An Agence France-Presse story featured comments by Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, professor of urban planning, and Martin Wachs, professor emeritus of urban planning, on the status of California’s high-speed rail project. The original plan to connect Los Angeles and San Francisco was revised by Gov. Gavin Newsom in February to link Merced and Bakersfield instead, a distance only a third of the originally planned route. Construction delays and unexpected budget increases have prompted criticism of the “train to nowhere.” Loukaitou-Sideris weighed in on the curtailed route. “It absolutely does not make sense,” she said. “Any transit project needs big [urban] centers as origins and destinations, and so to have something like that … all but kills the project.” Wachs agreed, arguing that “California should have capitalized on its existing rail network, including that currently dedicated to freight.” The AFP story was picked up by several news outlets, including Yahoo! News and Daily Mail.
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.”
Director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA and former LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky spoke to NBC 4 about the implications presented by Senate Bill 50. The bill would allow cities to rezone along transit lines in order to increase the amount of high-density housing in California. Yaroslavsky said this would be an overreach without a middle ground. Many single-family neighborhoods would be rezoned to develop multifamily housing because SB 50 extends to virtually every bus line in L.A. County, he said. As the bill currently stands, it exempts small, affluent cities. “Don’t exempt the affluent cities. Treat everybody the same,” Yaroslavsky said.
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.”
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.
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.”
By Naveen Agrawal
With Metro spending billions of dollars in Los Angeles over the next few years and transit-oriented development seen as key to denser building, encouraging ridership and mitigating environmental issues, the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies hosted a panel on Feb. 20, 2019, around the topic of coupling more housing to transit.
Held in partnership with the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate as part of the Housing, Equity and Community Series, the event focused on some of the latest local and statewide developments. It featured a panel of professional and practicing experts moderated by Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy at UCLA Luskin and associate director of the Lewis Center.
Framing the discussion was UCLA Urban Planning Associate Professor Michael Manville, who shared results from a recently released Lewis Center report on what a transit-oriented future might look like, focusing on five current — and two planned — Metro rail and bus stations. The report emphasized the impact that land use patterns can have on transit ridership and neighborhood quality, and it offered recommendations for future zoning scenarios.
Manville spoke of framing a narrative around two different transit and housing systems: what we have and what we want. Among the discrepancies between the visions is that much of the city’s housing is concentrated around where train stations used to be — not where they are today.
Arthi Varma, deputy director of the city’s planning department, shared some of the early results of its Transit Oriented Communities (TOC) Affordable Housing Incentive Program. Created in November 2016 by voter approval of Measure JJJ, the TOC program is a local-density program available within one-half mile of major transit stops.
In 2018, its first full year of implementation, half of all applications for new dwelling units were filed under the TOC program, Varma said. Of the applications received since the program has been active, 18 percent (2,377 out of 13,305) are affordable units. The Planning Department issues quarterly housing reports.
Laura Raymond, director of the Alliance for Community Transit, shared her perspective on the development of the TOC program. In particular, she emphasized that many low-income communities surveyed by her organization expressed strong preference for increased density.
From a community organizing perspective, this issue is one that spans transit and housing, Raymond stressed, but discussion is also needed around labor markets and the types of jobs created near transit — as well as environmental justice.
Elizabeth Machado, an attorney at Loeb & Loeb, LLP, provided an overview of the factors that make it difficult to build in Los Angeles, which include the high price of land, zoning limitations and political challenges. The state has delegated most planning and zoning issues to localities, Machado said, but she noted the introduction of SB 50 as a move by Sacramento to accelerate local governance or force action from the top down.
Women have good reason to be concerned for their safety and fear harassment on public transportation, according to UCLA Luskin’s Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, who has studied women’s use of transit around the world for decades. “We know that women are much more afraid than men,” commented the UCLA urban planning professor in a Wired story about new research on the overall experiences of riders, especially women, on public transportation. “As expected, many more women are sexually harassed, and it is a big concern and extremely under-reported,” Loukaitou-Sideris said, suggesting that better strategies — like more lighting at and around stations and more working staff nearby — be implemented so that riders feel safer when using public transportation. Loukaitou-Sideris also commented on KPCC 89.3 radio’s “Air Talk” regarding ways to increase ridership and make transit safer for women.