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Congestion Pricing

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

3:28 PM PDT on October 15, 2009

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 usuallyargue that traffic jams waste gasoline. That’s true, but the energywaste and carbon output attributable to idling cars is smaller thanthat attributable to the overall transportation network. There’snothing green about fighting congestion if, by distributing trafficmore efficiently, it results in an overall increase in traffic volumeand 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…

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