Research Recap, March 26: Urban Highways, Unaffordable Housing, Driving Distractions

EMBARQ's new report on urban highways looks at the benefits of tearing down car-centric infrastructure. Photo by Jason Rodman.

Welcome to “Research Recap,” our series highlighting recent reports, studies and other findings in sustainable transportation policy and practice, in case you missed it.

Urban Highways

EMBARQ, the producer of this blog, released a new study last week on urban highways. Written in collaboration with the Institute of Transportation and Development Policy, the study re-appraises the specific conditions under which it makes sense to build urban highways and when it makes sense to tear them down. The report showcases five cities that demonstrate the social, economic and environmental benefits that accrue when urban highways are removed or reconsidered. The report explains that fixing cities harmed by freeways, and improving public transportation, involve context-specific solutions, but also reinforces the idea that freeways are universally the wrong design solution for cities.

“Affordable” Housing Is Unaffordable

According to a new report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, with higher rents and stagnant wages, affordable housing is increasingly becoming a scarce commodity. The group calculated how many hours of work would be required at a minimum wage salary to be able to afford a two-bedroom unit. The calculations were based on the government’s measure for the monthly cost of a “modest, non luxury rental unit” in a specific area, plus utilities. The group found that a 40-hour week on minimum wage was not enough in any U.S. state to be able to afford the government’s definition of Fair Market Rent.

Distracted Teen Drivers

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that the use of electronic devices is the leader among distracted driving behaviors, and that teenage girls are twice as likely as boys to use cell phones or other electronic devices while driving. Not surprisingly, talking on the phone or texting were the two most common behaviors distracting young drivers, more so than adjusting controls, grooming, eating or drinking, or engaging in horseplay or loud conversations with passengers. The findings come from data derived from video recording of 50 families with young drivers. Sudden brakes and abrupt turns triggered data recordings, resulting in more than 24,000 driving clips taken over a six-month period of 52 teen drivers.

Encouraging Physical Activity in Youth

Children and teenagers living in areas with “urban trails” are twice as likely to participate in vigorous physical activity, according to research from the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga. The mere presence of urban trails provides greater access and opportunities for active recreation, the study’s lead explains. Previous research has examined the impact of community infrastructure on physical activity levels, but it has mostly focused on middle- or high-income neighborhoods. The reconstruction of an inner-city community in Chattanooga with a two-mile-long urban trail allowed the researchers to explore the relationship between the built environment and physical activity in a low-income setting.

Green Downtown

New research from the Mineta Transportation Institute documents that vibrant downtown areas are associated with lower greenhouse gas emissions from driving and with greater public transit use. The report looks at two factors: 1) how does proximity to the city center affect household GHG production from driving, and the likelihood of taking public transit, and 2) the effect of downtown vibrancy on transportation and land use. The study encourages policymakers to rethink land use regulations, continue investments to reduce city center crime, and increase local public school quality.

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