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.”
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.
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.”
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville’s research on “The Poverty of the Carless: Toward Universal Auto Access” was published in the Journal of Planning Education and Research. Manville and co-authors David King and Michael Smart investigated how vehicle access inequity affects low-income American households. In a society where vehicle access is becoming increasingly necessary, “anyone who can acquire a vehicle will, even if doing so is financially burdensome,” the study explained, noting that “only the most disadvantaged people [are] unable to afford cars.” The research found that “U.S. households without access to a vehicle have steadily lost income, both in absolute terms and compared to those with cars, as the landscapes around them were increasingly shaped to favor the automobile.” Facing objections to universal auto access due to factors such as carbon emissions, the study argued that, “like water and heat, access to cars should be guaranteed and perhaps subsidized for low-income households.” While the long-term goal should be to decrease driving overall, the status quo is comprised of a “small group of people who need vehicles and lack them and a large group who have vehicles and use them needlessly.” Manville and his co-authors recommended treating vehicles as essential infrastructure and working to close gaps in vehicle access for poorer Americans while aiming to decrease overall consumption by the more affluent in the long term. The research was featured a recent Planetizen article and in a Q&A with co-author King. — Zoe Day
In a Curbed Los Angeles article, associate professor of urban planning Michael Manville explained the obstacles to improving public transit in Los Angeles, as found in a new UCLA study. Recognizing “the extent to which we’ve organized the landscape around the car” is key to implementing a successful transit program, he argued. “Seeing that 70 percent of people support a sales tax for more transit might create a false impression that there’s a lot of consensus about building a transit-oriented city,” he said. Many voters supported the Measure M sales tax in hopes of reducing their own drive time but haven’t displayed interest in actually riding public transportation. The UCLA study concluded that transit systems thrive in places where it’s difficult or expensive to drive. In a city built for cars, Los Angeles may have to make it harder to drive in order to make public transit work.
Juan Matute, deputy director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, commented in a story on the California Air Resources Board’s efforts to reduce daily driving, or vehicle miles traveled (VMT), as a way to curb greenhouse gas emissions in the state. “As electricity becomes cleaner, the proportion of total statewide [greenhouse gas] emissions from transportation is increasing,” Matute said in a story that originated with the San Diego Union-Tribune. “Cars have a long turn-over cycle, and our urban and regional design has an even longer time horizon for change.”