the curb.”

“If we need to do more stuff at the curb, and we need to have those spaces constantly turning over, we can’t have it managed by a static aluminum sign,” Ng explains, outlining how creating a flexible digital management system could allow the same section of curb to be used for parking, ridehail drop-offs, delivery unloading, or as a bike and scooter lane depending on the time of day. New transportation technology can crowd and complicate the use of public space, but it can also help make sure the space is better used to benefit the most people.

For example, Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, a professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin, recently spoke to the University of California for a story and accompanying video about e-scooters titled, “What the battle over scooters gets wrong.”

Urban planners recently adopted a model known as “complete streets” that involves rethinking how shared space is divided between a street and a sidewalk, Loukaitou-Sideris says. This model abandons the assumption that streets are for cars and sidewalks are for pedestrians.

“The complete street perceives the street as a space where different transportation modes can coexist: not only cars, but also buses, and lanes for trams, bicycles and scooters,” according to Loukaitou-Sideris. “Nobody wants to compromise the safety of anyone by mixing these modes. So that’s where planning and design needs to come in.”

People-centered design — of services, systems and infrastructure — is at center stage in these policy discussions. Technology needs to be a tool to help improve transportation for people, not an end goal in itself.

“A lot of people are really annoyed with private capital coming into the mobility space without understanding people’s travel needs,” says Clarrissa Cabansagan of the Bay Area climate change nonprofit TransForm. But tech disruption will be worthwhile if it provides people with more options to get around besides driving their own car, she says.

Professor Brian Taylor of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning

Urban Planning Professor Brian D. Taylor, director of UCLA ITS, co-authored a groundbreaking 2018 study that found that Southern Californians are buying more cars than ever and turning away from public transit. That’s the exact opposite outcome of what policymakers had sought and shows the need to set new priorities for shared public spaces.

“We have to manage the automobile more intelligently. We can’t just allow people to drive anywhere they want, anytime they want,” Taylor says. “We need to create environments that are more conducive to travel by foot, by bike, by scooter or by public transit.”

New and old mobility services could work hand-in-hand to reduce private car travel. Ideally, technology should improve, not replace or eliminate, traditional transit, according to transportation experts.

“We should really focus on making the core strength of transit something we do incredibly well,” says Houston-based planner and author Christof Spieler, who spoke at the conference. With transit ridership falling across most of the country, new policies need to make riding the bus as easy as hailing a Lyft, he says, noting that public transit can move many more people much more effectively than any ridehail vehicle or scooter.

Bay Area transportation advocate Ratna Amin argues that focusing on riders as people, not cogs in a machine, is key.

“When we think about public transit as a utility, we focus on the bare minimum: We got the service out, it’s clean enough, the doors opened, the bus stop is there and it’s labeled,” Amin says. “We need to actually talk to people and find out what their experience is, and try different possibilities out to see if they improve the experience.”

Seattle is one of just a few American cities to see an increase in transit ridership in recent years. Terry White, the deputy general manager of Seattle’s transit operator, believes one factor has been key to success: an emphasis on making sure service is equitable.

“Transportation is a human right for everyone,” White says. “We’re trying to make sure everyone gets an opportunity to

be mobile.”

That’s ultimately what a better transportation system will mean — mobility for all, regardless of whether they take a bus or ride a scooter. Efficient use of public space lessens the need for gridlocked, polluting private vehicles.

The disruption of old transit methods is still in its early stages, with plenty of blind spots to be navigated. But as Juan Matute, deputy director of UCLA ITS, recently told LA Weekly, it’s important to remember that the disruption from new technology is likely to lessen over time.

“The safety hazards are comparable to those for automobile use,” Matute said of the new innovations, particularly e-scooters. “We’ve had over 100 years to figure out a lot of things.”

Wachs on the Nation’s Crumbling Infrastructure

Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Urban Planning Martin Wachs spoke to the Los Angeles Times about rebuilding dilapidated infrastructure in the United States. In 2017, the American Society of Civil Engineers conducted an evaluation of U.S. infrastructure and gave it a D+. These results mean that there is “significant deterioration” and “strong risk of failure.” Wachs commented, “I think there is a need to both renew — by that I mean repair deterioration and bring things up to good operating condition — and there’s a need to modernize.”


 

Shoup Book Makes Planetizen’s Top 10

Donald Shoup’s latest book, “Parking and the City,” is among Planetizen’s Top 10 books of 2018. Planetizen says, “Donald Shoup has already written one of the most influential and consequential books in planning history, ‘The High Cost of Free Parking.’ Feeding the momentum of Shoup’s ongoing influence is a legion of devoted acolytes, known as Shoupistas . . . Shoup writes with unparalleled wit and style on the formerly technocratic matter of parking regulations.” The book’s 50 contributors include 11 former UCLA Luskin Urban Planning master’s and doctoral students.  The list of best titles published in 2018 features the work of distinguished authors writing on topics that also examine natural and environmental disasters, including earthquakes and the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan, as well as poverty, public housing and sustainability. Shoup’s place in planning history was marked in 2018 with a spot on the American Planning Association’s timeline of key events in American city planning since 1900. “So long as it seemed impossible to reform parking policies, most planners didn’t think about trying,” Shoup said. “But attitudes toward parking policies are beginning to shift, and many planners now agree that parking reforms are both sane and practical.” — Stan Paul


 

Monkkonen Critiques California Governor-Elect’s Ambitious Housing Proposal

California governor-elect Gavin Newsom’s plan to solve California’s housing crisis were critiqued by Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy Paavo Monkkonen in a recent article on Curbed. Newsom and Monkkonen agree that California’s current housing crisis is the result of “an underwhelming amount of housing production … contributing to escalating rents and home prices,” but they disagree on the approach to a solution. Monkokken argues that while Newsom’s proposed construction of 3.5 million new housing units by 2025 sounds appealing, “it’s harder to figure out how to actually make that work.” Newsom’s plan would require an unprecedented construction boom and matching investment in infrastructure; Monkkonen points out the “restrictive zoning requirements” as a significant obstacle “that make dense housing extremely difficult to construct.” He concludes that the priority should be “[finding] a way to ensure housing construction keeps pace with demand” instead of Newsom’s focus on “[reaching] a specific number of units.”


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


In Memoriam: Leo Estrada, Urban Planning Scholar and Champion of Diversity His life and 40-year career at UCLA were marked by civic engagement, leadership and giving back

By Stan Paul

Leo Estrada, associate professor emeritus of urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, died Nov. 3, 2018, following a lengthy illness. He was 73.

Estrada came to UCLA in 1977, joining the faculty of what was then UCLA’s Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning under the late Harvey Perloff, who was known as the dean of American urban planners.

A native of El Paso, Texas, Estrada had held academic appointments previously at the University of North Texas, University of Texas at El Paso and the University of Michigan. He received his undergraduate degree from Baylor University and his master’s and doctoral degrees from Florida State University.

During his decades of service at UCLA, Estrada was recognized as an expert demographer and an urban planning researcher and teacher. He also was a fierce and effective advocate for Latino voting, civil rights and representation, said UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura, and someone who made huge contributions to UCLA.

“Throughout his career, Leo Estrada distinguished himself as a mentor, adviser and advocate for the careers of countless young planners and scholars, many students and faculty of color, and so much more,” Segura said.

Professor of urban planning Vinit Mukhija said he remembers Estrada for his compassion, generosity and commitment. Mukhija, now chair of urban planning, recalled that Estrada went out of his way to help him navigate through his first year as an assistant professor at UCLA. “That’s just one thing on a very personal level that I am grateful for,” Mukhija said.

Estrada’s selflessness extended not only to faculty, but to staff, students and beyond, Mukhija said.

“Leo was pretty much on campus every day, and he had a sign-up sheet on his office door that included all the days of the week, for many hours — just way beyond what the expectation was and what the practice was in terms of accessibility to students.” Mukhija said. “That was just another remarkable thing — he did that at the undergraduate level, the graduate level and the doctoral level. And I don’t know how many dissertation committees he did, but he seemed to be one of the busiest.”

Mukhija said that people “change the culture of a place, and Leo was along those lines. Definitely, he primarily led by example, but I think he encouraged people to be helpful to others as well.”

What also stood out to Mukhija was that “Leo was always the calmest person in the room. And yet, there was no question that he was engaged. He did that in a remarkable way that is almost peerless.”

In addition to teaching courses about planning for minority communities and geographic information systems, for a number of years the tireless Estrada led intensive undergraduate urban planning travel study trips to Geneva, Switzerland during the summer term.

Following a role on UCLA Academic Senate’s undergraduate council, Estrada stepped up to serve as chair of the senate during the 2015–16 academic year.

In his professional work, Estrada applied his skills in mapping to redistricting issues for cities across the country and provided expertise on ethnic and racial groups for the U.S. Census Bureau, where he held titles such as special assistant to the chief of the population division and as staff assistant to the deputy director. He also participated in numerous national studies, including an evaluation of the U.S. Standard of Live Birth for the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics.

Following the beating of Rodney King in 1991, Estrada was called by Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley to serve on the Christopher Commission to examine the use of force by the Los Angeles Police Department. Describing the experience as “incredible,” Estrada later said that it was “one of the most important moments of my history and life here in Los Angeles.”

Estrada served on numerous advisory boards, including U.S. Census Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Latino Issues Forum, the Aspen Institute, National Association of Hispanic Elderly, the California Policy Research Institute, the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, and the California Endowment. He also was a former member on the national board of AARP, New Economics for Women, the National Association of Childcare Resource and Referral Agencies, and Hispanics in Philanthropy.

Other nonprofit advisory boards he served on included the Pew Charitable Trust’s Global Stewardship Initiative, the Center for the Study of the American Electorate, the Southern California Association of Governments, and Los Angeles World Airports. In 2013 he was named to the board of directors of SCAN Health Plan.

In June, a retirement celebration for Estrada was held to recognize his decades of scholarship, service and accomplishments at UCLA.

Commenting at that time in a story to commemorate his career, Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, a longtime UCLA Luskin colleague and urban planning professor, described Estrada as “a giant on many different fronts.”

“He has been an inspiring teacher and a mentor to an endless number of UCLA students and a role model to many Latino and minority students,” she said.

Loukaitou-Sideris, who is also associate provost for academic planning at UCLA, noted that Estrada was one of the first urban planning scholars to teach and institutionalize courses about diversity and planning.

“As a brilliant demographer, he was also instrumental in confronting gerrymandering and giving ethnic communities equal representation in California and other states around the country,” she said.

“It was my privilege to know him,” Segura said in an announcement to the UCLA Luskin community. “We extend our deepest sympathies to the Estrada family. Leo will be profoundly missed.”

A private family ceremony will be held. UCLA Luskin is planning to host a campus memorial service for Estrada at a later date.

Urban Planning Alumni Take Awards at ACSP Conference

Two UCLA Luskin Urban Planning alumni received prestigious awards for their work as doctoral students from the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning at its annual conference held this year in Buffalo, New York. Sean Kennedy UP Ph.D. ’18 is the winner of the Gill-Chin Lim Award for the best dissertation on international planning.  Anne Brown, who also completed her Ph.D. in spring 2018, won the Barclay Gibbs Jones Award for the best dissertation in planning. Brown is the third Luskin alum to do so in the last four years, said Brian Taylor, professor of urban planning and director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the Luskin School. In addition to receiving a cash prize of $1,000, Kennedy was invited to present his paper, “Global Energy Transition and their Contradictions: Emerging Geographies in Energy and Finance in Indonesia and California,” at the ACSP conference. Kennedy is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the California Center for Sustainable Communities at UCLA. Brown is now an assistant professor in planning, public policy and management at the University of Oregon. Since its publication, Brown’s award-winning work has been noted in the media and was the subject of a Los Angeles Times op-ed she authored on racial discrimination in the taxi industry. Brown received $500 and also was invited to present her dissertation, “Ridehail Revolution: Ridehail Travel and Equity in Los Angeles,” at the conference.

Sean Kennedy, right, with Ashok Das UP Ph.D. ’08

Anne Brown

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.


 

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.

 

Villasenor Commentary Focuses on Diversity — of Viewpoints

In a commentary published by the Chronicle of Higher Education, John Villasenor of UCLA Luskin Public Policy and co-author Ilana Redstone Akresh of the University of Illinois discuss viewpoint diversity on college campuses. While complaints of political correctness in academia have been around for decades, Villasenor and Akresh argue that the dynamic has changed in recent years. “Social media are increasingly employed as a tool both for direct censorship and for strengthening the pressures to self-censor, significantly narrowing the range of permissible academic discourse,” they write.  Villasenor and Akresh advocate teaching students to examine multiple perspectives, explore nuance, question assumptions, and think critically in all aspects of their education. “Academic freedom exists and needs protection precisely because there are opinions that can both generate offense and have value,” they write. “This does not mean that all offensive ideas have value. But it does mean that the value of an idea cannot be judged solely on the basis of whether it offends.” Villasenor and Akresh write that “we need college faculties that are diverse racially, ethnically, religiously, and in terms of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and the viewpoints they bring to their research, teaching, and engagement with their communities.”


 

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