In Memorium: Martin Wachs, FAICP

Legendary UCLA and UC Berkeley Professor, Passes

Martin Wachs, FAICP, distinguished professor of urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and a professor emeritus of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UC Berkeley, died unexpectedly April 12 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 79, according to a statement issued last week by UCLA.

“Marty Wachs was mentor to an entire generation of urban planners and urban planning scholars and a cherished friend of many of the Luskin faculty,” wrote Dean Gary Segura in a memo about Wachs’ passing to the Luskin School community.

Throughout his five decades of service to the University of California which included teaching and serving in top research and leadership posts at both UCLA and UC Berkeley Wachs earned a reputation as a worldclass scholar and expert in the field of transportation planning. He garnered numerous accolades and academic awards.

Wachs was a prolific author, writing and collaborating on more than 160 articles and four books on relationships between transportation, land use and air quality, and the use of performance measurement in transportation planning. He also was interested in many related aspects and social issues, including professional ethics, aging, the environment and finance.

He came to UCLA in 1971 as an associate professor in a newly founded Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning. Wachs was widely known as an outstanding teacher and caring mentor. In the wake of his death, numerous colleagues, former students and friends have shared memories and tributes that will be collected on a page of remembrances over the coming weeks.

Wachs was deeply committed to public service and over his career served on advisory boards and commissions at the local, state and national levels, including the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the U.S. Department of Transportation. He was a member of professional and honorary societies and served on editorial boards for transportation and planning journals and publications.

In a 2006 tribute to Wachs at his retirement from the University of California, Robert Cervero, a former UCLA urban planning doctoral student and now professor emeritus of City & Regional Planning at UC Berkeley wrote: “I had the privilege of being around Marty as a student and colleague over the past 30 years. It is an unspoken truth by those in the transportation planning academy that Marty is the gold standard on how to be a professor sharp, decisive and demanding, yet warm, caring and approachable. His profound and lasting influence on the field and today’s generation of transportation planning professionals and scholars is unparalleled.”

In 2000, he served as chair of the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. He retired from the University of California in 2006 and later, in 2010, stepped down from a role as senior principal researcher and director of the Transportation, Space and Technology Program at Rand Corp. in Santa Monica.

More recently, Wachs was a member of the California HighSpeed Rail Peer Review Group and, in 2016, he was chosen to serve as chair of a design commission for the famed “gateway to New York,” the Port Authority Bus Terminal of New York.

His honors included a Guggenheim Fellowship, two Rockefeller Foundation Humanities Fellowships, a UCLA Alumni Association Distinguished Teaching Award, the Pyke Johnson Award (twice, four decades apart) for the best paper presented at an annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board and the Carey Award for service to that board. He also was named a Distinguished Planning Educator, the highest honor the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning bestows on a faculty member.

Prior to coming to UCLA, Wachs was an assistant professor in civil engineering at Northwestern University and an assistant professor in systems engineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from City University of New York in 1963, followed by master’s and doctoral degrees in civil engineering from Northwestern University in 1965 and 1967, respectively.

Wachs also served as a U.S. Army captain. He is survived by his wife, Helen; daughter, Faye Wachs; son, Steven Wachs; son-in-law, Navid Ardakani; daughter-in-law, Shirley Tse-Wachs; grandson, Ziya; and granddaughter, Leia.

An online memorial service was held Thursday, April 15, 2021. In lieu of flowers or gifts, Wachs’ family has requested that those interested in making a donation contribute to the Urban Planning Professors Emeriti Fund, specifying that the gift is being made in his memory. Proceeds from this fund support the Martin Wachs Fellowship in Transportation, which provides financial assistance to promising students studying transportation policy and planning at UCLA.

Gifts can also be made by check payable to the UCLA Foundation. Please include “Fund #90695Q” in the memo field and send the donation to the UCLA Foundation, P.O. Box 7145, Pasadena, CA 91109.

The Wachs family also encourages gifts to be made in Marty’s memory to other causes or charities of importance to individual donors.

Note: This article is based in part on UCLA’s official statement, authored by Stan Paul of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.