Research Team: PI: Michael Manville Team:
About this project:
I propose translational research to clarify the relationships between congestion, road pricing, density and transit ridership. My research work over the past five years has addressed all of these issues, but the work exists mostly in the atomized form required of academic journals. Now, however, these concerns are converging in California, and policymakers are asking for answers about them. In the past year I have begun trying to provide those answers, through op-eds, articles in Transfers, explainer documents, and many meetings with media, policymakers and elected officials. But the nature of work at an R1 means I can only devote so many resources to that task.
I will use ITS funding to create a series of “explainer” documents, with the help of a PhD student. The explainers will inform both policymakers and the public about these issues. The translational activity I propose will include short policy briefs, op-eds, and meetings with interested policymakers in Los Angeles and Sacramento. It may also build into the foundation for a book proposal, with the book being aimed at a more popular rather than an academic audience.
What problem does this research aim to address?
In California, driving is cheap and housing is expensive, and both these facts impede the state’s progress toward sustainability, safety and affordability. Efforts to solve these problems, however, often operate on parallel tracks: bold plans to increase housing production say little about congestion, and plans to address congestion rarely discuss the housing crisis. While these omissions are often understandable, they create a situation where policy proposals to solve one problem often founder on concerns about the other one. Proposals to allow more development, even near transit, encounter resistance from neighbors concerned that development will bring congestion. Similarly, proposals to price roads encounter resistance based on the concern that California is already extremely expensive, and people have to live far from where they work because of the housing crisis. Somehow this policy gridlock must be resolved, if California will meet its stated goals of reducing VMT, reducing emissions, and building millions of units of housing.
What are the expected impacts and benefits of the research?
I propose 4-5 policy briefs over the course of a year. These briefs will also, I hope, yield the opportunity for op-eds, testimony to local and state officials, speaking engagements, and other translational activities. I expect the policy briefs to be circulated via UCLA ITS, and posted on the ITS Traffic Congestion web page as a continuing resource. At the end of the year I will write a final report documenting all my Most of my output will be policy briefs.
The briefs will (provisionally) address the following topics. In consultation with colleagues at UCLA ITS and with local officials and policymakers, the precise topics might change.
1. The Logic of Road Pricing: Put simply, this brief explains why congestion pricing reduces congestion and nothing else does. The brief will explain pricing and congestion, and draw on analogous concepts like infrastructure metering to make the idea more approachable and less foreign. It will explain congestion’s nonlinearity, and then use triple convergence to explain why adding new road or transit capacity cannot reduce congestion (although it can, in the case of rail, allow people to avoid congestion that exists.)
2. Public transportation, density and congestion: Public transportation is often advertised as a salve for traffic congestion: a way to make driving easier. Yet the reality is quite different: with very few exceptions, transit is most effective in places where driving is harder. Transit thrives on the same density that often causes congestion. When driving is cheap and easy, people drive, not ride transit. The brief will use this reasoning to explain why our transit efforts should be built around high-quality service for transit riders, not saving time for drivers.
3. New Housing Development and Congestion: This explainer addresses the concern that increases in urban density will be unavoidably accompanied by increases in traffic congestion. The explainer first emphasizes that the relationship between development density and congestion is real, but that it can be mitigated sharply by accurately pricing congested roads. The explainer then emphasizes that even in the absence of pricing, congestion paradoxically creates less problem in dense places if planners do not try to mitigate it in conventional ways. When cities regulate density in a way that accommodates cars—through high parking requirements or widened roads—they do not reduce congestion, but do deprive density of many of its benefits. This may grow into an additional brief, since the topic of hiding transportation costs in housing development is a large one.
4. The Fairness of Pricing Travel: I have done considerable outreach work on this topic already, but it remains a controversial issue, and thus will likely warrant additional explanation. This explainer will touch on issues of double-taxation, of equity and regressivity, and of the pollution and crash externalities of congestion.
A fifth explainer is also possible, again depending on how policy debates unfold in the coming year.