Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Comprehensive planning vs. piecemeal legislation: the difference between NYC and DC

OK, so Mayor Bloomberg didn't get approval from the State Legislature to introduce Congestion charges for road access in Manhattan. Still, PlaNYC outlines many transportation initiatives. And he picked a good leader for the Transportation Department ("A New Commissioner Enters the Fray Against Gridlock" from the New York Times). And, the intent of the Congestion fee was to fund improvements to transportation infrastructure, in particular transit.

From "Bloomberg: Congestion Pricing Only Part of PlaNYC" in the New York Observer:

“We’d also have to dramatically expand our city and regional mass transit system. New York built more than 700 miles of subway lines in the first half of the 20th century; since then, expansion of our subway system has essentially stopped. And during the 1960s and 1970s, so did maintenance of the system. The subways went to seed – and the rest of the city nearly followed.

“Since then, we’ve brought our subways back. But in order to sustain our economic growth, we have to invest in new subway lines and new mass transit service. That’s why in December, we broke ground on a project – funded with City dollars – that will extend subway service from Times Square to a district of warehouses and rail yards on Manhattan’s Far West Side. We’re doing that because the time-honored lesson of New York transit history is ‘build it and they will come;’ Build new subway lines to undeveloped areas, and new businesses, housing, jobs, and tax revenue for the City will follow.

“That investment is good as far as it goes; it just doesn’t go nearly far enough. We’ve identified $50 billion worth of other essential transit projects for our growing city and region. But we need a way to finance them. So we decided to try a bold new approach – one that’s been in the news quite a bit recently: Congestion pricing – charging a fee for driving into the busiest part of the city during peak hours and dedicating those revenues to mass transit improvements.

So, how does the initiative reported by the Examiner, "Council weighs taxing free employee parking" compare? From the article:

Councilmen Jim Graham and Phil Mendelson co-introduced the bill, which would levy a $25 per month “Clean Air Act Compliance Fee” on any employee garage or surface lot parking space “used by a person … to have access to employment.” While property-owning businesses would be taxed by the city, the measure allows those charges to be passed along to individuals who park in the spaces.

These spaces, owned by firms such as Fannie Mae, are generating no sales tax revenues and are accomplishing little to inspire transit use, to improve air quality or to reduce traffic congestion, Graham said. ...

Spaces that generate sales tax revenues — daily parking, for example — would be exempt, as would spaces owned by Metro, those regulated by meters, and those owned or controlled by foreign governments.

The federal government isn’t explicitly exempted in the bill, but taxing federal property is generally a no-go. Brian McNicoll, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., said it “doesn’t appear that they can rope the government into it.”“We don’t want to interfere in internal deliberations of the District government,” McNicoll said. “But Crystal City’s a short hop.”

Ronald Kirby, transportation planning director with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, said the fee would have to be passed onto the employee, he said, or “it will have no impact at all on travel behavior.”

You'd think given all that I write, that I would favor taxing, somehow, free parking benefits provided to employees, because free parking induces-encourages driving, discouraging more optimal transportation and housing choice decisions.

But it's difficult for DC to do this alone, when the other competitive jurisdictions--in particular Alexandria, Arlington, Tysons Corner (Fairfax), Bethesda, and Silver Spring are the office districts in the region that are most competitive with DC's Central Business District--do not have similar policies and regulations.

I worry that it's a Philadelphia-like "solution" that ends up driving business out of the city. In the Philadelphia region, the City imposes a wage tax that other jurisdictions don't charge. While taxation policies are not usually a primary reason for locating businesses, it is an issue, especially when other bureaucratic aspects of being located in the city add additional hardship to businesses (i.e., spending 3 days to get a business license or permits, etc.).

Plus, the biggest thing that bothers me about this is once again, the absolute failure to have a complete transportation plan for the City of Washington (even though there is a Transportation Element in the Comprehensive Plan, and a City-wide Transportation Plan is in the works), including the subfailure of not having a transportation demand management plan including an element on parking and curbside management.

You know when you have elected officials legislating bits and pieces that basically, you're screwed.

I don't understand why the City Council fails to understand the necessity of having a Comprehensive Transportation Plan, instead of their legislating* piecemeal policies on bicycle accommodation, parking around Capitol Hill, parking around Columbia Heights, tolls on the 14th Street bridge, forcing the cessation of the consideration of fee increases and changes in the residential parking permit system, forcing the cessation of the consideration of a program to manage Church Sunday parking demands, and now a proposal to charge a monthly tax on "free parking" benefits provided to employees.

* Not all legislation passes...

Furthermore, when monies raised by such taxes just end up in the General Fund, they are meaningless. They are taxes designed to fund some other b.s. proposal. If the fees were to be directed specifically to transportation infrastructure and service enhancements, then maybe it'd be worth considering, but only as part of a comprehensive plan.

1. Read my Transit Wish List. Then at least then they might know more about the issues.

2. Rather than all this piecemeal stuff, why doesn't the City institute a pilot Transportation Management District somewhere, where it can test all these kinds of proposals, without locking the policies and regulations in stone, unable to be adjusted without more legislation...

(Montgomery County has four TMDs. Arlington County's commercial districts all function under the equivalent of a transportation management district, through programs offered by Arlington Transportation Partners. Alexandria has at least one "transportation management association" in Potomac Yards.)

3. The best thing the City Council could do would be to first pass a "Transit First Transporation Policy," like San Francisco. Then, with that as the guiding principle, at least maybe their subsequent proposals would be a bit more coherent and contribute to a greater whole, rather than appear to be under-considered and likely to fail.
City and County of San Francisco, California
TRANSIT-FIRST POLICY (San Francisco City Charter, Section 16.102)

The following principles shall constitute the City and County's transit-first policy and shall be incorporated into the General Plan of the City and County. All officers, boards, commissions, and departments shall implement these principles in conducting the City and County's affairs:

1. To ensure quality of life and economic health in San Francisco, the primary objective of the transportation system must be the safe and efficient movement of people and goods.

2. Public transit, including taxis and vanpools, is an economically and environmentally sound alternative to transportation by individual automobiles. Within San Francisco, travel by public transit, by bicycle and on foot must be an attractive alternative to travel by private automobile.

3. Decisions regarding the use of limited public street and sidewalk space shall encourage the use of public rights of way by pedestrians, bicyclists, and public transit, and shall strive to reduce traffic and improve public health and safety.

4. Transit priority improvements, such as designated transit lanes and streets and improved signalization, shall be made to expedite the movement of public transit vehicles (including taxis and vanpools) and to improve pedestrian safety.

5. Pedestrian areas shall be enhanced wherever possible to improve the safety and comfort of pedestrians and to encourage travel by foot.

6. Bicycling shall be promoted by encouraging safe streets for riding, convenient access to transit, bicycle lanes, and secure bicycle parking.

7. Parking policies for areas well served by public transit shall be designed to encourage travel by public transit and alternative transportation.

8. New transportation investment should be allocated to meet the demand for public transit generated by new public and private commercial and residential developments.

9. The ability of the City and County to reduce traffic congestion depends on the adequacy of regional public transportation. The City and County shall promote the use of regional mass transit and the continued development of an integrated, reliable, regional public transportation system.

10. The City and County shall encourage innovative solutions to meet public transportation needs wherever possible and where the provision of such service will not adversely affect the service provided by the Municipal Railway. (Added November 1999)

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