Tag Archives: toll roads

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

By Dom Nozzi

One of my cousins, on Facebook (FB) in the spring of 2020, responded to a post I had made to FB recently. My post noted that several developed countries in the world had zero people without health insurance, while the US had 30 million without health insurance.

She responded by asking for a “Show of hands – who wants to pay 50% or more of their income in taxes??? Bernie [Sanders] is proposing American taxpayers pay 72% of their income so we can have FREE healthcare- even for ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS, free college, free, free, free- nothing is free – it all gets paid for somewhere…”

I responded to my cousin by saying that with all due respect, my partner and I believe my cousin needs to check her numbers.

I went on.

What you mention sounds like the distorted corrupt corporate media narrative (a media hugely funded by Big Pharma and Insurance companies). Our understanding: What Sanders proposes is that we go back to the Good Old Days of, say, the 1950s for our tax structure. Then, taxes on those making up to about $30K a year would pay, say, 15 percent in taxes. Those making $30-60K a year would pay, say, 30 percent in taxes on the money they make over $30K. Those making over $60K a year would pay, say, 55 percent in taxes on the money they make over $60K.

In other words, lower and middle-income folks would not see much of an increase in taxes.

Putting aside taxes, how about if we build one or two less F-16 fighter jets? How about if we fight one or two less endless wars of aggression (wars, by the way, that create two people who hate the US for every one US hater we kill, which helps induce the endless warfare cycle). How about if we build one or two less aircraft carriers? How about if we widen one or two less highways? Doing these no-brainer things would mean we could have universal health care (like all other developed nations on earth) and free college for all (and build a desperately needed national passenger rail system) without the need to raise taxes.

I agree with you, by the way, that it is unfair to provide free education and free health care to illegal immigrants. Shame on Democrats for not acknowledging that. Shame on Democrats for apparently supporting open borders and no real restrictions on immigration. That is not sustainable nor is it good for the US.

One last thing: I agree with you that nothing is free (someone, somewhere is paying for “free” things). That is why I’m sure you would agree with me that we should eliminate the biggest form of welfare subsidy by far in America: Free parking and toll-free roads. Those “free” parking spaces and “free” roads are being paid by someone. They are not actually free. As someone who has spent 40 years academically and professionally in transportation planning, I can say with certainty that gas taxes pay only a tiny percentage of those road and parking costs. The vast majority of those costs are paid indirectly: We all, for example, pay higher prices for groceries (including those of us who shop by bicycle or bus) to pay for those “free” parking spaces at the supermarket. We all pay higher property and sales taxes to pay for those “free” roads. And we all pay for those “free” parking spaces and “free” roads with enormous externalized costs such as air pollution, degraded public health, unaffordable sprawl development, noise pollution, tens of thousands of annual traffic deaths, strip commercial blight, etc.

In sum, thank you for pointing out that there is no such thing as a free lunch. I agree with you.

To answer your “show of hands” question, I very much DO want what Bernie Sanders proposes. As former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. once said, “I like to pay taxes. With them I buy civilization.” (and as I pointed out above, the Sanders ideas do not necessarily require that taxes be raised, and if they do, not much at all unless you are quite wealthy).

Oh, and I cannot let this be unsaid: There are HUGE hidden societal costs associated with having roughly 30 million Americans without health care. The numbers I’ve seen put those costs in the trillions of dollars. We cannot afford to have 30 million people without health care.

 

 

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Filed under Bicycling, Economics, Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design, Walking

There is No Mystery About What Needs to be Done

 

By Dom Nozzi

A friend of mine recently told me, with regard to climate change and excessive energy use, that “[i]t does all seem so overwhelming. I think a lot of people say, ‘What the hell, we are doomed, so I am going to buy the biggest car I can and drive it as much as possible. We are all going to die anyway so why try to make a change? Noting I can do will make a difference anyway.’ I wish we could all do something to make a change, but it is just so complicated, no one knows what to do.”

Here is my response to my friend:

The problem is not that the solutions are a mystery.

A great many of us know what works:

*Adopting a Carbon Tax.

*Establishing “dynamic pricing” of utility charges so that the price per unit of energy goes WAY up after a certain amount is used over the course of a month.

*Creating much larger government subsidies for “green” energy such as solar.

*Cutting the US military budget drastically.

*Putting way more government money into environmental research and the construction of a lot of new passenger rail.

*Pricing much of the “free” parking we have created all over the US.

*Tolling roads that are currently “free” to use.

There are nearly endless additional, effective tools, but I’ll stop there.

No, the problem is not the lack of knowledge about what to do. The problem is finding the political will to do effective things. As it stands now, the two major US political parties (Democrats and Republicans) are almost completely failing to give us leaders to vote for. Corruption is an important reason for that, as are unfortunate government subsidies for detrimental things.

In America, corruption leads to the widespread belief that socialism is a God-Given right when it comes to a great many ruinous features in our society (such as roads and parking and corn and energy). Corruption also leads too many of us to believe that socialism is only bad for things that benefit society (such as education, health, etc.).

As an aside, it is highly unlikely that paying attention to the entertainment, fear, anger, and outrage machine (ie, the US media) will inform us about what to do, or cast such tactics in a favorable light.

The media is almost exclusively striving not to inform us but to enrage us or amuse us or terrify us.

How did the media become this way?

Because the US media is going bankrupt by having to compete with such things as the Internet. They have learned, much to the detriment of our society, that if their reporting ramps up our OUTRAGE TOWARD OTHERS, FEAR OF OTHERS, and ANGER TOWARD OTHERS, they will make a lot of money and therefore sometimes survive – for at least a short while — the factors harming their bottom line. Their mission: to write news that obligates a great many of us to say to others, “OMG, did you hear xxxxxxx in the news???? We must tell everyone we know, and tune in more, or read more to learn more details!!!”

The emotions of outrage, fear, and anger do that better than anything else.

 

 

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Filed under Energy, Environment, Politics, Transportation

What To Do About Community Development Issues? A conversation with a friend

By Dom Nozzi

January 16, 2019

My Friend: I don’t know what to do about the fact that our city makes it so difficult for me to create an accessory dwelling unit (ADU)  or a duplex in my single-family zoned house.

Dom Responds: Things you can do: work to elect Council members who are urbanists, rather than NIMBY candidates. Talk up the many, many merits of urbanism and compact/traditional/human-scaled development with your friends (if you are not able to do that, at least send them videos of speakers who do that – I can send you such videos). You can also urge your friends to stop making Boulder’s quality of life worse. Your friends do that every time they DEMAND more parking. Every time they DEMAND more open space. Every time they DEMAND larger setbacks. Every time they DEMAND that no small retail or ADUs or duplexes or coops be allowed in their sacred single-family neighborhoods. You can also speak with your friends and Council members about the merits of traditional, lovable building design. And the unlovable, jarring horrors of modernist building design. Don’t forget to put in a plug for converting free surface parking into paid parking or conversion of parking to homes and retail. Also, the need to convert free roads into toll roads. And the joys of road diets!

BTW, what exactly do you mean by “runaway growth”? Growth that cannot be stopped? If so, we cannot stop growth and slowing it provides no benefit I am aware of. Boulder is ALREADY growing slowly, largely due to the fact that so few can afford to live here. Too many in Boulder believe growth is rapid and out of control in Boulder in recent times. That Council is caving in to developers due to corruption. I don’t see that at all. In my opinion, “runaway growth” is inflammatory and inaccurate.

My Friend: I agree with you on how “density” has gotten to be a dirty word, but it has come by that reputation quite honestly. Denver’s rapid development is very concerning as an example of everything that is bad, and is spilling over into Boulder.

Dom Responds: Why is “rapid development” bad? Would it be better if it happened over 10 years instead of 5? To me, the RATE of growth is irrelevant. I would LOVE to see the rapid construction of walkable, traditional, human scaled town centers rather than drivable suburbs. But I would settle for SLOW development of such charming places, too. To me, it is much better to be fearful of CAR HAPPY development, rather than RAPID development.

My Friend: I get the feeling that cities salivate over the expected new taxes they will collect from the new development and are willing to take short-cuts to maximize the intake.

Dom Responds: I do not believe there are shortcuts being taken by Boulder. I don’t believe Council members in Boulder are corrupt. Both opinions are highly cynical and wrong, in my opinion. Growth in this region is largely induced by the very high quality of life, and the resulting very high cost of land. Boulder elected officials therefore know they need to do nothing shady or corrupt to have a fair amount of revenue-generating development arrive here. To stop or slow growth, your only option is to destroy the quality of life here.

My Friend: Over 70,000 people moved to the Denver-Boulder area last year alone (5,000 per month) and that number or more are expected this year as well as the Denver/Boulder area being the #1 most popular place in the U.S. to move to because of our awesome outdoor environment and #1 availability for jobs.

Dom Responds: Again, lots of population growth in the region is NOT bad, per se. It is only bad if it is accommodated with car-happy development. The community conversation needs to focus on regulations obligating good design. Not obsessing on stopping or slowing or reducing density for new development.

My Friend: At this rate, we will experience grid-lock on I-25 at all hours and not only during rush hours in the near future!

Dom Responds: The good news, as my speeches and books point out, is that congestion tends to be self-regulating. When roads get more crowded, people start having to pay a “time tax.” That results in many motorists opting to change their travel: Some choose different routes. Some avoid rush hour. Some move closer to their destinations. Some use transit. Also, we already know how to avoid congestion if all else fails: tolls.

My Friend: Citizens are perplexed over what to do to stop the grid-lock.

Dom Responds: It is not rocket science: introduce tolls.

My Friend: Can you cite any recent developments within the past 20-30 years that are good high density developments anywhere in the world?

Dom Responds: Here is a worldwide list. Not all of them are great examples, but many or most are very good. They all have a much brighter future – even if some are limping today – than conventional suburban crap: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_examples_of_New_Urbanism

My Friend: Your examples of wonderful, beautiful, high density cities were all created in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Yes, Italy is wonderful and loveable for its character and old-world charms, but rebuilding old-world Europe in the U.S. does not seem possible.

Dom Responds: Untrue. See above link.

My Friend: Are you proposing that 5-story buildings are the max and everything will be ok if we followed that paradigm?

Dom Responds: No. That building height (which is in the Boulder Charter) is only one of many, many essential design elements we must adopt. Toss modernism in the waste can. Adopt slow speed design. Use human scale. Use traditional building design. Create tree-lined streets of a modest width. Mix housing with retail, civic and jobs. Develop compactly rather than low density. I can go on, but will stop there.

My Friend: They are saying that when we get autonomous driving cars, there will be many, many more cars on the roads. What will stop planners from creating tons more asphalt to accommodate them? Where will they park?

Dom Responds: Lack of parking is a VERY GOOD THING. As is congestion. Both induce people to do things that are beneficial for themselves and their community. The only thing that will stop our century-long road widening madness is for us to RUN OUT OF MONEY (and that day is rapidly approaching).

 

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Filed under Politics, Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design, Walking

Conditions Motivate Lifestyle Values in Community Design

 

By Dom Nozzi

June 5, 2002

Which comes first? Transportation choice and compact, walkable urbanism, or traffic congestion?

I continue to insist that we will NEVER find the political motivation to require the private sector to provide transportation choices, or the motivation to obtain public dollars to create such choices, UNLESS we create the material conditions that force LARGE numbers of citizens to DEMAND that such choices be created.

Congestion in America MUST precede the creation of transportation choices, as we have seen in so many of our bigger cities. We will never be able to create transportation choices in advance of congestion, because without congestion or the pricing of parking (or roads), it is absolutely rational for everyone to drive a car, even if there are quality alternatives available.

It happened at the University of Florida in Gainesville with parking shortages and priced parking. We would have NEVER seen such a big increase in student bus use if we tried to demand transit improvements from private developers, or fought to have public dollars be used for more transit (in other words, if we fought to have good transit in place before on-campus congestion occurred).

Since it is unrealistic for local government to create toll roads or establish priced parking or create parking supply shortages, we only have one option to create that political will: Not letting roads crowded with motor vehicles compel us to add road capacity or otherwise widen roads.

It is the price we MUST pay to pay for the road-widening, car-subsidizing sins of our predecessors. I do not have a worry that not widening a crowded road will, later on, create the political pressure to widen. I am confident that we will soon be unable to afford widenings. Even if the state and federal dollars could somehow be found (increasingly unlikely), it would still require a LONG time to do the construction, and the longer it takes, the more likely we’ll have a change in politics.

I’m quite willing to take the risk that being passive about congestion will deliver us transit and compact urbanism, not widenings. Even the road-happy California DOT now says widenings are over as a congestion-fighting tool.

Frankly, I don’t believe we should stop walkable projects in our urban area if it will further congest an already congested road. Or if transit is not available to serve the infill. We must keep in mind that congestion is a fundamental, helpful part of a healthy, walkable city rich in transportation choice. Fighting a walkable, mixed-use project for fear of congestion is therefore anti-city and pro-sprawl.

The WORST thing we can do about a proposed mega-project is to demand bigger roads and30th-and-arapahoe-double-lefts bigger intersections to deal with expected increases in car trips. Congestion is our friend, and if we fight against it by using the “bigger road capacity” tool, we are digging our own grave and ensuring a south Florida future. Bigger roads at larger proposed projects simply means more auto dependence and more sprawl. Why spend a bunch of public dollars for THAT?

It makes perfect sense that the sprawl and auto lobbies fight planned congestion. I don’t understand why conservationists sometimes seem to join them in that fight.

Our leverage in getting transportation choices should come from congestion, NOT from the threat of withholding approval of a project — particularly a walkable project.

 

 

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Proposal for Widening a Road in Orlando

By Dom Nozzi

I was called by the media in late 2013 for any comments I might have about a proposed road widening in Orlando, Florida. Here is what I said.

First, it has been known for several decades now that widening a road does not reduce congestion durably or sustainably. That is, after about 3-5 years, a widened road generally starts experiencing the same level of congestion it had earlier, if not worse.

Congestion reduction – in theory – can be reduced more long term if tolls are used and the toll price is properly calibrated to discourage “low-value” car trips (trips to, say, rent a video at rush hour, or trips that could have occurred on different, less substantial routes).

However, in the case of the Orlando project, while tolls are proposed, the project will be adding new lanes to be tolled, and leaving the existing untolled roads as untolled. In effect, such a project will add more capacity (carry more daily car trips) even though the new lanes are tolled. Because of the “triple convergence” concept that Anthony Downs played a large part in popularizing, there is a latent demand for more car travel on the road in question (some trips are currently being discouraged by the congestion, and are therefore happening at non-rush hour times or on different routes). Since some of the car trips that are currently on the existing untolled highway will shift to the toll lanes, new car trips will be induced to use the free pre-existing lanes, which now have new capacity created by the trips that have shifted to the toll lanes. In effect, then, even with the new lanes being tolled, the proposal will be adding enlarged capacity by adding the new lanes. And the triple convergence makes it inevitable that the untolled existing lanes will again become congested in 3-5 years.

Given that, the project will not be reducing congestion in the long term on the currently untolled roads. While the project will not reduce congestion long term, it will have one consequence for the region, and it is highly detrimental: By adding new capacity, the project will be further dispersing residential, commercial, and job growth into even more remote locations. Orlando will become more sprawled. And will achieve no long-term reduction in congestion on the free lanes. If the objective is to reduce — long term — the congestion on the current free lanes, the project is irresponsible, counterproductive and ruinous.

Second, a number of national sources are reporting something that has never been seen before in the US: Peak miles traveled (VMT). See, for example, this source: http://people.hofstra.edu/geotrans/eng/ch3en/conc3en/vehiclemilesusa.html

It is highly wasteful for state, local or national government to be adding road capacity at a time when there is not only a fiscal crisis, but at a time when it appears there is a long term peak or reduction in VMT. Future generations will rightly be appalled that our generation continued to widen roads at a time when it was obvious that widening did not reduce traffic congestioncongestion durably, and continued to do so even when we started seeing a peak and decline in VMT. The fact that all levels of government are suffering severely from fiscal woes only makes the on-going road widenings even more inexcusable. This is true even if the tolls fully pay for the new lanes, as the sprawl and newly-induced car trips will add substantial new, long term costs to the Orlando region.

A much more desirable plan for Orlando would be to convert existing highway lanes to tolled lanes, rather than building new lanes. Under that scenario, the region would have a chance to reduce congestion long term.

IF the toll prices are calibrated properly.

By not building new lanes to widen the highway – by tolling existing lanes instead – Orlando has a good chance of seeing beneficial outcomes: More infill, a healthier business climate (particularly for smaller and existing businesses), less town center vacancy, more stable (or improving) property values, more per capita transit trips, less fuel consumption, and less air emissions, to name a few.

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