Less Driving Linked to a Decrease in Roadway Fatalities

A drop in the amount of time spent behind the wheel had little effect on how active Americans were, but did show a significant reduction in car crash deaths, reports the American Journal of Preventive Medicine

Each year, more than 30,000 people die in car crashes in the U.S. Despite safety improvements, motor vehicle fatalities continue to be a leading cause of early mortality. A study by CURS Faculty Fellow and Chair of the Department of City and Regional Planning Noreen McDonald in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine shows that a significant decrease in automobile travel from 2003-2014 correlated with a decrease in the number of crash deaths, with the largest reduction among young men. The study also discovered that at the same time, there was no increase in how active Americans were, meaning physical activity did not replace driving for many people.

See also a related article on this research in CityLab.

Although car use had steadily increased since the invention of the internal combustion engine, the early 2000s marked the beginning of a decline. Between 2004 and 2014, per-capita driving shrank by nearly 600 miles annually. Young adults, millennials born in the 1980s and early 1990s, saw the largest decline. This cutback seemed to correspond with the global economic crisis, rising gas prices, and a general shift in lifestyle habits, including evolving attitudes about travel. Some researchers theorized that the decrease of automobile use might lead to Americans being more physically active as they looked to replace driving as their mode of transport.

McDonald wanted to analyze how the decline in driving time had affected two key areas: changes in physical activity and number of motor vehicle fatalities. She found that while less driving did result in a decrease in deaths, it did not have an impact on activity levels.

“My analysis shows a drop in automobile travel from 2003 to 2014 with the largest decreases among young adults, particularly men,” explained Dr. McDonald. “Despite predictions to the contrary, a substantial decline in auto use has not been accompanied by an increase in time spent in active travel nor in reallocating travel time to exercise. These results accord with analyses from the transport literature that show the drop in driving occurred because Americans were going fewer places, not because they were switching from cars to travel by bus, foot or bicycle.”

The study found that auto travel decreased by 9.2 minutes per day from 2003-2014. Men aged 20-29 years saw the largest drop. Consequently, motor vehicle fatalities showed significant declines among young men, but also across all ages. “Fatalities to motor vehicle occupants dropped significantly during the study period, particularly among millennials,” said McDonald. “Safer cars and better driving training could explain this decline, but the decrease could also be explained by the large and significant drop in driving. Analyses of exposure-adjusted death rates show small declines, suggesting that decreased exposure explains much of the decline in the population-adjusted death rate.”

The amount of time people spent exercising remained unchanged during the study period. “Americans have stayed home more in the recent decade for a complex set of inter-related factors,” stated McDonald. “Technologic advances have eliminated the need for some face-to-face interaction. High gas prices, rising debt, stagnant incomes and increases in unemployment have made driving more costly. Finally, delays in employment, partnering and parenthood have lowered the need for certain types of trips.”

As some of those economic barriers have begun to fade away, people have started to get back behind the wheel. In the future, a major challenge for public health policy makers will be to mitigate the undesired effects of increased driving time. In 2015, for example, 2,348 more people died in car crashes than in 2014. “Our analysis shows that the nearly unprecedented decade-long decline in fatalities that the U.S. experienced through 2014 was connected to declining driving,” concluded McDonald. “This greatly benefited public health through reduced roadway fatalities. The challenge that we must all now work towards is how to maintain the safety record on American roads as population growth, low gas prices and an improving economy lead to more travel.”

 

 

Scaling Up a Place-Based Employment Program: A Jobs Plus Evaluation

Public housing developments are among the most economically-challenged communities in the United States. In fact, many public housing residents face substantial barriers to employment and advancement. Jobs Plus, an initiative of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), aims to help address this problem by providing employment services, offering earned income disregards (earnings increases are not counted when determining rent) and building community support for work. To date, HUD has awarded approximately $62 million to 24 public housing agencies (PHA) to implement Jobs Plus.

The first cohort awarded four-year grants from HUD were the following nine PHAs: Boston, Massachusetts; Charlotte, North Carolina; Chicago, Illinois; Cleveland, Ohio; Houston, Texas; Memphis, Tennessee; Roanoke, Virginia; St. Louis, Missouri; and Syracuse, New York. The housing developments targeted by each of these agencies range in size from 240 to more than 1,500 work-able residents, with employment rates ranging from 21 to 49 percent.

HUD selected a team of three organizations to evaluate the implementation and short-term impacts of this cohort of Jobs Plus programs: MDRC; the National Initiative on Mixed Income Communities (Case Western Reserve University); and the Center for Urban and Regional Studies (UNC-Chapel Hill).

A new interim report, co-authored by CURS researchers Bill Rohe, Kirstin Frescoln and Michael Webb, examines the launch of Jobs Plus and the progress made getting staff in place, building partnerships, delivering services and structuring their program. The report is from an evaluation of HUD’s Job Plus Pilot Program, led by MDRC, which helped develop and evaluated the original Jobs Plus demonstration launched in the late 1990s.

The findings in this first report are meant to characterize the early implementation experiences of the programs. The report draws on site visits and interviews that the research team conducted between August and October 2016. Programs had been in operation for roughly one year at the time of the site visits. This report also includes quantitative data reported to HUD by the sites from April 2015 through September 2016.

Key findings include:

  • Developing Partnerships: All sites had begun to develop partnerships to implement Jobs Plus; however, they varied in terms of the types of partners involved, their roles in delivering Jobs Plus services, the value that they brought to the program, the formality of the partnerships and the level of ongoing engagement of the partner organizations.
  • Delivery of Employment Services: Employment services were more generic and not especially tailored to meet the specific needs and skills of individual participants. In addition, although staff are interested in preparing participants for career-path jobs, they have found this goal difficult to achieve.
  • Jobs Plus Earned Income Disregard (JPEID) Implementation: The JPEID has served to generate resident interest in Jobs Plus and getting residents connected to program services. However, many sites found it challenging to implement this component.
  • Community Support for Work (CSW): Grantees launched various types of discrete CSW activities, but most expressed a need for more clarity about what counts as CSW. As intended, some sites are beginning to take a “universal” approach to implementing CSW, one that requires the commitment and engagement of all staff, residents and partners (and not the sole responsibility of particular Jobs Plus staff members).

Technical Assistance: Overall, site program staff voiced the need for more frequent and concrete guidance and clearer program standards to guide their implementation of Jobs Plus.
Based on these findings, the following recommendations were made:

  • Sites might benefit from deeper, earlier and more frequent technical assistance that is focused squarely on helping to strengthen implementation quality.
  • To meet HUD’s goal that Jobs Plus be demand-driven—that is, informed and shaped by employers’ needs for individuals with certain skills to fill available jobs—sites ultimately need input from employers and business-oriented organizations that can help them understand which industries and occupations are in local demand. Although some sites receive this kind of input and information, many do not, and there is room for improvement at all sites.
  • Sites should strive to minimize residents’ confusion about enrolling in the JPEID. Sites should ensure that they are ready to implement JPEID and that property managers both understand and endorse it. They might also identify messaging about work incentives that appeal to those who are working and those who are not.
  • HUD, local Jobs Plus staffs and other stakeholders could enhance implementation by working collaboratively to define CSW efforts and coming to clear agreement on how to operationalize and measure outcomes effectively.

This report was prepared for U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Policy Development and Research by: Betsy L. Tessler, Nandita Verma , Jonathan Bigelow, Victoria Quiroz-Becerra (MDRC) ; Kirstin P. Frescoln, William M. Rohe , Michael D. Webb (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill); and Amy T. Khare, Mark L. Joseph , Emily K. Miller (Case Western Reserve University).

CURS Welcomes New Faculty Fellows

 

 

 

 

Photos above (left to right) Xiaodong Chen, Julia Haslett, Adam Lovelady, Allie Thomas.

Xiaodong Chen, assistant professor of geography, researches coupled human and natural systems, as well as research on how human activities affect the natural environment, how human livelihood may be changed due to changes in environmental conditions, what are complex interactions among components in human and natural systems, and how human-environment interactions are influenced by policies.

Julia Haslett, assistant professor of communication, makes expressionistic documentary films on historical and contemporary subjects. Currently, she is developing an essay film about environmental history and British botanical exploration in southwest China.

Adam Lovelady, assistant professor of public law and government, works on zoning and land use regulation, land subdivision regulation, community planning, suburban redevelopment, renewable energy and historic preservation.

Allie Thomas, assistant professor of city and regional planning, studies how best practices travel the globe and where they land. She uses ethnographic research methods to understand how “best practices” in transportation are adopted (or not) in developing economies such as China, focusing on planners.

 

How Protest Works

Marion Fayolle

“Do protests and social movements matter? Do they really bring about change?” asks CURS Faculty Fellow Kenneth “Andy” Andrews, professor and chair of sociology at UNC-Chapel Hill, in the October 21, 2017 New York Times Sunday Review.

“Answering this question is tricky. It’s not obvious, for example, how much the recent shift to the right in American politics reflects the efforts of the Tea Party movement and how much it reflects deeper developments such as increasing racial hostility and negative reactions to globalization. Sometimes a movement matters far less than the social, economic and political forces that give rise to the movement itself.

When social scientists do uncover evidence of a movement’s influence, we have tended to focus on three main pathways by which movements gain power: cultural, disruptive and organizational. On its own, each pathway turns out to be limited in its effect. But movements that have managed to combine all three, such as the civil rights movement in the 1950s and ’60s, have had lasting impact.”

Read the full article on the New York Times website here.

A Place Called Home: The Social Dimensions of Homeownership

A Place Called HomeRoberto Quercia, director of UNC’s Center for Community Capital (CCC), and former CCC Researchers Kim Manturuk and Mark R. Lindblad recently authored A Place Called Home, the first book fully dedicated to a rich, rigorous analysis of the social impacts and non-financial effects of affordable homeownership.

Published by Oxford University Press in October 2017, A Place Called Home argues that homeownership is not only important for financial reasons, but also functions as a social tool that can improve the lives of low- and moderate-income people.

Since the onset of the mortgage lending crisis and the subsequent Great Recession, there has been ongoing debate about the economic benefits of homeownership. Some say homeownership remains an important contributor to wealth creation, while others believe that renting is a less expensive and less risky option. This debate has raised an interesting question about homeownership: if the home is not guaranteed to provide a solid return on investment, is there a rationale for promoting homeownership beyond whatever financial benefits it may deliver?

The dataset used in this study comes from a long-term examination of the Ford Foundation-funded Community Advantage Program, an initiative to provide a secondary market outlet for Community Reinvestment Act loans. On an annual basis, the study collected unique household-level information that allowed the authors to measure the social dimensions of homeownership on low-income families. A result was the observation that homeowners, when compared with renters, have: better health outcomes; experience less stress in times of financial hardship; experience a greater sense of trust in their neighbors; have access to more social capital resources; and are more likely to vote.

A Place Called Home argues that homeownership is not only important for financial reasons, but also functions as a social tool that can improve the lives of low- and moderate-income people.

CURS Researchers Speak at Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning Conference 

Michael Webb, Ph.D.

Michael Webb, Ph.D.

Denver, Colorado was the site of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning Conference from October 12-15, 2017. Among the many presenters from UNC-Chapel Hill were Center for Urban and Regional Studies Researchers Michael Webb, Ph.D., and Kirstin Frescoln, Ph.D.

Webb’s presentation, titled “Policy Mobilities and Mutations in the Moving to Work Demonstration,” was based on research conducted for The MTW GuideMoving to Work (MTW) allows participating housing authorities the flexibility to waive certain U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regulations and implement alternative program designs. For instance, some agencies have implemented a work requirement (which are normally prohibited), while others have modified rent calculations for their tenants (public housing residents typically pay 30% of their income as rent).

Despite wide latitude to implement a variety of programs, though, most Moving to Work agencies have implemented very similar activities. Webb’s presentation argued that housing agencies are responding to the same pressures—such as funding cuts, long waitlists and lack of access to high-opportunity neighborhoods for Section 8 residents—and, as a result, their programs look very similar. Staff at Moving to Work agencies are also very interested in seeing the program succeed, and are willing to share best practices with other agencies. Ultimately, sharing policies between agencies may be a good thing, as previously-implemented policies are already tested, have policy language already drafted and implementation issues identified and possibly addressed.

Kirstin Frescoln, Ph.D.

Kirstin Frescoln, Ph.D.

Frescoln’s presentation, titled “Public Housing’s Self-Sufficiency Mandate,” explored the history of self-sufficiency interventions undertaken by public housing agencies (PHAs). In particular, her research sought to understand: 1) Why policy makers established a self-sufficiency mandate within public housing; 2) The relative strengths and challenges of PHAs assuming this role; and 3) Whether this is an appropriate role for a PHA?

In response to public discourse, shifting demographics and changes in PHA funding, housing agencies began experimenting with direct self-sufficiency interventions as early as 1961. While the 1961 Concerted Services project was not deemed successful, Congress established a series of pilot initiatives in the 1980s including Project Self-Sufficiency and Operation Bootstrap that culminated in the Family Self-Sufficiency program in 1990. Other programs have included Community Supportive Services (part of HOPE VI), Resident Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency, Jobs-Plus and various self-sufficiency initiatives launched by Moving to Work.

There are many good reasons for PHAs to engage in self-sufficiency programming; chief among them is the clear identification of a population of need. PHAs can leverage physical co-location and multiple funding streams to directly deliver high-quality programming. The greatest challenges have been lack of capacity within the PHAs, insufficient on-going program evaluation and improvement, poor data collection, and the absence of evidence-based practices to effectively increase economic mobility

Recommendations include providing PHAs with training and technical assistance to more effectively implement existing interventions and HUD funding to support data collection and evaluation of the self-sufficiency programs. Current initiatives to test and evaluate Jobs Plus, Moving to Work and other self-sufficiency policies such as work requirements may lead to the first evidence-based self-sufficiency interventions within public housing.

 

BBC World Service talks to UNC’s Yan Song about “Beijing’s Big Plan”

Xiong’an, a small rural town in China, is set to become a city of 5 million people over the next decade. That’s the government’s plan at least. But could the whole thing end up as an expensive white elephant?

Ed Butler visits the site of this mega project two hours south of Beijing to discover some excited locals and a rather poorly attended fashion show. Could this bucolic setting become the next Shenzhen or Pudong? We hear some scepticism from Yan Song, professor, UNC Department of City and Regional Planning at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and from economist Michael Pettis of the Guanghua School of Management at Peking University.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3cstx0q