Friday, October 28, 2016

3 lessons on investing in LA’s transportation network from the UCLA Lake Arrowhead Symposium

With Measure M’s fate on the horizon in less than 2 weeks and the update of Metro’s Long Range Transportation Plan approaching, it’s a good opportunity to talk about the use of public funds to help people get from one place to another.

Last week, we had the pleasure of attending the UCLA Lake Arrowhead Symposium, an annual invitation-only event attended by over 100 planners, policymakers, senior policy analysts, business executives, elected officials, and university faculty from around the country.  This year’s symposium, “Paying it Forward: Investing in Sustainable Mobility,” hosted by the UCLA Lewis Center, the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, and the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, was an intimate, informative, and well-curated event.

Investing in Place attended the symposium to listen and learn about the latest transportation trends and to learn how to apply these best practices on the ground-level with our community partners.

After a refreshing and rigorous retreat with this fun group, we learned 3 key things that may be useful to our friends and colleagues advocating for a better transportation system:

  1. “How do we plan for equity?” asked several presenters, including Therese McMillan from LA Metro, Genesee Adkins of the Seattle Department of Transportation, and Brian Taylor of UCLA. When talking about autonomous vehicles, infrastructure planning at the ports, or about transit-oriented development, planning for equity — ensuring that transportation policy and investment outcomes benefit those at the very bottom of the economic ladder first — should be the center of all our policy discussions. During a discussion on autonomous vehicles, there was a lot of talk about “heaven” and “hell” scenarios. Brian Taylor of UCLA put it aptly, when thinking about transportation policy of any kind, “how does the public sector steer us toward heaven?… and how can we pay for it?” For Investing in Place, the concept of planning for “just growth” — ensuring policy outcomes are both inclusive of everyone and ensure economic prosperity — is at the heart of our vision for Equity Opportunity Zones in Los Angeles County.
  2. “We need to be better at telling our stories,” said Kurt Luhrsen, Vice President of Planning at Houston METRO. We agree. When Houston re-envisioned its bus network, transportation planning officials challenged themselves to start from scratch and asked the community and frequent riders for their input. In Los Angeles, our hardest hit communities know the solutions to their mobility problems — we hear often it’s about reliable and frequent access by bus, bike, walking, or train to their jobs, it’s about safer streets and crosswalks for their children and family getting out of work late, and many other stories about accessing basic services and amenities (See our First 5 LA recap in Lancaster and Palmdale). Our role in transportation — as public servants, philanthropists, community organizers, or advocates — is helping to uplift and honor those stories from people on the frontlines (our LA2050 proposal with Team Friday, USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity, and Impact Hub LA in a nutshell), and to help solve people’s transportation and mobility problems through pragmatic policy and effective infrastructure planning.
  3. “Riders of transit are not at the voting box,” said one presenter on a panel titled, “Local heroes: Strategies for more sustainably financed communities.” There’s a very clear divide between what voters (who are typically more white and affluent) are willing to support versus what transit-dependent populations actually need. One presenter from out of California acknowledged, “Sales taxes are about the worst. But what’s the alternative?” Our opinion? Investing in Place believes building genuine partnerships across sectors — business federations, places of worship, workforce development agencies, early child education groups like First 5 LA, and many more — is absolutely crucial in making transportation work for everyone. For instance, we have to do a better job of engaging career development groups that work with people who experienced incarceration. In an example that Brian Taylor provided, he mentioned how having affordable, accessible, and frequent transportation options to get to a job was the number one predictor of whether or not individuals experience recidivism and go back to prison. This was a similar conversation we had with our colleagues at LeadersUp, where they mentioned access to affordable transportation is one of the biggest barriers for their job seekers. When looking at how to fund our transportation “heaven,” voting is one part of the solution — but so is visionary local and inclusive leadership based on principles of equity.

To continue the conversation on equity, telling our community’s stories, and on visionary leadership to strengthen our neighborhoods, we invite you to our next event on November 14th with great speakers, guests, and a casual reception. We hope you can join us.

(Last thing, what would a Lake Arrowhead retreat look like without a little outdoor fun?)


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