Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville spoke to NBC LA about the record low number of car accidents following state and local “stay at home” orders in Southern California. With fewer drivers behind the wheel and the closure of all non-essential businesses to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, traffic crashes in Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside and Ventura counties dropped 73% last month compared to March 2019. The total number of crashes causing fatalities, injury and property damage went from 21,270 in March 2019 to 5,827 last month. “The amount of travel that’s happening has fallen as close to zero as maybe we’ve ever seen in the modern era,” Manville said. The coronavirus traffic data is being used to inform discussions not only about the high toll that driving takes, but the environmental, social and economic impacts as well, such as how companies handle working from home.
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville spoke to the Guardian about Angelenos’ road habits during the time of coronavirus. Even when just a few businesses asked workers to stay home, congestion was down quite a bit, demonstrating how relatively small reductions in cars can generate big increases in road performance, Manville said. “That has lessons for us, because it does remind us that when things get back to normal, policies that nudge just a few people away from a trip at a busy time can have a huge impact,” he said. However, Manville doubted the current health emergency would reshape Angelenos’ long-term relationship to the road. “It would be one thing if we were under an order to still go to places, but not in cars — some of us would find we like walking or biking,” he said. “But there’s no reason to think we will develop a different travel habit while we’re sitting on our couches.”
Michael Manville, associate professor of urban planning, was featured in a New York Times article discussing the factors responsible for a nationwide decline in bus ridership. Urban planning experts point to suburbanization, increasing levels of car ownership and new rideshare services as partially responsible. Manville added that the rise of Craigslist has “altered the market for used cars, making them easier to find and cheaper to buy.” In addition, declining immigration rates in general could shrink the pool of potential bus riders. Manville argued that the best solution is to “make the true costs of driving more apparent” by implementing congestion pricing, higher parking rates and higher gas taxes. “At the end of the day, we may never know what’s driving this decline,” he said. “But I guarantee you that if you took a lane of Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles and gave it only to the bus, ridership would go up.”
Michael Manville, associate professor of urban planning, spoke to Curbed LA about measures being taken to combat traffic congestion in Los Angeles. According to a newly released index on congestion and mobility, the typical Los Angeles driver logged 103 hours of traffic in 2019. The index also found that the metro area is home to the two most congested stretches of road in the country, on sections of the 5 and 134 freeways. Among other strategies to lighten traffic, transit agencies plan to expand rail lines. While this would provide an alternative to driving, it may not reduce traffic, Manville cautioned. “It basically allows people to avoid exposure to congestion. But if you want to actually improve congestion on the 405, the unfortunate truth is that you have to toll the 405,” he said.
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville spoke to the Economist about the limited success of recent efforts to improve public transit in Los Angeles. While voters have approved ballot initiatives such as Measure M that have increased funding for public transit, the number of people actually using public transportation has declined. Manville describes public transit as a “safety net for the poor, not a service for most people.” According to Manville, the proportion of households without access to a car has fallen from 10% in 2000 to 7% in 2015, with an even sharper fall among immigrant households. He explained that in order to persuade Angelenos to get out of their cars, “trains and buses must be almost as fast and convenient as driving.” At the recommendation of urban planning experts, the city is now planning a congestion pricing pilot program.
A New Geography article on the links between car access and poverty summarized the conclusions of a paper co-authored by Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville. The paper, which was published in the Journal of Planning Education and Research, argued that proximity to transit does not necessarily correspond with transit use and effectiveness. While 89% of workers live “near transit” in Los Angeles, only 5% of Los Angeles commuters use transit. Furthermore, Manville and co-authors David King and Michael Smart found that U.S. households without access to vehicles have a 70% greater chance of being in poverty than those that have access to vehicles. In addition, they found that the incomes of households without vehicles rise at a lower rate than households with vehicle access. The authors pointed to door-to-door access as the ultimate solution and concluded that universal auto access would lead to less unemployment, less poverty and higher standards of living.
A new Sidewalk Talk article on Medium highlighted the main points of a paper written by Associate Professors of Urban Planning Michael Manville, Paavo Monkkonen and Michael Lens arguing for the elimination of single-family housing regulations. The three associate professors wrote the essay for the January issue of the Journal of the American Planning Association, which presented nine different arguments about the future of single-family zoning. The debate over single-family zoning has been fueled by new bills in Maryland, Oregon, Minneapolis and California that have proposed loosening single-family regulations, with limited success. In their paper, Manville, Monkkonen and Lens argue that removing single-family zoning doesn’t prevent single-family homes from being built; this means that developers can continue to build them in response to household preference and market demands. However, “in the 21st century, no city should have any land where nothing can be built except a detached single-family home,” they conclude.
Q&A: Getting to know our new editor-in-chief
By Transfers Staff | February 5, 2020
We rang in the New Year at Transfers with a brand new editor-in-chief — Michael Manville. Manville is an associate professor of urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, and he’s no stranger to Transfers. We recently sat down with him to ask about his views on transportation today as well as his hopes for Transfers in the future.
Q: Tell us a little more about your research interests.
MM: In essence, I study the fact that driving is too cheap and housing is too expensive. So one part of my research focuses on the mispricing of vehicle travel: this includes the study of our decisions to underprice roads and curb parking. In the other part, I examine how land use regulations that are inspired and impacted by travel behavior actually distort the housing market. For example, cities everywhere require parking spaces with new developments. At least on paper, these rules are supposed to make the transportation system work better, by providing more parking. In reality, they probably exacerbate congestion and make it harder to build more housing, which of course drives up housing prices.
Q: You are constantly sought after as an expert on congestion pricing. Why do you think now is the time to discuss and continue forward on this issue?
MM: I think a lot of city governments in very congested places have concluded that they both need a lot of money, and they have already tapped most of the obvious sources for that money. For example, New York City needs an incredible amount to repair its subway system, and — in the minds of its leaders, at least — it cannot go back to more conventional tax instruments to raise that money. So it has turned to congestion pricing, which not long ago would’ve been off the table. Adding to that is the fact that congestion is now, by most metrics, as bad as it’s ever been, and may be at its worst. Cities do feel pressure to deal with that, and more officials are realizing that what they’ve tried in the past — whether that’s widening roads, building more transit or hoping people telecommute — isn’t very effective. So there’s more openness to pricing as a result.
The fact that people are even talking about pricing is undeniable progress. If you’re someone like me, I think there’s a lot of cause for optimism because 10 years ago barely anyone outside of academia would discuss it. However, it remains to be seen how much of this emerging conversation will lead to implementation.
Q: If there’s one misconception about traffic that you wish you could set straight, what would it be?
MM: Do I have to pick one? Congestion as a concept comes pretty loaded with misunderstanding. But here is one. Any car can cause traffic, including yours. So if you are suffering from congestion, you are also probably causing it. Now, that’s not always true. There are some people who suffer from congestion because they breathe pollution from it because they live near a busy road, and some people get slowed down by traffic even as they are doing something socially positive like riding a bus. But for the most part, if you’re in congestion, you are congestion. That’s pretty obvious when I say it, but it’s not something that people or policy readily internalizes. As a result, we often want solutions to congestion that don’t require anyone who is currently on the road to drive less or change behavior in any way.
A great example of this is the tendency to blame increased congestion on Uber. Anytime you read about the share of traffic caused by Uber, you should ask yourself what share is caused by Toyota or Ford. Is that Uber slowing you down? Guess what? You are slowing the Uber down, too. You were here first? How do you know that, and why on earth should that matter? If every Uber on a congested road switched off its app, the road would still be congested, because the vehicle, not the app, takes up space. Even if every vehicle with an Uber driver vanished, do we really think, in growing places like LA or New York, that no other cars would fill in that space? Congestion isn’t about where the car is going or who the driver is or works for. It’s a product of our failure to manage our valuable roads.
Q: What do you think will be the most important transportation issue of this next decade?
MM: It’s hard to give any answer other than the carbon footprint of how we move around. I think that transportation remains a bit of a third rail in climate policy. In California, we’ve shown that we’re willing to do a lot of things to reduce our carbon footprint, but still pretty unwilling to confront our relationship with the car, and our impulse driving alone everywhere.
Another way to answer that question, which is in some ways the same answer from a different perspective, is to say that the biggest issue in transportation today is the same big issue that has always distorted our surface transportation system, which is that getting in your car and going wherever you want is often too inexpensive relative to its social costs. This was causing problems in the 1950s, in the 1980s and is still causing problems today. We now know, because we know so much more about climate change and pollution, that this problem is much greater, and graver, than we first thought. But that is the essential problem, and always has been.
Q: What topics do you hope to cover in future issues of Transfers?
MM: My hope is to cover a wide variety of transportation-related topics. The pitfall of any editor is that they just publish a whole bunch of articles that reflect their personal interests. I don’t want to do that. I think that the PSR [Pacific Southwest Region University Transportation Center] funds a range of institutions with many people who do good work on a wide variety of transportation issues, all of which we want to showcase. I would be disappointed if we produced an entire issue on congestion pricing. Even though that would delight a part of me, it wouldn’t delight the part of me that’s an editor. What we want to deliver is a highly accessible digest of a wide swath of transportation research.
Q: What has been your favorite Transfers article? You can say your own.
MM: I enjoyed writing mine, but it’s not my favorite.
Q: How about the skateboarding one?
MM: Actually, I really liked the fact that we published something about skateboarding. I say that not only because it’s a nice topic, but it’s also emblematic of what Transfers can do, which is to take a nice, novel piece of research on a topic that’s maybe overlooked and give it a boost that’s meaningful not only for the author but also for a lot of people who read it.
Q: But second favorite is yours?
MM: And then mine, of course.
This interview was edited for clarity and length.
Transfers Magazine is the biannual research publication of the Pacific Southwest Region University Transportation Center (PSR), a federally-funded network of eight partner campuses in Arizona, California, and Hawaii.
The Financial Times quoted Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville on the growing issue of urban congestion. According to Manville, congestion is caused by “a shortage of road: There is more demand for road space than there is space available.” Manville drew a parallel between roads and other utilities like water and gas, explaining that “the big difference between road networks and other utilities is that we don’t meter for use. Consequently, roads are the only type of infrastructure that suffer from regular shortages.” Manville recommends congestion pricing to encourage drivers to make fewer trips or take public transport. He argued that “Americans just drive more than they need to” because of the lack of associated costs of driving. Congestion pricing has been successful in London, Stockholm and Singapore, and New York is planning to implement the policy in 2021.
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville was featured in a Boston Globe article discussing the efficacy of congestion pricing as a potential solution to the traffic in Boston. A panel of transportation experts gathered to discuss the issue after Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack remarked that traffic will always be a feature in and around Boston due to the city’s density. Manville argued that, while other strategies can help boost public transit usage, faster drives can best be achieved by implementing some form of toll on drivers. “Traffic congestion is caused by the road not being priced,” he explained, “and the only thing we’ve ever found that reliably makes a dent in that sort of problem is pricing the road.” According to Manville, creating “managed lanes,” where one or more road lanes charge tolls and others remain free, could be “a good stepping stone toward congestion pricing.”