Congestion-Pricing Ambitions Slowed by ‘Internal Trepidation’

A Wall Street Journal story about legal challenges to a plan to launch a congestion-pricing zone in parts of Manhattan in June cited Michael Manville, chair of Urban Planning at UCLA Luskin. Pending litigation could delay the start of the program, which would charge passenger vehicles $15 during the day and $3.75 at night to enter the zone, with higher tolls for trucks. Many businesses and commuters argue that the program, approved in 2019, is ill-timed because communities continue to struggle in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Congestion-pricing zones have been successfully launched abroad, and transit advocates had hoped that New York’s program would spur action in other U.S. cities. But in places including San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles, momentum has slowed. “I would say it’s at a bit of a standstill,” Manvile said. “What’s happened in California, and particularly Los Angeles, is internal trepidation.”


Stepping Up L.A.’s Plan for Safer Streets

Urban Planning chair Michael Manville spoke to Bloomberg CityLab about the passage of a ballot measure aimed at speeding up the addition of hundreds of miles of bike and bus lanes, as well as wider sidewalks, on Los Angeles streets. The vote on Measure HLA served as a referendum on pedestrian and bicyclist safety and revealed frustration at the city’s slow pace of implementing a mobility plan adopted in 2015. “Hopefully, what this does is it lights a fire under the city to take seriously its own law that has been in effect for quite a while,” Manville said. The story also cited Jiaqi Ma, faculty associate director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies and director of the UCLA Mobility Lab. “Unintended consequences need to be considered,” including potential increases in congestion, emissions and freeway traffic, Ma said, but he called the measure’s passage a “good step.”


A Fee to Ease Manhattan Traffic

News outlets covering New York City’s plan to charge a congestion fee to drivers entering the most traffic-choked parts of Manhattan called on UCLA Luskin transportation experts to provide insight. Donald Shoup, distinguished research professor of urban planning, told Gothamist that New York is unusual in that nearly all of the curb spaces are unmetered. “This is some of the most valuable land on earth, and you could use it free if you bring a car,” he said, calculating that the city could generate $6 billion annually by charging $5.50 a day for every free curb parking spot. Urban Planning chair Michael Manville told the Associated Press that American cities should take heed of London’s experience, where several exemptions to a congestion pricing program have contributed to the return of clogged streets. “There’s always going to be carve-outs,” he said. “But the further and further you start going down that road, there lies madness.”


I-15 Expansion Highlights Tension Between Commerce, Climate Goals

Michael Manville, chair of Urban Planning at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the approval of a freeway-widening project on Interstate 15. Truck movement along the I-15 is a major driver of the region’s economy, and the project highlights the friction between efforts to expand infrastructure to accommodate commerce and the state’s ambitious climate goals. Now, federal officials are looking into allegations that state and local officials mischaracterized the potential harm the project could cause communities that breathe in some of the nation’s worst air. Proponents of the I-15 expansion had argued that new lanes would speed up commutes, but critics said the opposite was true, that making more space for vehicles would draw even more drivers, increasing congestion and pollution. Traffic modeling studies can be used to say what you want them to say, Manville said. “From the moment we first started using these models many decades ago, they have aspects of being a black box.”


Political Courage Is Key to Curing Traffic Ills, Manville Says

UCLA Luskin Urban Planning chair Michael Manville spoke to the Los Angeles Times about plans to tap into artificial intelligence to find ways to make California’s roads safer and less congested. Caltrans is asking tech companies to pitch generative AI tools that could analyze immense amounts of data quickly, perhaps helping the state’s traffic engineers make decisions on signal timing and lane usage. Manville said that the problem is not a lack of data-backed solutions but rather a lack of political courage to put existing solutions, such as congestion pricing, into play. “If you want to make cities safer for pedestrians, if you want to lower speeds, if you want to deal with congestion in a meaningful way, technology is not going to rescue you from difficult political decisions,” he said.


A Freeway Closure That Reverberates Around the Region

Michael Manville, chair of Urban Planning at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the traffic disruption caused by the closure of the 10 Freeway after a massive fire. Freeways carry a hugely disproportionate share of L.A. traffic, Manville said, and “when there are big interruptions to them, they really do have effects that reverberate around the region.” About 300,000 vehicles on average move through the affected stretch of the 10 Freeway each day, and officials at L.A. Metro have been working to entice affected commuters to try public transit. Manville said he is not confident that people will change their commute habits over the long term. “Most people’s experience with the freeway at rush hour is already pretty miserable — and that does not drive a lot of people to public transportation,” he said. “I think most people in Los Angeles understand that we are over-reliant on a bunch of roads that don’t perform well because they’re overused.”


Homeownership Becoming ‘Out of Reach’ for Most Angelenos, Manville Says

The median price of a home in Los Angeles is expected to soon hit $1 million, and UCLA Luskin’s Michael Manville recently told the Guardian that “homeownership for many people is now out of reach.” The professor of urban planning noted that most homebuyers do not have $400,000 for a typical 40% down payment, nor $4,000 a month to put toward mortgage payments. “The million-dollar home price is like the tip of a big iceberg” because soaring home prices also impact the cost of rental homes and apartments, contributing to the ongoing homelessness crisis in California, he explained. Manville also spoke to Bloomberg News about one approach to tackling the affordable housing crisis: building more duplexes, triplexes and similar “middle housing” options. Decades ago, when there was a lot more empty land, large areas were zoned for single-family homes. “There was always the next valley to go to,” Manville said. “Now, that’s much harder.”


On the Benefits and Challenges of Going Car-Less in L.A.

A Los Angeles Times article on the benefits and challenges of going car-less in Los Angeles cited UCLA Luskin urban planning experts Evelyn Blumenberg and Michael Manville. Going without a car is a choice for some and a necessity for many who cannot afford car payments, insurance and gas. Blumenberg, director of the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, has conducted research showing that car ownership can have enormous benefits for low-income people. “Just imagine even looking for a job, right?” Blumenberg said. “Going to multiple destinations, trying to figure it out, going to interviews, all of that. … It’s very difficult to do without an automobile.” Manville, chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning, pointed to the trade-off between efficiency and equity in transportation and called for “policies that convince the majority of us to just drive a little bit less, while allowing some people who right now have legitimately constrained mobility to drive a little bit more.”


‘Everything Becomes Secondary to Where You Can Store a Car’

UCLA Luskin’s Michael Manville appeared on Code 53, The Apartment Podcast to explain the history, economics and politics of minimum parking requirements and argue that housing people must take precedence over housing cars. Mandating that new developments include a minimum number of parking spaces encourages driving while limiting the amount of space for housing, research shows. “If you have a situation where land is very valuable, and lots of people want to live there, and you are forcing everyone who wants to build something to put parking in at a number you have specified and a location you have specified, what you are basically saying, whether you intend to or not, is that everything becomes secondary to where you can store a car,” said Manville, chair of Urban Planning at the Luskin School. “That is not the recipe for a good city or a good life.”


On the Burden and Necessity of Car Ownership

A Vox article on car ownership as both burden and necessity cited research conducted by two UCLA Luskin urban planning professors, Evelyn Blumenberg and Michael Manville. The way a car unlocks access to almost everything ensures that most people will, despite the costs, do whatever they can to obtain one, the story said. While reducing car use overall has been a priority for policymakers, increasing the availability of vehicles to low-income people is an important step toward reducing economic inequality. The story cited a study by Blumenberg demonstrating the increasing importance of cars for women with limited means, due to the suburbanization of poverty, women’s participation in the workforce and their unique household responsibilities. Research co-authored by Manville documented the falling socioeconomic status of American households without private vehicles and the continuing financial burden that cars present for low-income households that own them.