San Francisco traffic planners will study congestion pricing further, following the vote of approval today by the Board of Supervisors in their capacity as directors of the SFCTA. The action puts the debate to bed for a couple more years, but expect the turmoil to begin anew when the SFCTA completes the required environmental review and the region debates the merits of pricing driving in congested areas. KALW asked me to be on Crosscurrents to discuss the issue further. You can listen here.
Posts from the "Congestion Pricing" Category
In today’s San Mateo County Times, Mike Rosenburg brings us the news that “fuming” officials in San Mateo County are considering retaliating against San Francisco for studying congestion pricing, though their solution might seem counter-intuitive:
Instigating what one Peninsula politician said would be a “border war,” some San Mateo County officials said they would try to implement a toll to enter the county from the north during rush hour if San Francisco enacts a similar entrance fee for its city. The threat by Peninsula leaders is an effort to persuade San Francisco leaders to shelve their plan.
Finally, San Mateo County officials are talking some sense, though they probably don’t realize it. Assemblymember Jerry Hill goes on to say: “You will see a battle of tolls — everyone will try to out-toll the next jurisdiction to beat the one that started it. No one wants to see that.”
Wrong, Mr. Hill. That’s actually my fantasy.
Considering the astronomical toll that driving takes on our region (see the video above), wouldn’t this be an ideal world? Make driving expensive and build up a world-class sustainable transportation system in the Bay Area through congestion tolls. That’s exactly what the Bay Area will need to do to meet its obligations under California’s climate change and smart growth laws. Reduce driving. Reduce congestion. Reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve transit and make tolls competitive. Brilliant.
San Francisco is onto something, and now, so is San Mateo County.
You’d think the Tea Party had descended on San Mateo County, what with the piqued rhetoric in the media over San Francisco’s congestion pricing study. I don’t like to invoke Sarah Palin’s jargon, but I keep coming back to her horrible phrase “lamestream media” when I see yet another story that paints San Francisco transportation planners as greedy car-hating vampires and gets the facts on the pricing study so terribly wrong.
Take John Horgan, a columnist for the San Mateo County Times, who calls San Francisco the Boondoggle by the Bay and the Duchy of Dysfunction, while lamenting that the poor “plebians” on the other side of the city’s “moat-like pay gate” should boycott San Francisco businesses and frequent those in San Mateo if the pick-pocket plan ever passes..
Running with a similar trope, Mike Sugarman of CBS 5 calls the proposal a “border war,” while erroneously painting a scenario where he drives across the charging zone line, forgets something back in Daly City and ends up paying $12 for crossing the line four times (in each of the four pricing zones being studied, a daily charge to a driver would be capped at $6). Sugarman then sticks his microphone in the face of a bunch of drivers and asks them if they would pay for something they currently get for free. Hmm, can you kids guess what the answer is going to be?
You have to wade through 2:20 of bad reporting to get to the first two factual items in Sugarman’s piece, when he says San Francisco is only studying congestion pricing and it wouldn’t go into effect before 2015 at the earliest.
Ken Garcia at the San Francisco Examiner takes the crusade on factual reporting even further, misrepresenting almost everything about the congestion pricing study, conflating the various options for congestion zones into one big tax-happy, driver hating city of lunatics. And on a stylistic quibble, I don’t think Garcia could have stuffed any more puns into his day-after Thanksgiving report (see Jon Stewart’s recent bit on media abuse of puns), from trotting turkeys to gravy to squash and communal platters. If the Examiner had editors, they could have trimmed several hundred words worth of fat from that holiday bird and left us merely with specious claims about money grubbing supervisors “taxing” the “privilege” and “pleasure” of driving.
The New York Times called Ted Kheel, who died Friday at the age of 96, New York City’s pre-eminent labor peacemaker from the 1950s through the 1980s. And he was. Ted was also a steadfast advocate for civil rights, a fierce champion of mass transit, a stalwart defender of labor, an urbanist, a philanthropist, and a visionary. And, for the better part of a century, a vital element of progressive struggle in New York and beyond.
Ted became famous in the 1950s and 1960s as the mediator who settled newspaper strikes, railroad strikes and other high-stakes disputes. He was a fixture in The Times — his square jaw and determined face signifying probity and civic virtue. But much of his finest work was done out of the spotlight. It was Ted’s heretical but constant agitation to allocate surplus toll revenues from Robert Moses’s Triborough Bridge & Tunnel Authority to the financially ailing public transit agencies, that in 1968 led NY Gov. Nelson Rockefeller to combine the TBTA with the Transit Authority and the commuter railroads into the MTA — and destroy Moses’s power to fund highways and starve transit.
Ted’s transit advocacy rested on what he called “the fundamental principle that car travel and mass transit are interrelated, like two sides of an equation. There should be a balance,” he wrote, “but instead, our system is enormously, unconscionably out of balance,” causing road gridlock on the one hand and inadequate transit service on the other. Ted fought for five decades to correct that imbalance, with stories in New York magazine like “How To Stop Cars from Devouring the City” [PDF]; with a self-financed lawsuit [PDF] to overturn bond covenants through which the Port Authority enjoined itself from expanding mass transit, that Ted pursued all the way to the Supreme Court (losing on a tie vote); and, in his final years, with an even more audacious venture that would draw me into his orbit and point the way to a new transit revolution with the potential to surpass that of 1968.
While the full results of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority's (SFCTA) congestion pricing plan, the SF Mobility, Access, and Pricing Study (SFMAPS), have not yet been released, the agency will hold a series of public meetings starting next week to discuss the general principles of congestion pricing and how it could work in San Francisco. At the public meetings, the SFCTA will detail several possible scenarios to charge drivers for driving into San Francisco's downtown during peak periods, a prospect that should spark significant public and media debate.
In the best-case scenario, the SFCTA predicts raising $80 million for transit and non-driving mobility options like bicycling and pedestrian improvements, with traffic reductions of up to 12 percent, emissions reductions up to 16 percent and transit speed improvements of up to 20 percent.
While these numbers sound great, the agency still has to convince a lot of people about the benefits of congestion pricing, including Mayor Gavin Newsom, who was an early advocate for the concept, but who is not so sure now is a good time to try it.
"I've worked very hard to promote
this construct, but I want to do it in a thoughtful and judicious way
and I want to do it in a way that's not going to hurt the economic
growth of this city at a time when we're trying to recruit companies and
trying to recruit people," Newsom told Streetsblog. "We have a lot more work to do on that. We need a lot more outreach, a
lot more consensus."
"I'm not ideologically opposed by any stretch," added Newsom, but "I'm not sure this is the right time to be
having this debate."
I presented a paper last week at an international forum on traffic congestion in Guangzhou, China. People in that city are beginning to look at congestion pricing, and I was asked to discuss why the Bloomberg toll plan failed politically.
As part of my talk, I described the “social delay costs” from an additional car trip into the center of Manhattan -- literally, the total time that all road users combined spend in traffic because any one of them decided to drive. Afterwards, one of the organizers, a professor of transportation engineering, asked me to present a technical version of my paper to his students at South China University of Technology.
The next day, when I came to the part about social-delay costs, the professor peppered me with questions about my methodology. As I went through the steps -- basically, every trip takes up an incremental amount of limited street space, which lowers speeds, which adds to everyone's travel times -- the professor grew more intrigued. It wasn’t that the idea itself was new, but that if traffic speeds and other baseline data were known, then the delay-impact of one trip could be quantified. And, moreover, that the impact varied enormously depending on the time of day: when there is ample spare road capacity, say, in the middle of the night, an extra trip has little discernible impact, whereas one trip during congested peak times adds several hours to the aggregate time that all other vehicles must spend on the road.
I daresay that for the professor, my elucidation of one trip’s delay costs helped move congestion pricing from the realm of abstraction to something tangible and, perhaps, essential. If a peak trip to the center of New York or some other city can impose one or two hundred minutes worth of delays on others -- and if no driver is ever called on to take that impact into consideration -- then of course the city will be awash in gridlock. No city, not even Guangzhou, despite an emerging 21st century transit infrastructure of Bus Rapid Transit and new subway lines, will be able to forestall the tide of free driving.Read more...
Democracy in action, I suppose. Long-time bicycle advocates from the
East Bay and San Francisco converged on this meeting, hoping to
convince the Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA) to support using some of
the new tolls ($5 on all bridges as of July 1, with $6 congestion
pricing on the Bay Bridge during rush hour, and for the first time, a
half-price toll for carpoolers) to fund a new west-span
bicycle/pedestrian/maintenance/safety lane to make the bridge safer,
and to finish the transbay route for bicyclists and pedestrians too,
not just motorized vehicles. But that effort was bureaucratically
sidetracked before this meeting even started.
Urbanists often find themselves falling into a pattern of thinking
that boils down to the dictum that what’s good for drivers must be bad
for walkability, and sustainability, and all the things that they prize
about well-designed cities. Drivers seem to believe this too, which is
interesting because it often isn’t true.
Take performance parking.
Both urbanists (and drivers) seem to believe that it’s good (or bad),
because it makes parking more expensive, which is bad (or good) for
drivers. But this assumes that a free parking system, where open spots
are almost never available, is desirable for drivers.
like saying that a store that gives away bread for free — and which
subsequently never has any bread — is good for people who like eating
For the most part, thinking about congestion pricing
follows this same rule. Urbanists tend to like it because it makes
driving more costly and raises revenue for transit infrastructure.
Drivers tend to oppose it, because they don’t want to pay more to
drive. In fact, congestion pricing would be good for people who really
want to drive and good for people who’d like to have an alternative to driving.
message has been slow to sink in, but the fact that drivers may benefit
from congestion pricing may be beginning to resonate with urbanists.
Unfortunately — and so powerful is the
what’s-bad-for-drivers-is-good-for-cities mentality — the absorption
of this message has caused some urbanists to conclude that they’ve been
wrong all along, and that congestion pricing really is bad. If drivers might benefit, it must be the case that cities, and the earth, will not.
So writes the New Yorker‘s David Owen, in an extremely misguided piece in the Wall Street Journal.
By requiring car drivers to pay a fee to drive in a city
at peak hours, congestion pricing reduces traffic and raises money that
can be used to support public transit—both worthy goals.
Yet congestion pricing has dubious environmental value. Traffic
jams, if they’re managed well, can actually be good for the
environment. They maintain a level of frustration that turns drivers
into subway riders or pedestrians.
Having entertained legislators' own ideas about how best to fund future transportation spending, the House Ways and Means committee turned to representatives from the administration and key interest groups today to hear their thoughts on the matter.
The administration's view could not have been much clearer -- this business is all very important, but we're not ready to commit to anything at this time.
Roy Kienitz, the Department of Transportation's Undersecretary for Policy, made it quite clear that the administration is not prepared to support any of the new funding mechanisms proposed -- not a VMT tax, not indexing the gas tax to inflation, and not taxes on imported oil and refined gasoline.
Kienitz did leave the door open to a tax on trading of oil futures, which he said the administration would have to investigate thoroughly. A key concern is that in a world where oil is traded on global markets, such a measure would simply shift trading off of American soil.
Why the stubborn refusal to engage in the funding debate? Ostensibly, the administration is reluctant to adopt new taxes or fees amid recession.
But this explanation rings hollow. Congress could easily delay the time at which revenue-raising measures take effect until 2011 or later, as is being done with funding mechanisms in the health reform bills under consideration.
The president must know this. A reasonable assumption is that he simply does not want to have a tax debate at this time, not with other key priorities involving new tax burdens also being considered.Read more...
Your story today on SFPark is a new low, infantilizing a parking management pilot that is the envy of municipalities across the country and has the attention of cities as far-flung as Tokyo, Japan. For an agency that is getting more than enough bad publicity on things that it does poorly--and we're the first in line to harp on the negative--the MTA deserves credit for coordinating with the Port to develop the largest and most sophisticated parking management system in the world, which will allow city managers to finally measure with precision the driving and parking patterns in San Francisco so that the streets can become more efficient and less congested.
How do you cover this giant leap for parking-kind? You exaggerate a simple learning curve for a new multi-space meter as though it were a technological Berlin Wall.
"These newfangled meters take much more skill to operate than simply dropping coins into a slot," writes Rachel Gordon, who I'm hard pressed to believe took this editorial tack on her own, given that she rides transit regularly, has been covering transportation issues for awhile and isn't as bound to the windshield perspective as her editors seem to be.
Just how much more skill do these "newfangled meters" take?
Drivers have to remember the number assigned to their space and then log in the information on a keypad. Then they have to decide whether to pay with a credit card, debit card or coins, and finally they have to figure out how to select how much time they want.
To steal from SNL's Weekend Update: Really? Really?!?