Tag Archives: taxation

Boulder Shows It Still Doesn’t Get It on Proposed Widening of Arapahoe Road

By Dom Nozzi

June 27, 2017

A news article and an accompanying op-ed by the editor in chief were published in the Daily Camera in June 2017, and it made my blood boil.

Here we are in 2017, and despite over 100 years of repeated failure, too many citizens, elected officials, and staff continue to be convinced that it is necessary to spend a huge amount of what I thought were scarce public dollars (not so scarce when it comes to road/intersection widening and buying Pentagon weapons, though…) to worsen transportation, taxes, land use patterns, and quality of life by widening roads and intersections.

My friend Michael Ronkin informed me later that day, after I read these disheartening newspaper submissions, that even Geneva, Switzerland is not truly getting this.

It galls me that those proposing these road or intersection “improvements” in the face of growth projections consider themselves to be “far-sighted” in calling for this in advance of the growth. Part of the thinking, as Charles Marohn points out, is that road and intersection widenings in the past were not widened “enough,” the road or intersection was soon overwhelmed with “excess” car trips, and it was discovered that the need for a SECOND widening was far more expensive, overall, than if the road or intersection was widened “enough” in the first place. “Enough” so that the second widening would have been unnecessary. The solution? Deliberately overbuild the size of the road or intersection so that the unexpected surge in car trips in the future could be accommodated without the need for a very costly second widening. This is considered being “farsighted.”

However, by widening roads or intersections, at great public expense, such “far-sighted” people are locking their communities into a far worse future. They don’t have a clue about things like induced car travel demand (new car trips that would not have occurred had we not widened) and how bigger roads/intersections inevitably lead to more sprawl and car dependence. And a loss of a sense of place or a sense of small town charm.

They don’t realize there is an alternative to the century-long ruinous widenings. “Let It Be,” as the Beatles once said, and socially desirable results will emerge (rather than be undermined by widening). If we don’t try to “solve” anticipated congestion by widening, we will realize slower speeds, less car travel, more bicycling/walking/transit, more compact development, more of a sense of place and charm, lower taxes, less car crashes, less obesity, etc.

I am convinced that once a society commits itself to a car-happy world by building happy-car infrastructure (dispersed low density development, big parking lots, big roads, big setbacks, big intersections, single-use development, etc.), it traps itself in an irreversible downward spiral, because even in “enlightened” communities such as Boulder, the car-oriented road infrastructure and the dispersed land use patterns needed to make car travel free-flowing obligates citizens to angrily insist that car-happy design (which is extremely hostile to non-car travel) continue to be provided. After all, the community now forces citizens to travel by car. There is seemingly no alternative. We must dig the hole deeper. We must lock ourselves further into car dependence.

Given this downwardly spiraling trap, America and its cities will need to run out of money before it is forced to stop the unsustainable insanity of widening roads and intersections. After all, even a century of failed widenings has apparently taught us nothing at all.

A final note: Boulder and Boulder County pride themselves in being smart, progressive, and cutting edge — particularly when it comes to transportation. But these planned road and intersection “improvements” on Arapahoe Avenue illustrates that Boulder is far behind the times and continues to be moronic when it comes to transportation.

By the way, a number of folks in Boulder like to respond to my pointing out that Boulder doesn’t get it regarding widenings by saying that Boulder no longer widens roads. While that may be true, Boulder continues to widen INTERSECTIONS (by creating double-left Arapahoe Ave Boulder COturn lanes, for example) all the time. But bigger intersections are worse than wider roads in many ways. For example, oversized intersections forever lose the ability to create a small town sense of place. It will always be a placeless, car-based location where people will never want to hang out. Such intersections will forever fail to pay for themselves because they eliminate the sales tax and property tax potential of those locations.

One of our societal problems is that news reporters often perpetuate myths when they write on topics they are not informed about. Many readers assume that if the comments are published in a newspaper, they are probably true.

This is a particularly big problem on the topic of transportation, as citizens (including reporters) tend to think it is so obvious what needs to be done to improve transportation. It is common sense! They fail to realize that many effective transportation tools are counter-intuitive.

Unfortunately, I will be stepping down from the Boulder Transportation Advisory Board before I get a chance to speak out against this tragic mistake and cast a lone vote against the proposed Arapahoe Avenue “improvements.”


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Filed under Bicycling, Transportation, Urban Design, Walking

A Conversation with Michael Ronkin about Parking

By Dom Nozzi

May 15, 2013

MR: There’s the idea that charging for parking is a regressive tax, one that will impact the poor more than the rich (… market pricing to free up spaces favors wealthier drivers). This can be said of any tax on a resource that is limited and that you want to see used less. The cigarette tax is a good example: poor uneducated people smoke more that rich educated people, but nobody advocates for giving poor smokers a tax break. Same with a fuel tax, carbon tax etc., it’s something we have to accept, and work on solutions that actually help those with less money, for example create an environment what you don’t “need” a car for daily errands.

DN: Excellent point. One comment I saw recently to respond to this common concern about hurting poor people with market pricing (to efficiently allocate a scarce resource) is that much (all?) of the parking revenue should be allocated to programs that help the poor more than the wealthy, such as putting the money into creating more, better and more frequent transit.

MR: Free on-street parking for short periods has been tried, but 2 hours is much too long.

DN: As I understand it, my girlfriend is NOT suggesting free, time-limited parking. She is suggesting a hybrid: PRICED, time-limited parking. Time-limited so that even a rich person must vacate the parking space fairly quickly, and would not be allowed to keep feeding the meter (because the programming of the meter would not allow it).

MR: Most errands can be accomplished in 2 hours; you can even have lunch n 2 hours. And this also leads to another undesirable phenomenon: people who want to stay longer, even all day, will move their car every 2 hours, adding to traffic and hogging the more desirable parking spaces.

DN: Good point. This would defeat Ann’s suggestion, I believe, since even if the meter would not allow a wealthy person to keep feeding the meter, the wealthy person would only need to move to another parking space. And as Shoup points out, a huge amount of traffic on streets consists of motorists searching for parking. In this scenario, both rich and poor motorists would be searching if the meter was time-limited.

MR: So how’s to make it work, combining your idea with Shoup’s: offer say 30-minutes free.

DN: But wouldn’t that result in folks just moving their car every 30 minutes?

MR: You also make the more desirable spots, the ones closer to the downtown core, more expensive.

DN: Yes, this must be done. One of the downsides of being less wealthy is that you are less able to afford to park in spots that are more desirable (closer). You are also less able to buy as much electricity for your home. Or purchase a steak dinner each time you go to a restaurant. Such a state of affairs is NOT “unfair” to lower income people. It is an unavoidable consequence of having less money. And is it really an intolerable thing that a lower income person would have to walk an extra block or two? Or use less electricity? Or eat steak only once every two weeks?

MR: So if you want to save money, you park a bit further out and walk a few blocks.

DN: Agreed.

MR: Which can lead to another problem, people parking in residential areas close in. Which you solve by issuing permits to residents, and limiting others to an hour or two, or heaven forbid, making them pay.

DN: Yes. The only thing that prevents this is a lack of leadership.

MR: Sounds crazy? It’s been done with other resources. Your electric bill for example. Okay, you don’t get free electricity, but you do pay more per KWH after a certain monthly amount. This was introduced about 25 years ago and nobody thought it would work. Prior to that, you paid less per KWH after a certain amount, just like the big box of cornflakes costs less per ounce than the small box. The paradigm shift occurred because people didn’t want more coal-fired or nuclear power plants.

DN: Exactly. Many, however, howl in agony when this sort of thing is proposed. “What about poor people????”

MR: Too long drivers have considered [parking] a right, something the public should make plentiful and cheap, even free. So one way another those parking spots have to be paid for, they are not free. Which is the point Shoup makes, we pay for them is so many other ways that also end up hurting the poor – mostly by creating an environment where people do need a car to survive.

DN: Precisely. Another way “free” parking hurts the poor: When “free” parking is provided, since it is not free, it must be paid for in hidden, indirect ways. Poor people therefore end up being forced to pay more for groceries when the grocery store parking%20lotprovides free parking – even if the low-income person arrives by walking, by bike, or by transit! That low-income person, in other words, is sometimes paying for parking he or she is not even using. And is partly subsidizing more wealthy motorists using parking spaces. If the parking at the grocery store was priced and paid for directly, the cost of fruits, vegetables and meats in the grocery store would be lower.




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Filed under Transportation

Reforming Parking and Property Taxes

By Dom Nozzi

An important reason why a parking cash out program, once enacted, becomes quite popular for both employees and employers is that it creates a more fair, equitable parking system (by allowing those who do not need employee parking to obtain benefits) without removing an existing perk (free parking).

For several decades, the conventional approach used by nearly all organizations in the nation has been to provide a large subsidy only to those who drive to work alone. For those who don’t drive to work alone, no subsidy is offered. This system strongly encourages driving alone to work (which artificially creates more solo drivers than would be the case had we not distorted the market with this subsidy), and is unfair to those who car pool, use transit, bike or walk to work.

Parking cash out simply establishes a program which equitably levels the playing field. We retain the subsidy for driving alone to work, but we provide the same subsidy for those who car pool, use transit, walk or bike to work.

It is a simple matter of fairness.

Land value taxation is another needed tax reform. This property tax system has been tried in Pittsburgh to remove the tax incentive for retaining undesirable surface parking lots in downtowns, and discouraging downtown infill, building construction, building renovation and a more productive use of an underused lot (the conventional tax structure used throughout the nation penalizes such desirable conversion of surface parking or dilapidated/underused downtown buildings by increasing the tax rate when you improve your property).

The result of conventional property taxation is that a great many downtowns in America have an enormous amount of surface parking and abandoned buildings, which significantly deadens a downtown, makes it less attractive to live in our visit, results in a downward spiral of declining tax revenue and lowered quality of life, and increases crime. Sprawl is Houston Downtownthereby encouraged.

The conventional tax rate structure used by nearly all cities taxes buildings instead of land. The higher the value of a building on a piece of downtown land, the higher the tax. As a result, downtown property owners have a strong incentive to build or retain low-value or decrepit buildings, or simply keep it as a vacant lot (or parking lot) in order to minimize their tax rate while they wait for their land to increase in value. Usually, this underutilized land is being held for speculation. And takes life away from the downtown by being held in an underutilized way for long periods of time.

The alternative is to tax land itself, not the building on it. Under this approach, land that is close to the center is taxed higher, since this is the location where there is usually the closest proximity to goods, services, culture, government activities, etc. By using this system, housing is promoted downtown (housing that is more affordable to the middle class). By promoting new, higher-value, or refurbished buildings, the alternative system improves the overall downtown tax base. It would promote more compact, mixed use cities, and discourage sprawl.

The idea of taxing land instead of buildings is called “site-value taxation” (or “land value taxation”), and was the idea of Henry George.

Pittsburgh and Harrisburg PA (and other cities in that state) are using a modification of the George system. These cities are using what is called a “two-tiered” property tax, where land is increasingly taxed more than buildings incrementally over time.

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Filed under Economics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design