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.
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.”
Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, professor of urban planning and associate provost for academic planning at UCLA; Silvia R. Gonzalez, a doctoral student and researcher at the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge; and Karen Chapple of UC Berkeley conducted a study to analyze the relationship between gentrification, traffic safety and transit-oriented development (TOD). The study, “Transit Neighborhoods, Commercial, Gentrification, and Traffic Crashes: Exploring the Linkages in Los Angeles and the Bay Area,” analyzed the number of collisions near rail stations in L.A. County and the San Francisco Bay Area in both gentrified and non-gentrified areas. The authors had hypothesized that residential and/or commercial gentrification leads to more traffic collision due to increased traffic and increased use of two or more modes of transportation, but the study did not find a significant relationship between residential gentrification and traffic safety in Los Angeles County or the Bay Area. It did, however, find that pedestrians and cyclists are at a higher risk of collision around commercially gentrified stations. Loukaitou-Sideris, Gonzalez and Chapple suggest that policymakers and urban planners pay special attention to commercially gentrified areas. They conclude that “complete street strategies, traffic calming measures, protected bike lanes, controlled intersections, and other traffic safety improvements and regulations can help respond to this threat” of traffic collisions around commercially gentrified TOD stations. The study is part of an ongoing research partnership with the Urban Displacement Project, a research and action initiative at UC Berkeley.
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.
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.
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, 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.”
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.
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.