Good news for L.A.: More Congestion, Higher Parking Fees

10_15_09__Manny_.jpgTraffic trying to get to Dodger Stadium. Photo:=Manny=/Flickr

Here comes one positive side benefit of the L.A. budget crisis:
Gridlock. Our tight budget means the city can no longer afford to pick
up the tab to make driving easier — by providing free traffic officers
for events at the Dodger Stadium, Hollywood Bowl, and other major
venues.

So now, most of these venues plan to pick up the tab — but also to reduce the number of traffic officers working — which according to the L.A. Times, “could lead to congestion.”

The change doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll have more congestion.
Perhaps more people will simply take public transportation to these
events, as L.A.’s Principal Transportation Engineer Alan Willis is
apparently encouraging people to do — though it’s unclear from the L.A.
Times article what concrete steps, if any, Willis plans to take to
actually get people on buses and rail. But even if we do get more
congestion, this is good news for both the environment and alternative
transit advocates, according to David Owen, a staff writer at The New
Yorker whose latest Wall Street Journal article expounds on “How Traffic Jams Help the Environment.” (via Idea)

“Traffic jams can actually be environmentally beneficial if they
turn subways, buses, car pools, bicycles and walking into
more-attractive options,” Owen points out. That may be a rather obvious
observation, but Owen’s arguments that both ramp metering and
congestion pricing aren’t necessarily good for the environment will be
surprising at first for many alternative transit advocates:

Advocates of congestion-fighting strategies usually
argue that traffic jams waste gasoline. That’s true, but the energy
waste and carbon output attributable to idling cars is smaller than
that attributable to the overall transportation network. There’s
nothing green about fighting congestion if, by distributing traffic
more efficiently, it results in an overall increase in traffic volume
and extra miles driven by vehicles avoiding the fee areas.

That said, Owen isn’t against congestion pricing — He’s simply
pointing out that such programs must be part of a “truly effective
traffic program” that “would impose high fees for all automobile access
and public parking while also gradually eliminating automobile lanes
(thereby reducing total car traffic volume without eliminating the
environmentally beneficial burden of driver frustration and
inefficiency) and increasing the capacity and efficiency of public
transit.”

Owen’s entire article’s a great read — which also gave me an idea:
Perhaps simply raising the parking prices in these L.A. venues alone
will get rid of the potential congestion problem altogether while
encouraging more people to take alternative modes of transportation.

Parking pricing, in fact, is what the City of Santa Monica’s
targeting now to tackle its own gridlock issues. Reduce this
“ill-advised subsidy for public parking,” reports the L.A. Times,
and more people might walk, bike, or take public transit to enjoy a day
or night out on the Third Street Promenade: “If it works, the city
would benefit from smoother traffic flow, reduced pollution as fewer
people cruise for spaces and a better return on land developed for
public parking.”

Those plans are still in the works; the city staff first needs to
recommend a plan (”perhaps by late this year,” according to the L.A.
Times) that the City Council can take up. But reading about how L.A.
drivers can expect not only more gridlock but also higher parking
prices really made my day today!

Of course, in addition to making driving and parking less pleasant
and more costly, we need to make it easier for people to get to all of
these venues without getting in a car. I love the convenience of taking
the bus to the Hollywood Bowl, but I hear getting to the Dodger Stadium
via public transit isn’t as easy…

  • Enrique Peñalosa of Bogotá Colombia refers to congestion as a simple result of choice. He makes a compelling argument for embracing congestion and for positioning its inevitable occurrence as the point at which alternative transportation becomes a viable competitive option to the single occupant private motor vehicle.

    Ladies and Gentlemen, say hello to the future of alternative transportation!

  • Articles like this do more damage than help to the so-called “New Urbanism/Smart Growth” movement. It’s really a microcosm of a much larger issue.

    First, there the theory overcoming standing facts to become truth. There are countless peer-reviewed journal articles on the correlation between congestion and air quality, not solely from fuel consumption standpoint, which can alter with greater/worse fuel-efficiency, but primarily from idling engines. The author doesn’t even acknowledge the latter; indeed, he completely dismisses an entire school of research in favor of some counter-intuitive theory purported as truth.

    Then there’s the total ignorance of social reality and the plight of those most apt to use public transit (which aren’t the yuppies but rather the poorest citizens). From the article:

    Time lost to traffic delays has an obvious cost—all those stalled commuters could be working at their desks or interacting with their children instead of fuming at other drivers—but perceptions of productivity are among the factors that commuters weigh when they consider where to live and how to travel to work.

    Conduct a survey of existing MTA bus riders and I doubt “productivity” will even come out any where near the top of reasons of where they live and how they travel to work.

  • DJB

    There is value in questioning the idea that faster moving vehicles and cheap parking are always good.

    Cars sitting in traffic don’t have to waste energy. If all drivers drove hybrids, they would probably save money on total cost of ownership and wouldn’t waste any gasoline while idling. Obviously we’re not at that point yet, but if we’re serious about sustainability we have to get there (and beyond there).

    You can’t improve conditions for existing transit riders without making transit more mainstream. You can’t make transit more mainstream without making it less convenient to drive and changing the built environment, both in terms of density/land use mixture, and infrastructure for cleaner alternatives to the car.

    To make that revolution happen, there might be a need to incur some short-run environmental costs. No worthwhile change is ever easy.

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