Monthly Archives: October 2022

Using User Fees to Correct Transportation Problems

By Dom Nozzi

The local Greenville SC newspaper recently published an op-ed I wrote describing the benefits of transportation user fees. A reader kindly sent me a note to largely agree with my essay.

I pointed out to him that transportation user fees are, by far, much more fair than indirect methods such as property tax or sales tax.

It is certainly true that road and parking fees would be extremely difficult to implement due to severe public opposition. You mention options such as vehicle registration fees, annual vehicle license renewal fees or vehicle personal property taxes.

While those would be easier to put in place politically, they would be highly unfair to those who engage in less (or no) driving. For user fees to work well (i.e., to reduce problems such as congestion), the fee must accurately and fairly go up or down based on how much we use roads and parking with our motor vehicle. For both a property tax and a sales tax, the amount paid would not vary based on how many miles a person drives, or how often a person parks, or whether they are driving and parking at rush hour or not.

It is much better for society and efficiency for people to be encouraged to not drive or park as much during rush hours. We do that by charging more during rush hour.

While in the past it was a difficult “headache” to charge people road tolls or parking tolls, it has now become much lower in cost and much more fair and accurate. Why? Because we can now use affordable digital technology to remotely assess such user fees. No need for things like toll booths or metal-pole parking meters. Of course, the technology does not do much to overcome the problem of political opposition.

Speaking as someone who has never owned a car, I find it extremely unfair that I must pay higher property taxes or sales taxes (and higher overall prices above and beyond taxes for goods and services I buy) to pay for motor vehicle road and parking infrastructure.

I’m pessimistic that our society will fairly charge transportation user fees in my lifetime. It is too difficult to find the political will to charge the user fees I recommend above (which are highly fair as people pay a higher or lower fee precisely based on how much or how little of the transportation system they use). It is so much easier, politically, to charge everyone the same amount (through property taxes or sales taxes or registration fees).

We will always prefer a payment system that is socialistic when it comes to transportation: Everyone pays the same regardless of how much or how little they use our system. It is a recipe for severe resentment, and a recipe for ongoing congestion and bankruptcy at all levels of government (and higher taxes for households). The Soviet system failed when they tried this (consider the notorious, persistent bread lines in the Soviet Union – a communist version of congested roadways). Why do we think we won’t fail as well? We can only escape the Soviet failure by charging people based on how much or how little they use our transportation system.

If I walk or bicycle or use transit to make all my trips, why should I pay the same amount for societal transportation as someone who makes 14 car trips per day (which is the average number of trips by an American)?

Again, socialism fails with transportation in the same way it fails for bread.

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Improving Streets in Greenville SC

By Dom Nozzi

Butler Avenue from Pete Hollis Boulevard to Washington Street creates a number of significant negative impacts for the many homes that are near it, as well as those seeking to walk or bicycle along Butler. The primary problems are dangerous motor vehicle travel and extreme levels of noise pollution [see below for details about the health impacts of noise]. These problems are primarily caused by excessive motor vehicle speeds, excessive curb-to-curb highway design, and emergency vehicle sirens.

The three most effective tools for correcting these problems include:

  1. Sirens. The City should request that the County not use Butler as a primary route for emergency medical vehicles. The daily number of such vehicles is excessive, and the siren volume is ear-splitting. Alternative and likely faster routes such as the non-residential Academy Street are far more appropriate for such vehicles.
  2. USPS. The US Postal Service facility at Washington and Hudson streets has chosen to use Butler and Asbury to route a convoy of mail delivery vans twice a day to and from their facility. The vans are loud and often exceed the speed limit. The City should request that the USPS use the non-residential Washington and Hudson streets to route its vans to and from its facility, rather than residential Butler and Asbury.
  3. Credit Union Drive-Through. The four-lane drive-through for the Credit Union at Butler and Asbury funnels a large volume of motor vehicles onto Butler and Asbury day and night. These vehicles often exceed the speed limit, which is particularly dangerous because drivers are often distracted by filling out deposit or withdrawal slips while driving to the drive-through. The City should request that the Greenville Heritage Federal Credit Union reconfigure its drive-through so that vehicles enter and exit the drive-through from Washington rather than Butler and Asbury. This can be done quickly and inexpensively.
  4. On-Street Parking. On-street parking must be installed on both sides of Butler for nearly all of the distance from Pete Hollis to Washington. This is an exceptionally low-cost and quick way to significantly slow traffic to the lower speeds appropriate for a residential street. On-street parking does this by substantially reducing the width of Butler, and adding “friction” to the drive. On-street parking also reduces the need for excessive, undesirable off-street parking lots and spaces. Should the demand for on-street parking be too low to have at least 75 to 80 percent use of on-street parking spaces throughout the day and night, landscaped bulb-outs need to be installed to frame on-street parking spaces and permanently maintain the needed narrowed width of Butler even when on-street parking is not occurring. Because Butler is more narrow north from Asbury, there may not be sufficient width for both on-street parking and an in-street bike lane. Should there only be room for one of these features, the City should preference the installation of on-street parking on the more narrow sections of Butler.
  5. Raised, Landscaped Islands and Trees. Butler from approximately Asbury to Washington lacks the raised, landscaped islands found on Butler north from Asbury. This creates an excessively wide expanse of curb-to-curb asphalt from Asbury to Washington. This open, highway-like design from Asbury to Washington signals to motorists that they can safely drive at excessive, inattentive speeds (which, indeed, is precisely what happens). This problem can effectively be corrected not only with on-street parking, but also the installation of raised, tree-landscaped center islands on Butler south of Asbury (and several other low-speed geometry designs). Installing large canopy street trees on Butler is important not only for slowing vehicles, but also for beautifying an ugly street, and cooling a hot section of Butler. Equally important is the need to reduce the curb-to-curb distance on Butler south of Asbury by narrowing the travel lanes and turn lane, and shortening the length of the left-turn lane (I’m sure the overly long turn lane was installed due to lengthy queuing lines of left-turning vehicles, but sacrificing public safety and quality of life is in no sense justified simply to promote motorist convenience – particularly in this urbanized residential town center location).
  6. City Assumption of Ownership. The City needs to at some point assume ownership of Butler from the South Carolina DOT. Not doing so severely restricts the use of effective design tools for improving Butler to properly serve as the residential street it has evolved into.
  7. Turn Lanes. The double left turn lanes at Butler and Pete Hollis need to be replaced by a single left turn lane, as the double left is an inappropriate highway-oriented design that belongs in drivable suburbs rather than an urbanized location (I recognize that one of those two lanes is a dual left turn and straight ahead lane). Double left turns drastically increase motor vehicle speeds and inattentiveness. These problems and the significantly increased crossing distance the left turn lane provides create extremely dangerous conditions for bicyclists and pedestrians. The double left also significantly increases motor vehicle traffic volumes on Butler. Similarly, the right turn slip lane at Butler and Washington needs to be removed for the same reasons as noted above for the double left turn. Both the Butler intersection at Pete Hollis and at Washington are vastly oversized and must be necked down to reduce the crosswalk distance. Further amplifying this problem is the highway-oriented, high-speed, oversized turning radii found at both of these intersections, which not only increase the crossing distance but promote dangerously high-speed, inattentive turning movements by vehicles. These turning radii (and those for several driveways serving Butler) need to be reduced in size for safety because the high-speed geometries they employ are exceptionally dangerous. The left-turn lanes and oversized turning radii are extremely dangerous – they are particularly daunting for seniors, mothers with strollers, and children. Finally, on the topic of crosswalks, textured crosswalks such as brick have been shown to send a more visible, attractive, tactile, and audible message to motorists that they need to slow down for crosswalks.
  8. In-Street Bike Lanes. Butler serves as an important bicycling route and is capable of attracting significantly higher levels of bicycling. If installed between on-street parking and the travel lane, bike lanes should be colorized to provide an enhanced visual signal to motorists that they are driving on a more narrow, slower-speed street. Installing a bike lane between on-street parking and the curb creates “protected” bike lanes that are more inviting to less confident bicyclists (such as children and seniors). This “protected” design also provides the benefit of further slowing cars on Butler, as on-street parked vehicles will extend out further from the curb.

Note that on-street parking and raised landscaped islands on Butler are effective in reducing neighborhood noise pollution, because the lower motor vehicle speeds induced by these tools effectively reduce noise pollution.

Why Is Noise Pollution a Serious Public Health Concern?

The professional literature shows a clear connection between noise pollution and a number of medical and societal maladies such as high blood pressure, heart disease, mental illness, depression, inability to engage in conversation, foul mood, fatigue, loss of sleep, anger, poor concentration, productivity losses at the workplace, cognitive impairment, tinnitus, hearing loss, and failed relationships.

Creating Meaningful Pedestrian Safety on Stone Avenue

In response to a Greenville newspaper article discussing efforts to promote pedestrian safety on Stone Avenue, I posted the following:

Is the City serious about improved safety on Stone? The City will show it is not serious if it opts for what all cities have tried for the past century to “improve” safety. For the past century, all cities have opted for the same ineffective tactics that have suffered from extreme diminishing returns for several decades. I call them the “Five Warnings”: More Warning Lights, More Warning Paint, More Warning Signs, More Warning Education, and More Warning Enforcement. Stone Avenue will remain a car-only death trap — particularly for seniors, children, bicyclists, pedestrians, and the handicapped — unless the City assumes ownership of Stone from SCDOT and installs a road diet. Going from 4 or 5 lanes to three is a no-brainer. Dover-Kohl consultants had previously called for a road diet, and SCDOT rejected it. A road diet will quickly and cost-effectively result in (1) significant improvements for homes along and near Stone, (2) significant improvements for smaller retail shops along Stone, (3) significant improvements for cycling and walking along and across Stone, (4) significant improvements for children and seniors and the disabled using Stone, (5) a significant drop in crashes on Stone, and (6) a big drop in City maintenance costs (read: lower taxes). Important note: Going from 4 lanes to 3 does not reduce road capacity, despite the conventional wisdom.

My Credentials

I have 40 years of academic and professional experience in the field of transportation. I am a lifetime bicycle, walking, and transit commuter. I have a Master’s degree in town and transportation planning. I have been a bicycle commuter in nine cities. I was the lead planner for the Gainesville FL greenway transportation system. I was a member and Vice Chair of the Design Team for the Gainesville FL Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization. I wrote several land development regulations to preserve and enhance the livability of neighborhoods, including the Gainesville noise control ordinance. I have a high level of professional expertise in traffic calming, pedestrian design, and traffic safety. I have professional expertise in increasing the number of bicyclists, pedestrians and transit users. I wrote the long-range transportation plan for Gainesville. I served on the Board of Directors for Bike/Walk Virginia. I was a member of the Association of Pedestrian & Bicycle Professionals. I am a nationally certified Complete Streets Instructor, which allowed me to co-host workshops throughout the nation. I have delivered 93 public speeches pertaining to transportation in cities throughout the nation. I have published two books on the topic of transportation. I served on the Boulder CO Transportation Advisory Board as well as the Asheville NC Bikes Policy Committee. I currently serve on the Bike Walk Greenville Board of Directors.

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