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2016 Arrowhead Symposium: Investing in Sustainable Mobility


Every year, urban planners, academics, public officials, and transportation enthusiasts gather in the mountains near San Bernardino for 3 days of thoughtful, frank discussions on the connections between transportation, land use, and the environment. This year’s Lake Arrowhead Symposium was no different, with all the sessions revolving around the theme of “Paying It Forward: Investing in Sustainable Mobility.” Panelists and attendees came from all over the country to discuss funding innovative transportation programs, coping with fiscal uncertainty, and planning for future innovations like Autonomous Vehicles.

This was the 26th annual installment of the Arrowhead Symposium, which is always an intimate, invite-only gathering, and we’ve put together 4 stories to share some of the highlights with you.

1. Adding Capacity Without Adding ConcreteThe era of major highway construction is over, and there’s still traffic everywhere. Are there other ways to help cut down on congestion?

2. Funding Transportation Through Cap-and-TradeOne of California’s most innovative transit-funding programs is also one of its most unpredictable. How can we plan for the future?

3. How Will High-Speed Rail Change California?It’s still not clear how the huge public-works project will affect land use and urban development in the state — if it happens at all.

4. Getting Ready for the Rise of Autonomous VehiclesFrom traffic to privacy to safety, our panel tried to game out a future with fewer drivers but (possibly) a lot more cars.

The presentation slides from each session are also available. Thanks again to all of our sponsors, speakers, and attendees, and we can’t wait to see you again next year.

By |November 14th, 2016|

Getting Ready For the Rise of Autonomous Vehicles

Autonomous vehicles (AV) are coming, and they are coming faster than we imagined (possibly within the next 5-10 years), but are we ready? AVs have the potential to transform the way people travel, but their impacts on congestion, greenhouse-gas emissions, and travel patterns will largely depend on planning and policy choices. A reoccurring question of concern in this Monday afternoon session was whether a world of driverless cars would be considered heaven or hell in the realm of transportation.

Randy Iwasaki, Executive Director of Contra Costa County Transportation Authority (CCTA), showcased the progress CCTA has made with AVs. Under his leadership, CCTA has founded a large connected vehicle (CV) and AV test facility located in Concord, CA (GoMentum Station Program). Among other things, CCTA is exploring how shared AVs like autonomous 12-passenger vans that serve as shuttles to BART and other destinations could complement mass transit to overcome first mile-last mile challenges.

Following Iwasaki’s presentation, Prof. Joan Walker, co-director of the Center for Global Metropolitan Studies at UC Berkeley, discussed the implications of AVs on trip-making. She presented three “visions of the future.” Vision 1 included AVs improving efficiency and safety, but increasing congestion and vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per capita, with increased population and urbanization as more people own and operate personal AVs for single-occupancy trips. On the other hand, Vision 3 (the future we should aim for) is a clean, connected, and equitable future where the majority of AV trips are shared rides made in shared vehicles. Shared AV rides could lead to fewer cars on the roads, reduced congestion and VMT, and therefore fewer GHG emissions. Walker asked the group to participate in an exercise. […]

By |November 7th, 2016|

How Will High-Speed Rail Change California?

California’s High-Speed Rail system isn’t just the biggest transportation project happening in the state right now, it’s the biggest public-works project ever in the history of California. Monday night’s panel, moderated by UCLA Prof. Emeritus Martin Wachs, convened experts to discuss what Californians can expect from this huge undertaking in the years ahead. Wachs began the panel by stressing just how much of a work in progress High Speed Rail is. The overall estimated price tag is $64 billion, and $40 billion of that amount is still uncommitted. In order to save money, the system is being built from the middle out, meaning it won’t serve either of the state’s two main cities for some time. Above all, Wachs noted, “the rules about expending the funds that we have are forcing, in the short run, decisions which are very complex and which are shaping the project in the long run.”

As an example of this, Wachs pointed to the legislative mandate that travel time between Los Angeles and San Francisco be less than 2 hours 40 minutes. Achieving this goal would require an exclusive, high-quality right of way, which will seriously increase the cost of the project. Moreover, private-sector companies have so far been unwilling to accept the high risk level associated with this project. Lou Thompson, a transportation consultant, elaborated on the role of the private sector. He pointed out that high-speed rail funding is currently coming from a variety of public sources, including money from the 2009 federal stimulus package and Cap and Trade revenue. Eventually these funds will run out — and whether private investors will fill the gap largely depends on if the […]

By |November 7th, 2016|

Funding Transportation Through Cap-and-Trade

Sunday night’s panel, “Cap and Trade and the Implications of Stop-And-Go Transportation Funding,” provided a crash course on one of the state’s most innovative funding mechanisms for public transit. Ever since California passed AB32 in 2006, the state’s greenhouse-gas reduction mandates have been some of the strictest in the nation, setting the goal of reducing GHG levels to 1990 levels by 2020, and then reducing them again by 80% by the year 2050. The state-run Cap and Trade program has been a highly publicized part of this process, and because a certain portion of C&T funding is set aside to fund low-carbon transportation, a panel of environmental experts got together to discuss the program’s successes and failures.

JR DeShazo of UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation explained the basic structure of the state’s Cap and Trade program: A business needs a permit to emit a ton of carbon, and there is an overall statewide cap on the number of permits that can be issued. These permits are then auctioned off to businesses around the state, and the revenues go toward the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, which funds Sustainable Transportation initiatives, Sustainable Energy initiative, and a “grab bag” of state and local programs. According to DeShazo, this innovative combination of environmental planning and public finance may have been too successful: After 4 years of constantly growing revenues, this year revenues have gone down sharply.

In a sense, this is a good thing for California: It means businesses are polluting less. But when local transportation agencies depend on Cap and Trade revenue for funds, the following speakers explained, it can lead to uncertainty and stress about funding capital and operations […]

By |November 7th, 2016|

Adding Capacity Without Adding Concrete

Traffic congestion is a condition that Los Angeles residents know all too well. But how do we fix traffic? The speakers from Sunday afternoon’s panel offered sustainable and cost-effective solutions, including pricing, policy, and technological solutions, to add capacity to our roads without adding more concrete.

The highlight of the session was the study on California’s Road User Charge Pilot Program, discussed by UCLA Professor Emeritus Martin Wachs. Infrastructure is aging, while the funding to maintain infrastructure is shrinking. Revenue from gas tax has declined due to the increasing fuel-efficiency of cars.  Road-user charges offer a new revenue source for the state to fund infrastructure improvements. The California Road User Charge program replaces the current gas tax, in which drivers pay a tax on each gallon of fuel they purchase, with a road-user charge based on Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT). There are approximately 5000 participating vehicles statewide with a 9-month long demonstration. Interestingly, those who have the most efficient cars (such as electric vehicles and hybrid cars) make up a majority of the volunteer participants of this program. This finding indicates a promising future and viability for the program because it shows people (even those who might end up paying more under this program) are receptive to this idea.

Wachs mentioned that there is potential for the technology of this program to merge with road-tolling systems or incorporate itself into transactions made at gas stations. Ultimately, he concluded, there is hope that this program could result in a more equitable and efficient use of roads, as peak-hour road use would cost more and the use of costlier roads would be more expensive.

Patty Rubstello of the Washington […]

By |November 7th, 2016|

A drop in driving, a suburban millennial, and a Lyft Line (DTLA Forum, Part 1)

Can we be confident about the future of public transit, both in Los Angeles and around the nation? On April 27, UCLA’s Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies and Institute of Transportation Studies convened professors, policymakers, and administrators to answer this question at the 9th annual UCLA Downtown Los Angeles Forum on Transportation, Land Use, and the Environment. Los Angeles hasn’t had a problem building transit recently, with two major light-rail extensions opening in 2016 alone. But in his opening remarks, ITS Director Brian Taylor noted that “If you build it, they will come” isn’t cutting it anymore. What transit agencies need to ask is, “What happens after you build it?” How can these investments turn into actual riders?

The first panel, featuring Prof. Michael Manville of Cornell, Prof. Evelyn Blumenberg of UCLA, and Emily Castor of Lyft, examined transit ridership patterns and demographics in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Manville provided some context for news stories about transit-loving Millennials. For an extended period of time, from about 2003 to 2014, vehicle-miles traveled per capita declined in the U.S., a trend that was especially concentrated among young people. However, Manville noted that use of public transit did not increase at a rate that would signal that young people substituted transit for driving.  

Transit use is heavily spatially skewed. “Driving is a nationwide phenomenon,” he explained. “Transit use is concentrated in a handful of older urban areas,” and 60% of all transit trips in the nation occur in “legacy areas” such as New York and Chicago, with longstanding transit traditions. While Los Angeles may have made news for its new investments in transit infrastructure, Manville argued that this “stunning […]

By |May 17th, 2016|

If you’ve seen one transit agency, you’ve seen one transit agency (DTLA Forum, Part 2)

If the first part of the “Future of Transit” conference was about cutting-edge research on travel trends and behavior, the next was all about hearing from practitioners about what has worked, what hasn’t, and what is ahead for the industry. The second panel of the day featured representatives from three transit agencies with very different constituencies and challenges. First up was Kurt Luhrsen, VP of Planning for the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas. The Houston region is famous for its sprawl and car culture, but Luhrsen had an inspiring story to tell about a successful redesign of that city’s bus network.

As Houston has opened a number of new light rail lines in recent years, Luhrsen explained that the city has also recognized a need to realign its bus network. In particular, rider feedback on the city’s transit system focused on a need to improve existing service, not just build new services. For many years ridership was falling despite new capital improvements, and Luhrsen explained that the Harris County Transit Authority was able to reverse this process by making explicit tradeoffs about who their service would be designed for. For example, was ridership or coverage more important? Should service be based on peak-hour travel, or should it provide all-day mobility? The board agreed to focus 80% of its efforts on maximizing ridership and 20% on expanding coverage area, and with this in mind, Houston’s bus system was redesigned to make routes straighter, improve headways, and eliminate bus lines that duplicate light-rail routes. The result, according to Luhrsen, has been a projected 20% increase in boardings — a figure that exceeds the performance of many […]

By |May 16th, 2016|