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Manville Predicts Return to Pre-Pandemic Traffic as L.A. Reopens

Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville was featured in a KCRW segment on the resurgence of Los Angeles traffic congestion as the car-centric county reopens. “It’s some combination of businesses and recreation areas reopening, combined with quarantine fatigue,” explained Manville to Press Play program host Madeleine Brand. “It’s still well below what we would be experiencing in non-COVID times … but it’s up a bit from the absolute valley it fell to right after the stay-at-home orders were first put into place,” he said. Once the county reopens completely, Manville predicted that traffic will return to what it was like before the pandemic. “Yes, the numbers are creeping up, and I think we just notice that because they had been so low.”  Manville also noted that traffic congestion is the biggest constraint on driving speeds; during the pandemic shutdown, driving speeds increased and the overall number of high-speed collisions remained fairly consistent.


 

Matute Comments on Vehicle Built for One

Juan Matute, urban planning lecturer and deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the New York Times about the Solo, a new electric vehicle built for one. The tiny, three-wheeled car is technically a motorcycle, though it’s fully enclosed and drives like a car with a steering wheel and foot pedals. The single-passenger vehicle provides a clean-energy solution for the 90% of Americans who commute alone by car, truck, van or motorcycle. However, Matute said that American drivers tend to buy “the most capable or largest vehicle that they need,” even if they need that capacity for only 5% of their trips. While other small three-wheeled vehicles have failed, the Solo is entering the market at a time of social distancing, and travelers are hesitant to touch what others have touched. Matute agreed that the Solo makes sense conceptually but argued that “what’s socially desirable and environmentally beneficial isn’t necessarily personally optimal.”


Manville Speaks to Inevitability of Congestion Pricing

Michael Manville, associate professor of urban planning, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the logic behind congestion pricing. While the idea of paying for freeway use has prompted backlash from drivers, transportation experts argue that congestion pricing is the only way to combat the traffic problem in California. “What happens on the 405 every day is what happens at Best Buy and Target on Black Friday,” Manville said. With the implementation of congestion pricing, “those who can afford to pay the fees are able to avoid congestion for a reliable daily commute, while presumably lessening traffic for those who don’t pay and use the general lane,” he said. Toll lane expansion is in the works across the state, including plans in Los Angeles, Riverside, Alameda and Orange counties. “People who study congestion have known for a long time that the only thing [that will relieve congestion] is dynamic pricing,” Manville said.


Taylor on Decline of Driving in the U.S.

Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Wall Street Journal about a decline in driving across the United States. The average number of miles driven per person has declined since its peak in 2004, the report said, citing migration to dense urban areas; young adults’ preference to use alternate modes of transportation; more online working, shopping and streaming; and a growing population of retirees who no longer commute to jobs. The trend is a break from the past, when the country’s driving pattern moved in sync with the economy, with people driving more when times were good. “In the midst of a fairly substantial economic recovery between 2009 and 2017, we’re seeing a decline in person trip-making, which suggests that something pretty fundamental is going on here,” Taylor said.

Blumenberg on Affordable Car Insurance in California

Evelyn Blumenberg, director of the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies and professor of urban planning, spoke to WalletHub about affordable car insurance in California. Studies have shown that drivers from minority neighborhoods have higher insurance rates than other households, and Blumenberg advised states to regulate insurance companies to minimize such disparities. She also encouraged a transparent system of rate-setting that limits the use of factors not linked to driving safety, such as occupation, education and credit score. Blumenberg also pointed out that many drivers have difficulty understanding the full costs of owning a car, such as out-of-pocket expenses as well as congestion, environmental harms and other social costs. But she noted, “If access to a car increases employment outcomes (as many studies show), then the benefits of having a car must be weighed against the costs.”


 

Congestion Pricing Is Good for Drivers, Manville Says

Michael Manville, associate professor of urban planning, was featured in a Government Technology article about Los Angeles’ plan to study congestion pricing to reduce traffic. City officials and LA Metro, the region’s public transit agency, plan to complete the feasibility study within the next two years. Manville said that, while the public should be informed of environmental benefits, such as cutting back emissions and reducing transportation’s total footprint, people should also be aware that congestion pricing would also make driving easier. “If you have a region full of drivers, it’s real important to frame congestion pricing as a policy that is good for drivers,” said Manville, who was speaking at CoMotion, a recent conference on urban mobility.


 

Manville on Public Transit Investment and Ridership Trends

In a San Diego Union-Tribune article about the city’s new high-speed rail proposal, Michael Manville, associate professor of urban planning, highlighted the challenges of implementing public transportation improvements in cities primarily designed for automobile travel. San Diego recently proposed two tax increases to fund billions of dollars in bus and rail investments, but experts worry that it will follow the example of cities like Atlanta, Houston and Los Angeles, which invested heavily in public transit only to lose riders. Manville describes Los Angeles as a “cautionary tale,” explaining that “you can’t take a region that is overwhelmingly designed to facilitate automobile travel and change the way people move around just by laying some rail tracks over it.” To avoid decreases in ridership, transportation experts recommend making it harder to drive by eliminating street parking, ending freeway expansions, limiting suburban home construction and implementing policies like congestion pricing.


Manville Imagines Transit-Oriented Future of Cities

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.” 


Wachs Explains Lack of One-Way Streets in Los Angeles

In an LAist article, Urban Planning Professor Martin Wachs commented on the history behind the lack of one-way streets in Los Angeles compared to East Coast cities. Los Angeles built wide roads to accommodate the automobiles and streetcars popular in the first half of the 20th century, Wachs said. The wide streets and long blocks characteristic of Los Angeles would make one-way streets difficult, he added. Los Angeles experimented by converting Pico and Olympic to one-way streets to ease traffic for the 1984 Olympics, but complaints from residents and business owners resulted in the restoration of two-way traffic. “One-way streets tend to work best when blocks are short and streets are narrow, so cars can easily loop around to reach their destination. When there are five or six lanes of traffic, like Venice Boulevard, cars have to merge over too many lanes to make a turn and the flow of traffic gets messy,” Wachs explained.


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.”