A Driving Factor in Moving to Opportunity

Evelyn Blumenberg and Gregory Pierce

In 1992, the US Congress authorized the Moving to Opportunity (MTO) housing voucher program to operate in five large metropolitan areas: Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. The MTO program represented a radical departure from standard housing assistance programs, which clustered participants in very poor neighborhoods that offered few opportunities. Running counter to previous policy, MTO used an experimental framework to assess how moving households on assistance to low-poverty neighborhoods can affect their employment, education, and household income. Under the program, residents were randomly assigned into three groups. The first group received housing vouchers that could be used only in neighborhoods with poverty rates under 10 percent. The second group received similar housing vouchers but with no neighborhood restrictions. The third group did not receive vouchers but remained eligible for public housing and other social programs.

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Going Mental: Everyday Travel and the Cognitive Map

Andrew Mondschein, Evelyn Blumenberg, and Brian D. Taylor

How do you get to work? Do you have a preferred route to your favorite restaurant? To the nearest hospital? To Disneyland? If you know—or think you know—the answers to any of these questions, then your cognitive map is at work. Humans rely on mental maps to store knowledge of places and routes in order to engage in travel and activities. People use their cognitive maps to decide where to go and how to get there. But accessibility research has largely ignored this essential aspect of travel behavior, despite the fact that a trip won’t happen without prior knowledge of a destination and potential routes to it. As cities become larger and more dispersed, good information about opportunities and travel systems is more important than ever. Download the PDF.

Equity as a Factor in Surface Transportation Politics

Alan Altshuler

By far the largest federal infrastructure grant program in the United States is for highways and urban mass transportation, totaling $60 billion in 2011 alone. Two of the three most recent multi-year authorizations for surface transportation programs, enacted in 1998 and 2005, featured equity in their formal titles. Many states argued that, to be equitable, federal highway aid should mirror revenue flows from each state into the federal Highway Trust Fund. In contrast, few argued for equity on behalf of the poor and disabled. Download the PDF.

Transportation, Jobs, and Economic Growth

Martin Wachs

American politicians are bitterly divided on many matters of public policy, yet they seem to agree that spending on transportation programs creates jobs and thus constitutes a path out of the nation's long and deep recession. Infrastructure investments are prescribed to stimulate the economy in the short term by creating construction employment, and to foster longer-term economic growth by making the transportation system more efficient and reliable. Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, rural and urban elected officials—all seek funding for roads and transit projects in their districts, asserting repeatedly that these expenditures will create jobs. President Obama vigorously sought to create jobs through transportation spending in the recent economic stimulus package. This seemed familiar: in 1991, when signing the historic Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA), President George H.W. Bush stated that the value of the bill "is summed up by three words: jobs, jobs, jobs."

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Just Road Pricing

Lisa Schweitzer and Brian D. Taylor

Economists have long advocated road pricing as an efficient way to reduce congestion and improve the environment. Many critics, however, object to road pricing on the grounds that it unfairly burdens low-income drivers. Implicit in these objections is the idea that existing transportation finance methods burden the poor less, or at least spread the burden more fairly. Most of the equity concerns about road pricing stem from the fact that it is regressive; that is, poorer people spend a larger share of their incomes on tolls than do wealthier people. But in the US, road systems are financed primarily through fuel taxes, vehicle registration fees, property taxes, and, increasingly, sales taxes—all of which are also regressive. Thus the relevant question is not simply whether road pricing is regressive, or even if it will burden the poor. The relevant question is whether road pricing will burden the poor more than other ways of paying for roads.

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Paved with Good Intentions: Fiscal Politics, Freeways and the 20th Century American City

Jeffrey R. Brown, Eric A. Morris, and Brian D. Taylor

Stuck in traffic in Washington, DC in 1959, President Eisenhower was shocked to learn that the delay was being caused by Interstate Highway construction. Surely the Interstates were being built between cities, not in them. The President demanded to know who was responsible for this state of affairs, only to be told that he was; it was the result of legislation he had signed three years earlier. Aghast, Eisenhower attempted to get the federal government out of the urban freeway business. But it was too late: the program had built up momentum that not even he could halt.

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Down to the Meter: Localized Vehicle Pollution

Douglas Houston, Jun Wu, Paul Ong, and Arthur Winer

Air pollution control programs have helped improve many aspects of regional air quality over the past thirty years despite tremendous growth in both population and vehicle-miles traveled. However, regional strategies to confront vehicle-related pollution are proving to be insufficient to protect the health of those who live, work, attend school, or play near major roadways. Recent air pollution and epidemiological findings suggest that harmful vehicle-related pollutants and their associated adverse health effects concentrate within a couple hundred meters of heavily traveled freeways and thoroughfares. We’re just beginning to understand the health and economic costs of such localized effects, and we still know little about who is exposed to