Street Smart

July 1, 2017
For almost 100 years, UCLA has been a leader in solving complex transportation problems, applying multidisciplinary excellence in the heart of a congested city.

There may be no American city more defined by its transportation than Los Angeles. It’s the epicenter of freeway-urbanism, the postwar urban planning playbook many cities across the country and around the world used to try to accommodate the automobile. L.A.’s sheer geographic spread makes it less a city than a conglomeration, a multinuclear, connect-the-dots of mobility patterns where interminable rush hours beg new terms to subdivide the day.

But amid this often dystopian carscape of traffic jams and asphalt horizons, new pockets of density and growing numbers of people are calling for alternatives to the car. With more pedestrians and cyclists on the roads, two voter-approved, multibillion-dollar investments in public transit, and emerging technologies that enable new ways of getting around, the future of L.A. is looking less like an unbreakable gridlock.

All of which makes it the ideal city for transportation researchers.

“I think we’re lucky to be doing research in Los Angeles, because the problems face you every day,” says Donald Shoup, distinguished research professor of urban planning at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs. “There are a number of other good transportation schools, but they don’t have all the problems evident all the time right in front of them.”

These conditions, Shoup argues, are partly why UCLA has become a preeminent academic center for the study of transportation. He and other planning professors have developed this expertise over decades, looking at how transportation affects cities through the Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS), based in the Luskin School. Brian Taylor ’83, Ph.D. ’92, professor of urban planning and director of ITS, says this transportation-focused work has been a strong suit of UCLA’s dating back to the earliest days of the university. But now, interest in transportation issues is spreading beyond the realm of public policy. “I’ve been a professor here since 1994, and the number of people working on transportation has probably gone from six to 40 over that time,” Taylor says. From engineering and computer science to urban design and architecture, experts across UCLA are delving into the biggest transportation challenges of the 21st century. Building on a long history of innovations, these researchers are developing the designs, policies and technologies that will guide the future of transportation in L.A. and beyond. ...