We will never sell or share your email address.

The Week Observed, November 12, 2021

By Joe Cortright

What City Observatory did this week

Has this city discovered how to solve traffic congestion?  Why aren’t they telling everyone else how this works?  A miracle in Louisville.

Actual, un-retouched photo of rush hour traffic on I-65 in Louisville.

Louisville charges a cheap $1 to $2 toll for people driving across the Ohio River on I-65.  After doubling the size of the I-65 bridges from six lanes to 12, tolls slashed traffic by half, from about 130,000 cars per day to fewer than 65,000.

Kentucky and Indiana wasted a billion dollars on highway capacity that people don’t use or value. If asked to pay for even a fraction of the cost of providing a road, half of all road users say, “No thanks, I’ll go somewhere else” or not take the trip at all.

The fact that highway engineers aren’t celebrating and copying tolling as a proven means to reduce congestion shows they actually don’t give a damn about congestion, but simply want more money to build things.

Must read

1. In Memoriam:  Tony Downs.  Economist Tony Downs died this past week.  He famously applied economic analysis to a wide range of subjects, including elections and voting, and most especially transportation.  Downs is credited with coining the term “induced demand” something that’s now been repeatedly proven in a series of detailed studies.  It’s now referred to as “the fundamental law of road congestion,” and Downs is its intellectual father. As the New York Times wrote of his work:
Mr. Downs moved away from politics in his books “Stuck in Traffic” (1992) and “Still Stuck in Traffic” (2003), in which he postulated “Downs’s Law,” applying it to roads without tolls: “On urban commuter expressways, peak-hour traffic congestion rises to meet maximum capacity.” He attributed the congestion to what he called “induced demand.”  He argued that the best way to reduce traffic is to impose a fee, toll or other form of congestion pricing during rush-hour, an idea that has gained currency in recent years in congested cities like New York.
2. What didn’t cause gentrification in San Francisco:  Building market rate housing. In a widely reported story, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to turn down land use approval for a 495 unit apartment building that would have had 125 affordable units, replacing a parking lot in the city’s downtown.  The reason for their opposition, ostensibly, was fears the project would accelerate gentrification.  Randy Shaw, a local affordable housing advocate, and author of “Generation Priced Out” says the supervisors have it exactly backwards:  gentrification was caused by failing to build more market-rate housing:
Despite the Board’s belief, new market rate housing has not driven San Francisco’s gentrification process. . .  gentrification has overwhelming occurred in neighborhoods that had little to no new multi-unit development.  San Francisco began gentrifying in the late 1970’s. It was entirely unrelated to new market rate housing development. In fact, the massive gentrification of San Francisco through the 1980’s and again during the 90’s dot com boom was accompanied by little new housing; it was instead fueled by increased housing demand pursuing a fixed housing supply.  The city’s failure to build more housing to meet rising demand fueled the gentrification of once affordable neighborhoods.
It’s the acme of NIMBYism to block a market rate housing project that manages to meet a very tough 25 percent affordable housing hurdle, and claim that somehow by preserving a parking lot, you’re preventing gentrification.  This vote means more market pressure on rents because there will be several hundred fewer market rate apartments, and also fewer affordable options.  That, not building housing, will worsen affordability for everyone, and amplify displacement and, yes, gentrification.


blog comments powered by Disqus

Related Commentary