Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Perspective: Reducing the Relative Value of Driving

Douglas Adams wrote that "In an infinite universe, the one thing sentient life cannot afford to have is a sense of perspective." Still, I feel that a certain amount of perspective would help with a post-mortem on congestion pricing.

Here's a revised version of the basic cycle of transportation. I fired up the ol' Microsoft Paint and replaced "relative transportation quality" with "relative transportation value"; I think that has a much bigger impact on choices than quality.

Congestion pricing was never the goal. Who devotes their life to something like that? The goals were, and still are: limiting pollution, increasing efficiency, improving the social structures of our neighborhoods, and furthering the cause of social justice.

The big point is the word relative. Increasing the value of transit, walking and cycling has no effect if you increase the value of driving at the same time (as is planned for the Tappan Zee). If you had a ton of money, you could increase the value of transit, but in places like Riverdale and Eastern Queens so much has been invested over the years in increasing the value of driving - and there's so much resistance to transit expansion - that even then it would be almost impossible to catch up.

Of course, we don't have a ton of money, so if we want to limit pollution, increase efficiency, and maybe limit the carnage as well, we've got no choice but to reduce the value of driving. Congestion pricing was the first measure I've seen that would have seriously reduced the value of driving and had the backing of the Mayor, the Governor, the City Council and the State Senate Majority.

It's time to move on to other things, but let's not lose sight of the fact that we can't have a meaningful impact on global warming, asthma, the economy and the safety of our families without making driving either more expensive or more difficult.

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