LPPI-Affiliated Professor Co-Authors Op-Ed for CNN

Cecilia Menjívar, a UCLA professor of sociology who is one of the faculty experts affiliated with the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at UCLA Luskin, is a co-author of a recent opinion piece for CNN that contends that society would be better served by using the phrase “physical distancing” instead of “social distancing.” In the effort to combat the spread of COVID-19, “what health experts are really promoting are practices that temporarily increase our physical distance from one another in order to slow the spread of the virus. They are not recommending social disconnection, social exclusion or rampant individualism,” wrote Menjívar and co-authors Jacob G. Foster and Jennie E. Brand, who are also sociology faculty members at UCLA. “We must be physically distant now — our health depends on it. But we should redouble our efforts to be socially close. Our health depends on that, too.”

 

ITS Experts Assess Massive Hit to Transit Agencies

Experts from the Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS) at UCLA Luskin are weighing in on the financial burden that the COVID-19 health crisis is placing on public transit agencies. “The virtues of public transit are precisely at odds with coping with the pandemic. … We now have essentially a mandate to not move, to not have a lot of people together anywhere,” ITS Director Brian Taylor told the Hill. The article also quoted Emeritus Professor Martin Wachs, who leads research into transportation finance at ITS. Both ridership and sales tax revenues are down, Wachs said, but transit is “a public service that we must keep operating during the crisis because people who have no option other than transit need to shop for food and get to doctors’ offices and hospitals.” On Curbed LA, ITS Deputy Director Juan Matute said Los Angeles’ Metro system may be forced to cut service dramatically or delay work on key projects. He also noted that, once the health crisis has lifted, “if there’s a severe recession, people who are out of work but still need to get around will become reliant on Metro.”

Mitchell on the Impact of Coronavirus on California’s Economy

Daniel J.B. Mitchell, professor emeritus of public policy and management, spoke with the San Francisco Chronicle about COVID-19’s impact on the California economy. In January, Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled a budget proposal that projected a multibillion-dollar surplus and new programs for housing, health care and wildfire prevention. A revised 2020-21 spending plan, due in May, will need to account for the widespread shutdown of the state’s economy due to concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus. The economy has already suffered a “tremendous shock,” Mitchell said, and the period of rebuilding could last years. “If you create enough disruption, it’s not so easy to go back,” he said. “So you could be looking at a very prolonged period here in California where the underlying economy is not good.”

Manville on Angelenos’ Road Habits Under Coronavirus Restrictions

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.”


 

Akee on Stimulus Checks to Help Weather Coronavirus Impact

Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee spoke to CNN about a proposal to send economic stimulus checks to Americans to help them weather the financial impact of COVID-19. As part of a broader economic stabilization plan, the direct government payments to millions of people are seen as a move that could provide quick relief, if not full insulation from the economic shock of the coronavirus. Akee said the payments are especially urgent in households struggling to buy groceries, pay rent and cover car payments, to provide stability until the crisis is over and Americans can return to work. “There are household expenses that people are very concerned about,” he said. “That’s why this cash payment is crucial.”

Tilly on Labor Inequities in Big Tech

Urban Planning Professor Chris Tilly spoke with KQED about the disparities in benefits that contract workers experience compared to full-time workers — a gap that has been put into sharp focus by the coronavirus outbreak. At big tech firms, in particular, a significant number of workers are contractors who receive vastly different benefits and pay packages. In the current pandemic, offers to allow employees to work from home may not apply to contractors, for example. Tilly said that white-collar contracting, which is also on the rise in a number of industries beyond tech, creates a “fissuring” of the workplace. “These fissures undermine the U.S. safety net, which depends crucially on employment status, since contractors are considered self-employed and generally receive no benefits at all,” he said. “An emergency situation like the current one worsens the impact of the inequities, and intensifies confusion and the complexities of mounting an effective response.”


 

Matute on the Eerily Empty Freeways of L.A.

Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the COVID-19 outbreak’s effect on L.A. freeway traffic. As reported cases of COVID-19 surge in Los Angeles County, residents are following recommendations to stay at home and avoid public spaces, resulting in strangely empty freeways. Urban planning experts explain that reducing the number of vehicles on the road by a small amount can greatly reduce freeway traffic. “Pretty much every freeway lane in L.A. experiences some degree of this phenomenon: Everything is going fine, then suddenly it all slows down,” said Matute, an urban planning lecturer at the Luskin School. Freeway lanes have the capacity to support between 2,000 and 2,400 vehicles per lane per hour, but traffic grinds to a halt when lanes hit their capacity. On some freeways, reducing the number of cars by 5% could cut rush hour travel time in half, experts say.


Manville Weighs In on Declining Bus Ridership

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.”


Wachs Hopes for Long-Run Transition to Telecommuting

Martin Wachs, distinguished professor emeritus of urban planning, was featured in a Los Angeles Times article discussing the potential long-term impact of COVID-19 on Los Angeles residents. Commonly crowded public spaces and freeways have been unusually empty due to the spread of COVID-19 in accordance with public health experts’ recommendations to stay home and practice social distancing. Wachs expressed hope that this temporary situation will have positive long-term effects, including lowering the volume of cars on the road even after the crisis passes if workers are able to permanently switch to telecommuting. Instead of spending billions of dollars on transportation projects that take years to complete, Wachs recommends “using [that money] to incentivize companies and people to allow more telecommuting.” While some employers don’t trust the efficiency of telecommuting and some workers, such as restaurant employees, are unable to telecommute, Wachs explained that even “small changes in traffic volumes can make large changes in travel times.”


image of traffic on the south 110

Manville on Combatting Congestion in L.A.

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.