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.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Tolls, parking taxes, elections, oh my!

1.  Candidates for office pander to motor vehicle operators.  Maryland gubernatorial candidate Doug Gansler promotes cutting tolls on the Inter County Connector by half to increase use of the relatively under-used $2 Billion highway.  He avers that revenues will be the same.  See "Gansler proposes 50 percent discount for frequent users of Intercounty Connector" from the Washington Post.

The Inter County Connector is a toll road in Upper Montgomery and Prince George's Counties in Maryland, supporting exurban development.  Photo during construction.

I think of this as typical pandering for votes.  After all, nationally, almost 90% of total trips are accomplished via motor vehicle--in Maryland, it would be less than the national average because of transit systems in the Washington and Baltimore areas.  Most people who vote are drivers and would see advantages to cuts in tolls.

Note that someone else running for re-election, Andrew Cuomo in New York State, has just done something similar for Staten Island residents.  See "New York State Agrees to Cut Toll for Verrazano Bridge" from the New York Times.  According to reports, the MTA is under-resourced and can't really afford this cut.  

Too bad Mr. Gansler isn't advocating more funding for transit, to cut fares...  But according to his issues page, transportation isn't separated out as a separate issue.  His jobs & economy webpage talks about manufacturing, without acknowledging the significant changes that have occurred within the various industrial sectors as a result of globalization.

2.  The advocacy group Purple Line Now is holding a Transportation Forum with Maryland's Gubernatorial Candidates on Tuesday, February 18 at the Montgomery College Cultural Arts Center on the Takoma Park/Silver Spring campus
Candidates who declared or filed their intentions by the end of January 2014 were invited to participate in the event. At this time,  Attorney General Doug Gansler, Delegate Ron George, Mr. Charles Lollar and Delegate Heather Mizeur have confirmed.  Candidates will share their position on the current transportation situation in Maryland, their vision for the future, and what they, as governor, would do to help that vision become a reality.

The event is free to the public but space is limited and all seats must be reserved in advance by completing this easy Ticket Form.
3.  Advocacy groups ought to create a unified advocacy agenda for sustainable transportation to use during elections.  While that the forum is great, I think it would be even better for advocacy groups to come together and create a citizens platform for sustainable transportation and ask for the endorsement of such a platform by the candidates.  

I'd say groups like Purple Line Now, Action Committee for Transit, BikeMaryland, and the Coalition for Smarter Growth to name a few, need to work together on this.

Otherwise, candidates mostly get a pass, and get to mouth platitudes.  We're making a mistake if we are expecting the candidates to be our saviors.  Note that all of Maryland's candidates for Governor, except for Ron George, fail to list transportation as a plank in their campaign platforms.  Here is Ron George's, which doesn't mention sustainable transportation at all:
VIII.  Create a Pro-active Transportation Plan     
  • Create a true lock-box for the Transportation Trust Fund that no legislative body can draw from for other needs so all interested parties can have predictability.
  • Put all gas taxes toward state road and bridge creation and improvements. (note the aforementioned repeal of the 2013 gas increases and its required forced automatic increases.)
FWIW, I recommended a similar course of action during the last election cycle--of the creation of a common sustainable transportation advocacy agenda and platform.  

Right: a panel for an election brochure by Hans Riemer.  He did not win election in 2006, but he did in 2008.

I will say that in 2006, Action Committee for Transit made the Purple Line a campaign issue in Montgomery County and state elections, and I think this was vitally important in getting that project back on track after it had been sidetracked in favor of the ICC by the previous Republican state government administration.

In my opinion, ACT deserves most of the credit for the moving forward of the Purple Line project, especially as a light rail and not a bus project.

4.  People don't like tolls in Norfolk, Virginia.  Speaking of tolls, the Elizabeth River Tunnel in Norfolk, Virginia has been tolled to pay for an additional tunnel.  Rather than pay for it, the State of Virginia agreed to a 50+ year deal with an international consortium, guaranteeing a minimum return of 13.5%.  People in those parts aren't happy about it and say that an increase in the state gas tax could have paid for this and other infrastructure needs.  

Anyway, after tolls were introduced last week, traffic dropped significantly.  See "Traffic down 21.8 percent after first week of tolls" from the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot.

If they would just cut the price in half...

5.  We need taxes on parking, but don't expect big changes in land use as a result of the tax. Streetsblog calls our attention to an Atlanta Bicycle Coalition post, "Here's an idea," suggesting that a tax on parking lots and structures would encourage denser, more urban uses.  

Left: parking lots surround the Southeast Federal Center area in DC sometime in the 1990s.   Photographer: Carol Highsmith.

While I agree that parking should be taxed, and the monies used for sustainable transportation, in part to pay for the negative costs parking imposes on a city, it's somewhat facile to believe that such a tax will induce different forms of land use in places where the automobile is the dominant form of transportation.  The tax is just passed through to the customer.  (Note that in DC, parking provided free by employers is not taxed, and it should be.)

It's only when transit is a viable alternative and a lot of people use it that it begins to make financial sense for cities and developers to change land use and transportation paradigms to support transit, walking, and biking and placemaking, and not roads and freeways and parking.  

In DC, where 50% or more the trips to the Central Business District are made by transit, building parking is unnecessary.  But it didn't used to be.  Through the 1990s, Downtown was full of parking lots.  It was only as more people changed their residential and employment patterns in ways where using transit was optimized--helped of course by the federal government providing subsidized transit passes to federal workers--that the previous dynamic in favor of automobile commuting was reversed.

Right: graphic from the Baltimore Sun.

Note that there are some interesting examples of parking taxes.  Baltimore uses its parking tax to pay for the Baltimore Circulator, which is a free intra-city transit service.  See "Making the case for intra-city (vs. inter-city) transit planning."

To be fair to the ABC, it wasn't til I was on a walking tour at a conference in a city without a fixed rail transit system and where transit was mostly unused, before I fully understood this issue.

In that city, it's not unreasonable for residents to be reflexively opposed to development, because virtually everyone will travel to and from the site via car.  In DC, especially for projects built near the subway stations, a majority of the trips will be conducted by transit, or depending on the location, by walking or biking.  The increase in car traffic from transit-adjacent development can be pretty minimal.

The point is to focus on enabling transit and transit-centric development.  It takes a long time to do so.  It took between 20 and 30 years to begin seeing the impact of the Metrorail system on DC, both in the core and outside of it, in neighborhoods served by transit stations.  

Now it's taken for granted.  (But mostly by people who don't know or don't remember what it was like before.)  But it wasn't facilitated by a tax on parking...

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At 1:20 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

In terms of your #3 point, a huge part of the problem is noboby wants to go out and say "transit/walking/biking improvements" need to come out of gas tax money.

And in terms of taxing parking spaces, they are taxed. They are taxed as property (for residental or commerical rates), and for 90% of people who get employer provided parking downtown they are taxed. That is what happens when you lease 5-10 spaces in the garage -- those spaces will be taxed.

The opposite example --- where the building owner provided parking for employees on his own -- has to be very rare downtown. And in the examples in more suburban areas (a 7-11 allows wokers to park in the lot for free) I don't think it should be taxed either.

At 3:52 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

a parking tax is just like a congestion tax. I don't really have a problem with it EXCEPT at least in DC, the taxes are not dedicated. Even parking meter revenues mostly aren't dedicated to transportation, at least in DC.

That's the other big thing that is transformational in Shoup's approach. To get support from commercial districts for charging, the majority of the revenue generated by meters and parking structures gets spent back in that district. He even says you can do that with parking ticket revenues.

But they have plans for how to use the money.

I was floored to learn that DC doesn't have a structured approach to using "performance parking revenues" in a similar fashion.

Sure they direct monies to local projects, which are reviewed, etc., but they don't have a good protocal-framework for dealing...

note wrt "parking districts," it's why I advocate for "TMDs", transportation management districts, to get around the idea of spending on non-car related stuff.

At 10:00 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Completely disagree -- and you know what I think of Shoup.

We have to get off this idea that taxing is market driven or has some sort of morality. We tax things to raise revenue, and a good tax policy takes all that revenue and throws it into one bucket.

That is the point about the gas tax -- transit can be a decent way to spend goverment money, but when you hypothecate it, you create a sense of entitlement.

The same with congestion, parking, etc.

At 11:31 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

we tax to raise revenue but also to better capture the costs of producing or using certain goods where spillover costs aren't built into, covered by the price, because they are provided by other actors.

... sorry to sound pedantic.

At 2:35 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

I think you are confusing natural philosophy with economics. Not say I am blaming you, because it is a pretty common problem.

As as for the externality, free yourself of the dead hand of Ronald Coase!

At 7:00 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

... my old age is showing. I meant to use the term "externalities."


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