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).

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.

The Impacts of Individual Development Accounts, Assets, and Debt on Future Orientation and Psychological Depression

Journal of Policy PracticeIn an article published in the Journal of Policy Practice, William Rohe, Clinton Key, Michal Grinstein-Weiss, Mark Schreiner and Michael Sherraden analyze data from a randomized controlled experiment involving 1,103 applicants to an Individual development accounts (IDA) program.

IDAs have been adopted in communities across the United States as a way of helping lower-income individuals accrue financial assets. These programs match the savings of program participants if they invest them in the purchase of a home, the creation or expansion of a business, or additional education.

Beyond the financial benefits of holding assets, scholars have argued that they should also result in psychological benefits such as enhanced future orientations and decreased depression. This study tests this argument. The findings show that assignment to the IDA program was not associated with either future orientation or depression 10 years later. The value of assets held at that time, however, was found to be negatively associated with depression. In addition, self-reported financial stress was found to be negatively associated with future orientation and positively associated with depression.

William M. Rohe is director of the UNC Center for Urban and Regional Studies and Cary C. Boshamer Distinguished Professor in the department of city and regional planning at UNC-Chapel Hill. Clinton Key is a researcher with the Pew Charitable Trusts. Michal Grinstein-Weiss is a professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis. Mark Schreiner is a senior scholar in the Center for Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis and also director of Microfinance Risk Management. Michael Sherraden is the Benjamin E. Youngdahl Professor of Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis.

Scaling Up a Place-Based Employment Program: Highlights From the Jobs Plus Pilot Program Evaluation

Scaling Up a Place-Based Employment Program: Highlights From the Jobs Plus Pilot Program EvaluationReleased on September 8, 2017 by the Office of Policy Development and Research at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Scaling Up a Place-Based Employment Program: Highlights From the Jobs Plus Pilot Program Evaluation was co-authored by the UNC Center for Urban and Regional Studies Director William M. Rohe and Researchers Kirstin Frescoln and Michael D. Webb.

The original Jobs Plus demonstration was launched in 1998. Of the six sites that were part of the demonstration, only three fully implemented the model. When fully implemented, the model increased tenants’ earned income by 16%. The Jobs Plus model was replicated in 2011 in San Antonio and the Bronx through the Social Innovation Fund (SIF).

HUD is now in the process of scaling up the Jobs Plus model. In April 2015, HUD announced the first cohort of Jobs Plus grant awards to nine sites. Scaling Up a Place-Based Employment Program: Highlights From the Jobs Plus Pilot Program Evaluation is an interim report evaluating the start-up of the nine grantees in the first cohort. These sites have implemented the model more quickly and fully than the original demonstration and the SIF replication sites. Within the first 18 months, all nine sites had begun structuring their programs, building partnerships and implementing the core components of the Jobs Plus model.

Jobs Plus

First-Time Homebuying: Attitudes and Behaviors of Low-Income Renters Through the Financial Crisis

Housing StudiesIn this article published in Housing Studies, Mark Lindblad, Hye-Sung Han, Siyun Yu and William M. Rohe use psychological theory to investigate how attitudes toward homebuying relate to first-time home purchases over the past decade.

Homeownership rates in the US have dropped to 20-year lows, but whether views toward homebuying shifted due to the financial crisis is not known because studies have not compared attitudes for the same respondents pre- and post-crisis. The authors address this gap with 2004–2014 panel data from low-income renters. They found that a negative shift in homebuying attitudes is associated with a decline in first-time home purchases. Older renters aged more than 35 years at baseline report the greatest declines in homebuying intentions. Younger renters aged 18–34 also report diminished homebuying intentions, yet express highest overall levels of homebuying intentions pre- and post-crisis. Blacks report greater homebuying intentions although their odds of home purchase are 29 percent lower than whites. Homebuying norms and favorability are associated with homebuying intentions but not with actual purchases, while perceived control over homebuying influences both outcomes.

Mark Lindblad is a research fellow at the UNC Center for Community Capital. Hye-Sung Han is an assistant professor in urban affairs at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (and a Ph.D. graduate from UNC-Chapel Hill). Siyun Yu was awarded her Ph.D. in statistics and operations research at UNC-Chapel Hill in May 2017. William M. Rohe is director of the UNC Center for Urban and Regional Studies and Cary C. Boshamer Distinguished Professor in the department of city and regional planning at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Bike&Place: A New Modeling Tool to Help Planners Help Cyclists

Washington Street, Houston, Mississippi: Streetscape rendering after implementing downtown, trail-oriented growth. Image Courtesy Brian Morton.

You’d like to bike downtown for your job, to go shopping or to attend an event. Those first few blocks near home seem safe enough, but you get a bit worried when traffic gets heavier. It turns out, you’re not alone in how traffic stress affects your willingness to bicycle. CURS researcher Brian J. Morton has developed a tool that will help town planners design more cyclist-friendly networks around signature places in their community.

In a recent study for the Southeastern Transportation Research, Innovation, Development and Education Center (STRIDE), Morton used an open-source software package to create an easy-to-use travel demand model for use by planners working in towns and small cities. Morton’s goal was to build a product that predicts demand for bicycle travel by “interested but concerned” cyclists. Called Bike&Place, Morton’s tool helps planners increase bicycle accessibility.

Roger Geller, bicycle coordinator for Portland, Oregon, created a typology of four kinds of cyclists: strong and fearless; enthused and confident; interested but concerned; and “no way no how.” In a national survey, participants were categorized into those four types in the following percentages: 7 percent; 5 percent; 51 percent; and 37 percent. The 51 percent of “interested but concerned” noted that they “like riding a bicycle…and they would like to ride more. But, they are afraid to ride….Very few of these people regularly ride bicycles… [and they] will not venture out onto the arterials to the major commercial and employment destinations they frequent.…They would ride if they felt safer on the roadways—if cars were slower and less frequent, and if there were more quiet streets with few cars and paths without any cars at all.”

Three small towns in Mississippi were used to develop and test Bike&Place. In Houston, Mississippi (population 3,623), Bike&Place estimates that less than 2 percent of the town’s residential neighborhoods have bicycle access to Courthouse Square, one of the town’s focal points. With an improved network, bicycle access to Courthouse Square could increase to 83 percent.

Morton hopes Bike&Place will make it easier for planners to map traffic stress problem areas and find solutions to make biking less stressful for the large numbers of interested but concerned cyclists and increase the likelihood that they will bike to important community locations. The project report, “Bike&Place: A New Tool for Designing Active, Place-Making Transportation Networks – An Exploratory Study,” provides detailed instructions on how to adapt Bike&Place to other places. For more information on using this tool, contact Morton here.

Editor’s Note: On June 28, 2017, Morton gave a Bike&Place presentation at the 2017 National Regional Transportation Conference in Denver, CO, sponsored by the National Association of Development Organizations

Chinese Cities and the Use of Urban Planning to Help Control Air Quality

Rapid growth and greatly expanded motor vehicle ownership and usage have contributed to serious air pollution across China. In 2014 alone, Beijing endured more than twenty days with almost ten times the national ambient air quality limit, causing public health issues. Can better urban form reduce air pollution?

Photo by Bill Rohe

In collaboration with four UNC Program on Chinese Cities (PCC) visiting scholars, Director of the PCC and CURS Faculty Fellow Yan Song recently published a paper in the Journal of Planning Education and Research evaluating this question.

Based on evidence gathered from 157 Chinese cities, this study analyzed the effects of aspects of urban form metrics on concentrations of ambient pollutants. Greater population density, more centralized development and better street accessibility were found to have a significant correlation with lower concentrations of air pollutants, while a higher level of urban sprawl may have a negative impact on air quality.

“The influence of urban form on pollution,” said Song, “is comparable to the effects of other factors like weather conditions.” Cities with urban sprawl are more likely to contain higher levels of air pollution, which should draw wide attention from local governments and planners in China. “These findings indicate that urban form could play a modest, but important, role in improving air quality for Chinese cities,” noted Song.

Click here to read the full here.

Post-Disaster Recovery Plans after China’s Wenchuan Earthquake

At 2:28 pm on May 12, 2008, the Wènchuān dà dìzhèn (literally “Great Wenchuan earthquake”) registered 8.0 on the Richter magnitude scale. As the 21st deadliest earthquake of all time, the Wenchuan (also known as Sichuan) earthquake took more than 69,000 lives and left about 4.8 million people homeless. On November 6, 2008, China announced that it would spend about $146.5 billion over the next three years to rebuild areas ravaged by the earthquake as part of the Chinese economic stimulus program.

Wenchuan

Natural disasters such as this have long been considered one of the major challenges confronting humankind. In recent years, both the incidence and frequency of natural disasters have increased. It is also evident that losses due to natural catastrophic events have increased dramatically over decades.

In this context, post-disaster recovery practices have become more common and research on disaster recovery within the academic community is also increasing. Many of these studies suggest that urgency and uncertainty in the aftermath of disasters lead to short-term decision-making that does not address, or may even amplify, pre-disaster social, economic and environmental weaknesses, which are the main challenges to long-term sustainability. Therefore, it is essential to incorporate sustainability into the disaster recovery process.

In a recent article published in the Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, Center for Urban and Regional Studies (CURS) Faculty Fellow and Director of the Program on Chinese Cities Yan Song, Chaosu Li, a UNC Department of City and Regional Planning doctoral candidate, and their colleagues examined 16 local recovery plans developed in response to the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake.

Through a CURS-supported, National Science Foundation-funded grant, planning documents from the affected areas were analyzed and evaluated, and in-depth interviews with government officials, planners and researchers were conducted. Song and her colleagues found that the local recovery plans do not appear to have sufficiently incorporated concepts of sustainability.

The severely devastated town of Jundao in Sichuan Province during the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake. (Wikipedia photo)

Photo above: The severely devastated town of Jundao in Sichuan Province during the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake. (Wikipedia photo)

The report’s findings reveal five challenges for incorporating sustainability into disaster recovery plans. These include: limited inclusion of environmental and equity goals; limitations to local planning capacity; insufficient enforcement tools; inadequate stakeholder engagement; and weak interagency coordination.

“The Chinese central government has emphasized ‘eco-reconstruction’ as the overarching goal for disaster recovery after the Wenchuan earthquake,” explained Song. “Nevertheless, disaster recovery goals at the local level were still economics-oriented.”

Song and her colleagues suggest the following four steps to improve the local disaster recovery planning process:

First, efforts must be made to include sustainability within a plan’s visions and goals. Environmental goals and achievements should be evaluated in the promotion of government officials. Policy frameworks should be formalized, with visions translated into goals encompassing different dimensions of sustainability that can be measured and tracked. For instance, to achieve the vision of providing a sustainable future for its citizens, one goal could be “mitigating secondary flood hazards,” with an objective to “reduce peak runoff volume.” These policy frameworks must be shared with other government agencies to support the implementation of policy action items by other agencies.

Second, data-sharing mechanisms should be enhanced. “We recommend that planning departments at city and provincial levels possess backups of basic data for areas that are prone to natural disasters,” said Song. “Basic ecological, geological and socioeconomic data at the local level should be shared across government agencies.”

The road heading to Wenyuan, the epicenter of 2008 Sichuan Earthquake. (Wikipedia photo)

Photo above: The road heading to Wenyuan, the epicenter of 2008 Sichuan Earthquake. (Wikipedia photo)

Third, planning techniques such as hazard exposure analyses, ecological impact analyses and ecological carrying capacity assessments should be applied during the early stages of the plan-making process to ensure sufficient sustainability considerations. “In the Chinese context, where a top-down approach often plays the primary role in guiding urban planning, the central government can lead in designing tools and policy actions for sustainability,” explained Song.

Finally, interagency collaboration is an important way to alleviate the existing fragmentation in governmental structure. In the current local government setting in China, agencies involved in, or responsible for, sustainability-related issues include the Development and Reform Commission, the Department of Environment Protection, the Department of Land Resources and Planning, the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Department of Forestry and Agriculture and the Department of Transportation. Because sustainability touches issues administered by this wide range of agencies, developing a framework for interagency coordination is critical for promoting sustainability.

“It is laudable that China has begun to recognize the importance of sustainability in post-disaster recovery planning,” said Song, “and it is especially notable that sustainability was prominently reflected in State Council policies for post-earthquake reconstruction. While this disaster provided a moment to make a statement about sustainable recovery, it also created a situation in which it was difficult to actually accomplish these goals. It may be that Chinese planning practices are able to achieve greater sustainability in situations that allow for more time and deliberation.”

Better Cities, Better Growth: Lessons for India’s Urban Opportunity

Better Cities, Better GrowthIndia is experiencing an urban transformation with its urban population reaching 420 million in 2015 (33 percent of total). This is expected to nearly double by 2050 to 800 million, with close to 400 million additional people living in towns and cities by 2050 (50 percent of total). By 2031, 75 percent of India’s national income is expected to come from cities and a majority of new jobs will be created in urban areas.

“Given the rapidity of change and long-lived nature of urban form and infrastructure, the decisions that India’s policy makers make in the next five to fifteen years will lock in its urban pathway for decades to come,” said CURS Faculty Fellow Meenu Tewari, associate professor, Department of City and Regional Planning at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “There are real choices to be made.”

Global evidence, gathered in a year-long effort by a team led by Tewari, suggests that an extensive, “sprawled” model of urban growth—with cities oriented around the private vehicle rather than people—can have significant economic, social and environmental costs which undermine prosperity. On the other hand, more compact, connected and coordinated cities can be more productive, socially-inclusive, resilient, cleaner and safer, unleashing the benefits of urban agglomeration.

Meenu Tewari

Meenu Tewari

A new synthesis report by Tewari for the India New Climate Economy Partnership focuses on how India can aim to foster a better urbanization — one that promotes more rapid economic transformation, improves the quality of life of city dwellers and curbs the potential harmful spillovers of urbanization, such as congestion, wasteful energy use and unwanted pollution.

The report draws on an innovative blend of nighttime lights (satellite) data and census, environmental and economic data to paint a picture of recent trends in India’s urbanization and the relationships that exist in Indian cities between types of urban expansion and transport connectivity, and economic performance. It looks at the potential nationwide costs of a “sprawled” model of urbanization, as well as noting some of the current policies and institutional conditions that create incentives for such a model of urbanization. Using case studies of four Indian cities—Bangalore, Indore, Pune and Surat—the report delves more deeply into how this model of urban growth might exacerbate key deficits in basic urban services. It concludes by suggesting policy recommendations to accelerate a better form of urbanization.