Gabe Klein’s Start-Up City and the Revolution of Urban Transportation

Gabe Klein’s Start-Up City and the Revolution of Urban Transportation

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Tue, 12/01/2015 - 10:36am

If you have uttered a phrase like, “we can’t be friends anymore because you are moving to the Valley,” then you understand the enormous role that transportation plays in the everyday lives of Angelinos. Our quality of life is impacted every day by transportation, from our personal safety to the way we spend our time (sitting in traffic or being with family?) In his new book, Start-Up City, Gabe Klein discusses the role of the transportation sector in shaping and transforming cities. Klein argues that public and private partnerships can help reduce the time for implementation of transportation and other city planning projects, reduce congestion, and ultimately redesign how we envision our cities.

Klein does not believe that city projects have to be slow or difficult to implement. While governments are often complex and made up of sluggish bureaucracies, municipalities can leverage the nimble and aggressive nature of start-ups. The two sectors, public and private, can learn from each other and work together to perform large and small projects. Government will keep an eye toward the public interest while learning to be more flexible and less risk-averse (even with a possibility of failure!). When Klein worked as the Director of the District of Columbia Department of Transportation, he was given leeway by the Mayor, Adrian Fenty, to try something new; repurpose streetcar space for bike lanes. Klein describes the process as liberating. He and his team failed to produce a successful project during their first efforts but, because the Mayor allowed them to experiment, they were able to regroup, fix what didn’t work and produce an important and large project over a relatively short period of time. Klein emphasizes the opportunity to create a new contract between public, private, and civic. He believes even small projects are crucial as a way to look at place as a platform for entrepreneurship.

Public and private partnerships can work to reduce congestion in cities. Klein says that we can’t build ourselves out of congestion. If cities build more lanes on freeways and more parking structures, people will drive more utilizing those extra lanes and parking spaces. Instead, Klein suggests cities work with the private sector to come up with new ideas like ridesharing and even cutting lanes of traffic to make room for bike lanes.

Finally, Klein sees a need to redesign cities around people, not specific modes of transportation. He believes that what is good for people is also good for business from both a political and a private point of view. Today, cities are full of roads and parking lots. Klein sees an opportunity to redesign cities through the transportation sector. He cites examples of change occurring across the country, such as repurposing rail lines into parks (the High Line in New York), prioritizing pedestrian safety (in Chicago and DC) and encouraging rideshare through private (Uber and Lyft) and public (bikesharing) innovation. The world is on the precipice of a huge technological shift. Enormous change is coming, which can be scary but also invigorating. With an open-minded approach, cities like Los Angeles can embrace the changes (for example autonomous vehicles) and embark on a new path.

Klein shared his insights with an audience of 100 people when he visited the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation on November 19th. Following his talk, a panel including Klein, Seleta Reynolds, General Manager of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT), and Ashley Hand, Transportation Technology Strategist Fellow for LADOT, was moderated by Urban Planning Professor and Director of the Lewis Center, Brian Taylor, and Urban Planning and Public Policy Professor and Director of the Luskin Center, JR DeShazo.

The panel discussed a range of topics informed by Klein’s initial comments and questions from the audience. Reynolds and Hand discussed the future of LADOT and their drive to become a more nimble department. They explained that they are focused on quality not quantity. Reynolds described projects that center around people, not cars, and Hand talked about creating a data driven, performance management approach to city planning. All three panelists agreed that the private and the public sector should be collaborating more often and that both will benefit from those partnerships.

The event was the first of a series that will be held by the UCLA Luskin Center. The series will feature authors who focus on a range of issues related to the Center’s initiatives, such as transportation, sustainable cities, and water. Stay tuned for more information.

The LA Times also covered Gabe Klein's discussion at the UCLA Luskin Innovators Speaker Series.

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If you have uttered a phrase like, “we can’t be friends anymore because you are moving to the Valley,” then you understand the enormous role that transportation plays in the everyday lives of Angelinos. Our quality of life is impacted every day by transportation, from our personal safety to the way we spend our time (sitting in traffic or being with family?) In his new book, Start-Up City, Gabe Klein discusses the role of the transportation sector in shaping and transforming cities.