In a National Geographic article exploring transit-oriented development in cities across the globe, Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville commented on the challenges facing Los Angeles. The article focused on architect Peter Calthorpe, who highlights the negative effects of car-oriented urban environments on climate, air quality and congestion, in addition to time and money wasted by drivers. Urban planners look to transit-oriented development to remake healthy urban spaces and reverse the damage caused by dependence on automobiles. Calthorpe imagines an urban utopia where cities would stop expanding, pave less and heat the air and the planet around them less. He recommends dense clusters of walkable communities around a web of rapid transit to support a growing population. Manville weighed in on the urban environment of Los Angeles, where residents continue to rely on cars despite efforts to improve public transit. The conundrum, Manville said, is that “driving’s too cheap [and] housing’s too expensive.”
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville, an established expert on congestion pricing as a traffic-management strategy, commented to several news outlets after New York officials approved a plan to charge motorists more than $10 to drive into Manhattan’s busiest neighborhoods. Manville told Pacific Standard, “To an economist, you could have congestion charging in Manhattan, take all the money, put it in cash form, and then sink it in the harbor, and it would still be an incredibly beneficial program.” The New York Times, American Prospect and Wired also consulted Manville, who is on the faculty of UCLA Luskin’s Institute of Transportation Studies, to provide context. Congestion pricing is under serious consideration in Southern California, and Manville explained the ramifications in an extended conversation with Peter Tilden on KABC radio. He was also cited in a San Diego Union-Tribune piece and, further afield, in a Vietnamese Best Forum article, translated here.
Michael Manville, associate professor of urban planning, was quoted in a Voice of OC article about subsidies to local car dealerships in Santa Ana. Amid fears of lowered levels of commerce in the wake of rising sales taxes, Santa Ana officials said they are reinvesting in the local economy through the automotive industry, by subsidizing a number of car dealerships in hopes that city residents will see direct benefits. This subsidy is designed to push residents to spend their money at local car dealerships rather than going elsewhere to purchase cars. The article noted that a number of the dealerships have been important campaign contributors to some city officials. “The city seems to be concerned about the sale of automobiles as opposed to other sales and is taking steps to selectively exempt or cushion those sales from whatever it imagines the impact of the sales tax increase will be,” Manville said.
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville, who comments frequently on reducing traffic by implementing congestion pricing during peak hours, shared his views with a national audience in an interview with NBC News. The article noted that congestion pricing has been successfully adopted in Singapore, Stockholm, London and Milan and is under serious consideration in Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston and New York. “If you can find a way to deter a small proportion of vehicles, you get a big improvement in speed and big increase in flow,” Manville said of congestion pricing. Cars stuck in traffic contribute more to pollution than cars in free-flow traffic, he added. Manville said congestion pricing is sensible yet politically difficult because politicians are wary of imposing added costs to voters. The key is to change people’s mindset, he said. “We are so used to the road being free,” he said. “If your water wasn’t metered, you might take a longer shower, even if it wasn’t that important to you.”
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville spoke to KPCC’s AirTalk about parking requirements for new housing developments in California. Manville was surprised to see that San Diego succeeded in eliminating minimum parking requirements for new housing developments. While this would be tough to implement in Los Angeles, he said, he believes it would be a good idea because parking requirements have been harmful to the city. Parking requirements for new housing do not promote the city’s stated goals of encouraging transit use, sustainability and more housing development, Manville said. More parking demands additional land or capital to build expensive underground parking, which results in smaller developments, he said. Manville also discussed proposed legislative solutions that would reduce local jurisdiction of land zoning in order to build more densely near public transit.
By Claudia Bustamante
Across the country, public transit ridership has been declining.
But that isn’t the story in Seattle. Terry White, deputy general manager at King County Metro Transit, said that can be attributed to the agency’s community efforts.
Speaking at the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies’ 12th annual Downtown Forum on Transportation, Land Use and the Environment held March 1, 2019, at the Japanese American National Museum, White said an organization that doesn’t reflect its community will lose trust.
“We’ve been making a concentrated effort that the folks that make up our outreach and leadership teams reflect the communities we go out and serve,” White said. “I don’t think it’s an accident that we have better relationships since 2014.”
King County Transit, which most recently won the American Public Transportation Association award for outstanding transit system, makes more than 400,000 trips per day and has seen all-time-high ridership as more people move into the Seattle area.
Joining White at the forum were UCLA scholars, and government, nonprofit and private sector representatives who share other real-world examples of how to tackle declining transit ridership, especially in an era of emerging mobility services.
The forum focused on successful public-private partnerships that could fill gaps in transportation services. Other topics included effective uses of data to manage mobility, practical innovations that can yield great gains for transit ridership, and how new mobility technology and services can enhance equity and quality of life.
Speaking specifically to how a big-city transportation department can put equity first was Ryan Russo, director of Oakland’s Department of Transportation, which was recently formed as a new model of urban mobility centered around progressive policies that aim to recognize and address past injustices.
Russo said the Bay Area city’s legacy of redlining is still seen and felt throughout the area, which means that departmental projects must be considered through an equity lens. Dedicated monthly meetings are held to strategize ways of infusing equity into projects. For example, Paint the Town combined community art and traffic safety through street murals.
For every project approved in less disadvantaged communities, at least two were approved for low-income neighborhoods.
“Transportation and street management isn’t about getting people from A to B,” Russo said. “It’s the way we will serve our community.”
Partnerships and Pilots
In light of the proliferation of private mobility companies, the forum discussed different ways the public sector could partner with these companies to meet transportation needs.
One example came from HopSkipDrive, a ridehailing service for school-aged children, which partnered with Los Angeles County to provide free rides to foster youth. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, foster youth were provided core protections for school stability, meaning that districts need to provide transportation to keep these students in their schools of origin. Many foster youth bounce from school to school, and they graduate at far lower rates than do their peers.
“We are not meant to replace school bus companies. We are designing our systems to ride alongside school buses and existing transportation systems. That way we can provide mobility opportunities and access for all kids,” said Qiana Patterson, senior director of public partnerships.
In fact, finding innovative ways to partner with the private sector to tackle the biggest transportation issues of the day is something that Metro has been doing through its Office of Extraordinary Innovation.
Its unsolicited proposal process has yielded more than a dozen contract awards and proofs of concept for key projects, including the Sepulveda Transit Corridor, a gondola to Dodger Stadium, mobile tolling and bus electrification.
“The public sector is reluctant to admit they have a problem,” said Nolan Borgman, Metro senior transportation planner. “You need to admit that there is a problem that you don’t know how to solve.”
In Santa Monica, the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, along with the rise of electric scooters, drove city officials to authorize a pilot program to offer more mobility choices and gain a better grasp on the use of shared public space.
Declining ridership has also forced many public agencies to adopt innovations to improve transit.
In Everett, Massachusetts, a pop-up bus lane is being utilized to improve mobility and connections to major nearby destinations like Boston. Instead of conducting traditional outreach, City Planner Jay Monty said a pilot project incorporated outreach and gleaned real-time public feedback. The part-time lanes only for buses went quickly from pilot project to a statewide model, and today more than a dozen similar Tactical Transit Lane projects have sprung up across the country as a means of improving mobility.
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville said that neither new trains or lanes free up space on roads over time. What has worked — where it has been implemented — is congestion pricing.
Speaking to the fairness and equity concerns that come up when congestion pricing is discussed, Manville said that not only was the entire transportation system financed regressively through gas taxes, sales taxes and registration fees, but pricing access to roads could produce revenue to offset the costs for low-income individuals.
“Congestion harms people who live in low-income communities with disproportionate low vehicle ownership,” Manville said. “They have to bear the higher health and pollution burdens of driving, which leads to higher rates of preterm births and other negative health outcomes — and thus inheriting poverty.”
Earlier this year, Metro decided to move forward with a two-year study of congestion pricing, evaluating different pricing methods, including per-mile charges and tolls in specific areas.
Even though all the new mobility options may make it seem otherwise, we are not living through a particularly disruptive period of transportation, said Martin Wachs, emeritus professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin. People have long been using the same language to describe new mobility — from bicycles and jitneys in the 19th and 20th centuries to today’s ridehailing companies like Lyft and Uber, as well as electric scooters.
Instead of reacting to technology, Wachs said, agencies should create policy that builds upon the capacity of innovation.
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville spoke to the Los Angeles Times about a proposed transit system to be built under the Las Vegas Convention Center. The tunnel project pitched by entrepreneur Elon Musk’s Boring Co. would connect different areas of the massive convention center as part of an ongoing expansion to be completed by 2021. Manville likened the tunnel system to trams used in airports to transport travelers to different terminals. The project is interesting but not revolutionary, he said. “All it is right now is kind of a fancy people mover through a convention center,” he said.
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville is frequently called upon to share his expertise on congestion pricing as a means to manage traffic in California. Manville spoke to LAist about the public’s reluctance to support congestion pricing, in which drivers are charged tolls for using clogged roadways during peak hours. “When it comes to roads and congestion on roads, we have become accustomed to the idea that our problem can be solved by building something,” he said. Manville told Wired that academics were once skeptical that congestion pricing would ever leave the classroom. Now that more cities have begun to seriously consider congestion pricing, critics say it will hurt low-income communities. However, Manville noted that if low-income residents cannot afford cars, free road use becomes a subsidy for wealthier residents. On KCRW’s Design and Architecture podcast, Manville said public transit must be made appealing and safe or people will stop using it.
Transit-oriented communities include land use planning and community development policies that maximize access to transit, including building densities, parking policies, urban design elements, and first/last mile facilities that support ridership and reduce auto dependency. Photo courtesy of Metro
By Naveen Agrawal
With Metro spending billions of dollars in Los Angeles over the next few years and transit-oriented development seen as key to denser building, encouraging ridership and mitigating environmental issues, the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies hosted a panel on Feb. 20, 2019, around the topic of coupling more housing to transit.
Held in partnership with the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate as part of the Housing, Equity and Community Series, the event focused on some of the latest local and statewide developments. It featured a panel of professional and practicing experts moderated by Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy at UCLA Luskin and associate director of the Lewis Center.
Framing the discussion was UCLA Urban Planning Associate Professor Michael Manville, who shared results from a recently released Lewis Center report on what a transit-oriented future might look like, focusing on five current — and two planned — Metro rail and bus stations. The report emphasized the impact that land use patterns can have on transit ridership and neighborhood quality, and it offered recommendations for future zoning scenarios.
Manville spoke of framing a narrative around two different transit and housing systems: what we have and what we want. Among the discrepancies between the visions is that much of the city’s housing is concentrated around where train stations used to be — not where they are today.
Arthi Varma, deputy director of the city’s planning department, shared some of the early results of its Transit Oriented Communities (TOC) Affordable Housing Incentive Program. Created in November 2016 by voter approval of Measure JJJ, the TOC program is a local-density program available within one-half mile of major transit stops.
In 2018, its first full year of implementation, half of all applications for new dwelling units were filed under the TOC program, Varma said. Of the applications received since the program has been active, 18 percent (2,377 out of 13,305) are affordable units. The Planning Department issues quarterly housing reports.
Laura Raymond, director of the Alliance for Community Transit, shared her perspective on the development of the TOC program. In particular, she emphasized that many low-income communities surveyed by her organization expressed strong preference for increased density.
From a community organizing perspective, this issue is one that spans transit and housing, Raymond stressed, but discussion is also needed around labor markets and the types of jobs created near transit — as well as environmental justice.
Elizabeth Machado, an attorney at Loeb & Loeb, LLP, provided an overview of the factors that make it difficult to build in Los Angeles, which include the high price of land, zoning limitations and political challenges. The state has delegated most planning and zoning issues to localities, Machado said, but she noted the introduction of SB 50 as a move by Sacramento to accelerate local governance or force action from the top down.
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville’s comments on the progress of the Link Union Station project were featured in a Los Angeles Downtown News article. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has designed the Link Union Station project to transform the outdated Downtown Union Station into a modern transit hub with the addition of up to 10 run-through tracks. Manville explained, “With run-through tracks, the basic logic is right in the name. It allows for some vehicles like express routes to pass through without having to stop or turn around.” The project is designed to increase rider capacity, reduce wait time on the tracks, and offer shorter and more efficient rides. After five years of planning, Metro has released a draft environmental impact report and is currently accepting public feedback on the plan. According to Manville, “[The Link Union Station] project is needed if Metro intends to make the facility the hub of a growing and more connected system linking both local lines and regional light rail.”