News Roundup: July 24, 2013

Lots of great articles to share today! Here we go...

The Value In Mixed-Income Neighborhoods

(Reconnecting America)

A new report examines the connection between spatial segregation between the rich and poor, and how that influences attitudes toward social welfare programs. The work supports the idea that inequality is reinforced by the separation of socioeconomic classes, as policies shift to weaken the financial and social support, as well as economic mobility of lower-income residents.

Why the Land Value Tax is a Critical Tool in the Fight Against Inequality

(Keystone Politics)

Jon Geeting writes more on the land value tax, a proposal for taxing land itself at higher rates than what's built on the land. As inequality has increased over the past several decades, wealth has taken the form of capital to a greater and greater degree, rather than income, and land is one of the most significant forms of capital there is. Land value taxes would also encourage absentee landowners from sitting on their land or leaving it vacant in the face of rising demand; instead of being taxed on economic production, as property currently is, it would be taxed to a greater degree on economic potential. This would encourage owners of derelict buildings and surface parking lots in high-demand areas of the city to either use the land, or sell it off, rather than hold onto it waiting for a sweeter deal at the expense of everyone in the city.

How Flexible Parking Requirements Spur Economic Development: Lessons from Santa Monica

(Streetsblog LA)

A great natural experiment by UCLA student Carter Rubin looking at the role flexible parking rules play in the economic success of cities. This one looks at the popular Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica, where one side of the road has rigid parking regulations and the other allows some leeway when retail space changes uses that normally require different amounts of parking (say, from a cafe to a restaurant). The results are astounding: the flexible side of the road had eight times as much sales tax revenue per square foot and six times as many restaurants. I thought businesses couldn't succeed without parking?

Finally, a Plan to Pay for Public Transit With Highway Tolls

(Atlantic Cities)

This is a really interesting innovation in which center lanes are reserved for buses, but cars willing to pay a fee can use the open space too. The money raised by those tolls are used to fund better bus service, which also enjoys the benefits of avoiding car congestion. They find that a single bus lane with buses running at 10-minute headways (which is far below capacity), can handle twice the traffic of a congested car traffic lane, and up to four times the capacity when bus service is maximized. And for an initial investment of $323 million, it's expected to make about $1.5 billion in revenue over the next 30 years. You don't see that kind of return on investment for highways.

Who parked in my spot?!: Neighbors, cars, and “your” curb space


Another good one from Alan Durning, this one about the negative impact of our obsession with free parking. It explores both the societal impacts, which are vast and often looked over, and the personal. Anecdotes include unscrewed windshield wipers, cars pushed into illegal parking spaces by neighbors, and even a man having his windshield bashed in with a bat by an angry yuppie who wanted "his" spot back.

New Study: More Urban = More Safe


Cities have a reputation as being more dangerous than suburbs and rural areas, but it all depends on what you're afraid of. If you don't mind dying in a gruesome car wreck, you might be right. Otherwise... the study found that your chances of dying are almost 50% higher in rural areas than the most urbanized counties, and the difference is due almost entirely to the nearly three-fold difference in vehicle-related deaths in rural regions.

Large Costs Loom for Upgrades to U.S. Water Infrastructure


Water and sewer pipes often gets overlooked in the national discussion about our ailing infrastructure, but the costs associated with replacing and upgrading it are in many ways more significant than that of roads and bridges. Cost estimates range anywhere from $400 billion to $1 trillion to get everything up to speed in a country where many systems are more than 100 years old, and that's before you account for necessary wastewater treatment upgrades.

Burdensome Highways

(Walkable Dallas-Fort Worth)

Some more great analysis from this site, this time on the role of sprawl in Detroit's impending bankruptcy. The case that Detroit overinvested in roads that they couldn't maintain is strong, but what's especially worrying is how several other cities are in an even worse position. Detroit's an older city so its had more time to feel the effects of these poor investments, and more recently-developed cities may start to feel the effects in the coming decades. Kansas City, we're looking at you.

Let's Talk Numbers


Christine Grant looks at my home city of Seattle, determining the cost to society of every kilometer driven in a car versus the benefits of bicycling. Accounting for both internal costs (gas, maintenance, vehicle, time) and external ones (pollution, city branding and tourism, parking, etc.), she estimates that every kilometer ridden on a bike contributes 46 cents to the city's economy, while every kilometer driven in a car costs it $1.13. But  we already know this: cars represent freedom, and freedom doesn't come cheap.

Yet More Evidence of Peak Car

(Atlantic Cities)

Michael Sivak of the University of Michigan keeps putting together his case that the shift away from cars is real and not just a blip in history, this time looking at absolute miles driven, as well as per-person, per-vehicle, per-household, and per-licensed driver. They're all way down from their peak, and continuing to decline.

Infographic: Does Congestion Pricing Work?

(This Big City)

This is a great visualization of the impact of congestion pricing (charging drivers for driving into the most congested parts of cities) on congestion, transit ridership, and a host of other metrics. They look at four cities who've tried it out, Singapore (which has had congestion pricing for almost forty years!), Milan, Stockholm, and London. You've gotta check it out. Here's just one part: