Cities Getting the Shaft

I’ve got a couple of articles I’ve been meaning to write about for a couple of days.

First, the New York Times has a nice piece on how cities are losing out on their fair share of the stimulus money.

“If we’re trying to recover the nation’s economy, we should be focusing where the economy is, which is in these large areas,” said Robert Puentes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, which advocates more targeted spending. “But states take this peanut-butter approach, taking the dollars and spreading them around very thinly, rather than taking the dollars and concentrating them where the most complex transportation problems are.”

The 100 largest metropolitan areas also contribute three-quarters of the nation’s economic activity, and one consequence of that is monumental traffic jams. A study of congestion in urban areas released Wednesday by the Texas Transportation Institute found that traffic jams in 2007 cost urban Americans 2.8 billion gallons of wasted gas and 4.2 billion hours of lost time.

Ryan Avent also chimes in:

It’s absolutely crucial that the new transportation bill do more to focus spending at the metropolitan level. And indeed, this is one of the goals of the Oberstar transportation bill. As that is unlikely to get anywhere in this legislative session, it would be nice if in filling the highway trust fund’s budget gap the Congress tacked on a reform giving states an incentive to use federal money where the people are — for the sake of short and long term economic performance.

I don’t have anything to add other than to emphasize the importance of keeping our cities humming along.  They are the economic engine.  I will again emphasize my thought that we can kill a couple birds with one stone here – given the simultaneous needs to increase transportation funding and reform the way we distribute those funds, as well as the stimulative effects such spending will have.

To Toll or not to Toll, that is the question.

Chris Bradford offers a nice summary of a great back and forth between Yonah Freemark and Ryan Avent on the need and desirability for tolling congested roadways.  Chris summarizes the dispute well, documenting Ryan’s desire to reduce congestion and Yonah’s concern about such charges being regressive.  However, Chris raises several key points:

Second, tolls encourage a number of shifts.  Yes, shifts to transit, which seems to be Yonah’s main concern, at least when the transit system is underdeveloped.  But they encourage other shifts, too.  Shifts to other routes and shifts to other times.   Commuters are the least likely to be nudged to other routes or times.  The most sensitive are those who use congested roads for local trips.  Take the soccer mom who hops in the SUV and enters a congested highway to get to the grocery store a mile down the road.  She imposes enormous costs on others.  Tolls make her internalize those costs and nudge her to use the local streets.

This is a crucial element that’s often overlooked.  Performance pricing, whether for congestion or parking or transit usage, will encourage mode shifts, temporal shifts, and spatial shifts.  It’s vitally important to consider all three potential shifts and plan for them accordingly.

Green Spaces in DC

My friend and colleague Mike Lydon forwarded me a great page from the National Building Museum’s Green Building exhibit.  The site has nice little videos on several DC neighborhoods, emphasizing their green aspects.  The videos include profiles of Dupont Circle, U Street, Columbia Heights, and (soon) Barracks Row.


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