What City Observatory did this week

1. Uber and Lyft: A dynamic duo(poly)? The continued growth of the ride-hailing industry has been something we’ve followed closely. New data show that in most major markets across the country, Lyft has been gaining market share at the expense of industry leader Uber. This rivalrous duopoly has important benefits for consumers, even if it falls short of a highly contested market with many competitors.

2. Where should affordable housing be built?  Is it better to build affordable housing in low income neighborhoods, or higher income neighborhoods? Our colleague Daniel Hertz explores the conflicting arguments here. To be sure, there is some evidence of externalities associated with building low income housing in higher income neighborhoods, but the data show these effects are small and geographically limited. Building more affordable housing in low income neighobrhoods often perpetuates the concentration of poverty, which has been shown to have detrimental long-term effects on economic mobility.

3. Remember: There’s no such thing as a “Free” way. There’s growing interest around the nation, in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Portland, to name a few, to implement road pricing. While paying a price to use the road seems like an added burden, it isn’t, because despite their name, freeways aren’t free.  Un-priced roads in urban environments trigger excessive demand, and as a result we end up rationing road space according to desperation and traveler tolerance for delay. Pricing can encourage some travelers with flexibility to travel at other times, choose different modes or routes, or travel to other destinations, reducing traffic flows enough to provide all travelers with better service. Congestion pricing can be a win-win that makes the road system perform better for users, and save billions by avoiding the need to construct additional capacity.

Must read

1. How segregation leads to racist voting by whites.  Writing at Vox, Ryan Enos explores how neighborhood and community level racial and ethnic change can trigger racist voting patterns by whites. Using both observational data and experiments, he shows that the expansion of groups of “others” is associated with more in-group attitudes and actions. Integration appears to be a key antidote to this phenomenon: when racial and ethnic groups are more interspersed at the neighborhood level, the suspicions and animosities abate, and with them voting patterns are less polarized.

2. More hidden bias against pedestrians and in favor of cars. Our must reads are invariably articles on the web, but this week, our must read is a tweet from Don Kostelec. He flags a major inconsistency between the way the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports the role of alcohol in deaths of pedestrians and motorists. Its data show the number of drivers killed with a blood alcohol level of 0.08%, but reports as pedestrians killed with blood alcohol levels of just 0.01%. As he points out, that’s the level you’d have after a couple of tablespoons of cough syrup. The effect is to greatly magnify the “drinking while walking” scourge as a contributor to traffic deaths. As Don tweets: “Great bias here by & reason to be skeptical when you see reports blaming pedestrians with alcohol in their bloodstream. They use 0.01 BAC (a dose of cough syrup) for pedestrians vs. 0.08 BAC (a few beers) for drivers.”

3. Stockholm’s lesson on congestion pricing: seeing is believing. There’s natural reluctance to want to pay for something that you think is free, and so little wonder that there’s resistance to implementing urban congestion pricing. But in practice, once the congestion pricing system is up and running, and people see that pricing means shorter, surer travel times and less congestion, they recognize they’re getting value for money. Transit Center hosted Stockholm Transportation Director Jonas Eliasson who explained the evolution of public perception about pricing from its rocky start in 2006, to its widespread acceptance today.  Now, some 70 percent of the city’s population support the system.  The message to US cities: Just do it!

New knowledge

The Urban Institute has a wide ranging report with recommendations for restoring the economic fortunes of the rust belt. Entitled “Building Ladders of Opportunity for Young People in the Great Lakes States,” the report assembles research on public finance, demographics, education, criminal justice and economic development to identify steps that will improve the well being of residents of this region. The breadth of the report makes it clear this will be no easy task. Its critical that the public sector do a better job with education beginning with more early childhood education and buttressed with neo-natal visitations, child health insurance and paid family leave. Making these new investments will be challenging, in large part due to the costs associated with an aging population, including increasing demands for health care and unfunded pension costs.

In the news

Writing in the Washington Examiner,  “In defense of gentrification” Michael Barone cites our work looking at the patterns of income distribution within different cities.

The National Real Estate Investor named our piece on the high cost of affordable housing one of its ten must read articles last week.