News | Not Back to Normal - UCLA ITS Highlights Ways to Improve Transportation Post-Pandemic

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by Naomi Suzuki

The UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS) hosted its annual Lake Arrowhead Symposium with the subject “Not ‘Back to Normal’: Mapping a Just Transportation Recovery from COVID-19,” which explored changes the transportation industry has experienced within the context of the pandemic. UCLA is a partner in the Pacific Southwest Region University Transportation Center, led by METRANS. Since its inception in 1991, the UCLA Lake Arrowhead Symposium has served as a forum for stakeholders from the public and private sectors and academic to tackle the connections between transportation, land use, and the environment. This year, it moved forward in a virtual format and has been archived as a remote learning series.  


The conference examined the economic, social, and racial dimensions of transportation and explored how new policy and planning decisions are likely to shape the future of transportation. Presenters and participants came together to reimagine the future of transportation by analyzing the techniques used to respond to COVID-19 and addressing the weak points in the chain. 

The transportation industry has long grappled with issues of system-wide inequities and inefficiencies. COVID-19's rapid spread throughout the world forced the normally slow-changing transportation industry to take quick, decisive actions in order to adapt to the drastic changes brought about by this pandemic. With the stark revealing of the communal, environmental, and structural issues the pandemic has brought to light, many transportation scholars do not see a logical reason to revert to pre-COVID operation strategies. Instead, they see this as an opportunity to look forward and work to mitigate the weaknesses that were exposed in transportation, city planning, workforce development, and community investment.  

The symposium offered an opportunity for conversations around active solutions to the challenges discussed. The forward-focused approach was reflected in a multi-faceted agenda to attendees in 10 different sessions with industry experts representing their respective fields. 

This year’s sessions were: 

The Lake Arrowhead Symposium marked the transportation industry’s acknowledgement that returning to pre-pandemic operations should not be the ultimate industry goal. As Dr. Katherine Chen, a postdoctoral fellow in the National Clinician Scholars Program, highlights in the session “Mobility for Vulnerable Populations during COVID-19,” there is still need for additional research that focuses on addressing issues of compounding inequity, structural marginalization, and racism, and their relationship to transportation, health, and socioeconomic mobility. The symposium’s digital preservation will allow this dialogue to serve as a guiding resource to the transportation community on how to build a stronger, more inclusive, and more responsible industry.