METRANS Regional Student Profile: UCLA’s Rabi Abonour Puts Cycling In His Viewfinder

Saturday, October 14, 2017

By Eric Tunell, USC MPL ‘18

[Editor’s note: As part of the expansion of METRANS into the Pacific Southwest Region 9 University Transportation Center, we seek to highlight students at universities that are new members of the UTC. This week we are pleased to feature UCLA’s Rabi Abonour, MURP 2018.]

Bloomington, Indiana, New York City, and Los Angeles all have distinctly different urban forms, but for Rabi Abonour, they are the lens through which he approaches transportation planning. A second-year Master of Urban and Regional Planning candidate at the University of California, Los Angeles, Abonour recently shared how his background and experiences led him to the west coast, contributing to METRANS, and working for Metro Bike Share.

Like many teenagers growing up in the suburbs, Abonour drove to his high school in Zionsville, IN, despite living fewer than two miles away. It wasn’t until moving a little farther away from campus while studying at the University of Indiana, Bloomington, that he began experimenting in earnest with two-wheeled travel. “Getting around by bike was the first thing that really got me thinking about our transportation systems,” he shared. “I started thinking about planning as a discipline, reading books like The Death and Life of Great American Cities and websites like Streetsblog.”

After graduating with a degree in photography, Abonour moved to New York City to pursue a career in the field there, but he quickly fell in with groups advocating for livable streets and better active transportation options. “Eventually I realized I was spending at least as much time in that world as I was in the media world, so I decided it was time for a career change,” he said.

In considering programs, he was drawn to his Midwest roots and considered the University of Minnesota, but ultimately settled in Los Angeles and the prestigious Luskin School of Public Affairs at UCLA. Halfway through the program, he has found that “the faculty here are as good as their reputation suggests, but it's really the students who make it for me. I am in class with brilliant people who really challenge my preconceptions about the field.”

Yet Abonour hasn’t confined himself to the west side. He got involved with METRANS last year, writing an article about the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center (ARTIC), and he recently began an internship with LA Metro’s Bike Share program. Although he is still relatively new at Metro, his past work experience and planning education have made him feel right at home.

“My supervisors have thrown me into the process and really made me feel like part of the team,” he shared. “I've gotten to spend a lot of time in the field as we launch new service areas and plan for future expansions. I've also gotten to use my old media experience to develop marketing materials for the system. Even though Metro is a huge organization our team is small, so we all wear a lot of hats.”

With less than a year left until graduation, Abonour is excited for the road that lies ahead, especially in Los Angeles. “With the passing of Measure M, there is just nowhere else in the country with as much energy going into large-scale, forward-thinking planning projects. We have an incredible opportunity to make LA a more livable place, and I want to be a part of that effort,” he said.

He encourages fellow students to leave their campuses and explore their cities as much as possible, and to challenge themselves to reach beyond the focus of their studies into the complex, multidisciplinary issues that the planning field attempts to address. Rabi Abonour’s path to planning demonstrates that a diversity of experiences and a broad network of relationships help achieve success both as an academic, and as a practitioner.

Rabi Abonour at Union Station


About the Author: Eric Tunell

Eric Tunell is a second-year Master of Planning student in the Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California. He currently interns for LA Metro’s Vanpool Program and is a student assistant for METRANS, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Region 9 University Transportation Center.  He worked previously in communications for the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving and for National Geographic, and can be reached via email or on LinkedIn.