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Wachs Defends Controversial Plan to Combat San Diego Traffic

Martin Wachs, distinguished professor emeritus of urban planning, spoke to the San Diego Union-Tribune about the county’s newest plan for improving traffic. The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) proposed a controversial plan to invest in a high-speed commuter rail and implement congestion pricing on existing freeways. The proposal shelves planned freeway expansions, which experts have found does little to solve traffic congestion. According to Wachs, “the only proven way to reduce traffic is congestion pricing.” While the policy has been politically unpopular in the U.S., it has “increased highway capacity in the 30 or 40 places it’s been done around the world.” While the rail would not necessarily reduce traffic congestion, it would accommodate population growth in the region while reducing greenhouse gases from cars and trucks. “Transit enables higher density development and reduces vehicle miles traveled in relation to the population, whereas highways are associated with more dispersed growth,” Wachs explained.


More Is Less on L.A.’s I-405, Michael Manville Says

Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville is quoted in a StreetsBlog USA article on worsening traffic congestion in and around Los Angeles, especially in the Sepulveda Pass. The completion of the I-405 Sepulveda Pass Improvement Project in 2015 was projected to alleviate congestion, but studies have shown that traffic is worse despite the addition of an extra lane. This phenomenon, known as the law of induced demand, explains how travel time on the pass during rush hour has gone up by 50 percent in the past four years. According to the theory, when the supply of a good (in this case traffic lanes) is increased, more of that good will ultimately be consumed. “So you have a road that is every bit as congested, just wider,” Manville said. On possible fixes for the problem, Manville explained that establishing a toll system may be the best way to combat traffic: “When you do price the road, people switch to transit.” 


 

Manville Provides Context on Congestion Pricing

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.


 

Wachs on New York’s Congestion Pricing Experiment

Martin Wachs, professor emeritus of urban planning, commented on the prospect of congestion pricing in Los Angeles on KPCC’s Airtalk. To reduce traffic, New York passed a proposal to implement congestion pricing in the form of tolls on vehicles entering Manhattan, prompting speculation about the prospect of congestion pricing in other big cities like Los Angeles. In Stockholm, Wachs explained, citizens voted to implement congestion pricing after a seven-month trial period because “they valued the reduction of congestion more highly than they were worried about the cost of entering the congested area.” Wachs predicts that “the Manhattan experiment will reveal how Americans feel about congestion pricing.” While some critics argue that congestion pricing is regressive taxation, Wachs responded that “congestion itself is regressive. Congestion pricing provides an alternative, but it doesn’t require the low-income person to pay the fee if there is an alternative,” such as public transit.


Taylor on Public Opposition to Congestion Pricing

In a Los Angeles Times article about the prospect of congestion pricing in West Los Angeles, Urban Planning Professor Brian Taylor commented on public opposition to the proposed fees. The article explained the findings of the Southern California Association of Governments’ recently published study, which modeled the effects of a $4 fee to enter a 4.3-square-mile area of West Los Angeles and Santa Monica during weekday rush hour. According to the model, such a fee would immediately reduce traffic delays and miles driven within the area by 20%, leading to increases in transit ridership, biking, walking and carpooling. Despite the predicted successes of congestion pricing, many residents of the area expressed their opposition to the proposal. Taylor, director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, said that “people typically oppose the system before they’ve seen it work, [but] they tend to go majority opposition to majority support when they see it in practice.”


Image of traffic on the 101 freeway in Los Angeles

Manville on Congestion Pricing as a National Traffic Strategy

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.”


 

Image of congested road

Manville Weighs In on Congestion Pricing

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.


 

Manville Points to Congestion Pricing as an L.A. Traffic Solution

In response to LA Metro’s ongoing evaluation of different forms of congestion pricing, Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville was featured in a KCRW podcast and an article on LAist explaining how the policy works. “Congestion pricing addresses the root cause of traffic congestion: The price to drive on busy roads at busy times is too low for drivers,” Manville said. “Empirically, it’s the only policy that’s ever been shown to reduce congestion and keep it reduced.” Manville cited economic theory to explain how the “underpricing of goods, like the 405 freeway, results in a shortage.” He likened congestion pricing to metering road use, the “same way we meter the use of services like electricity or water.” Manville also offered the consolation that congestion pricing “does not have to be very prohibitive,” since “the last few vehicles entering the road are responsible for a disproportionate amount of the delay.”


Wachs Discusses Freeway Tolls and Traffic Congestion

UCLA Luskin’s Martin Wachs, distinguished professor emeritus of urban planning, commented in a Los Angeles Times article about freeway tolls and other revenue-generating methods that could get drivers off the road and help reduce traffic congestion. The issue has prompted L.A. Metro officials to push for a study of congestion pricing in Los Angeles, which includes controversial steps such as converting some carpool lanes to toll lanes and charging drivers by the number of miles they travel. The anticipated billions of dollars in revenue could help expand the region’s transit network. “This would take a very dynamic leader and a very committed leader, and most American politicians back away when they see the opposition,” said Wachs, who said he supports the idea as a good first step. The story also mentions a new study by UCLA Luskin’s Michael Manville that analyzes the reasons that people support transit projects.