Category Archives: transportation

The role of Massachusetts in making a case for the adoption of a nationwide carbon tax policy

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Massachusetts’ Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) passed in 2008 committed the state to reducing carbon emissions 25% below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80% by 2050. Progress towards meeting these targets has been uneven, especially when it comes to transportation improvements and land use policy. This is especially worrisome given that transportation emissions are likely to rise over the next few years. One possible solution, supported by much of the environmental community, is the adoption of a revenue-neutral carbon tax or carbon fee. This would levy an additional fee on fossil fuel consumption, but distribute the revenue back to the state’s residents instead of adding it to the state budget. MCP 15 Elizabeth argues that this would be a mistake. She draws from a spatial analysis of passenger vehicle driving patterns in Massachusetts, a case study of British Columbia’s successful revenue-neutral carbon tax, and analysis of the current political landscape in Massachusetts to make her case. What are the flaws in this potential strategy? How do the state’s efforts relate to nationwide efforts to adopt a carbon tax? You can find the answers to these questions and more by downloading Elizabeth’s thesis in the following link:

 

No Idling: Parking Policy in Growing Cities

ImageThere are few urban issues that touch as many nerves as parking, which resides in the often uncomfortable overlap of transportation, environmental protection, land use, and economic growth. To determine how much parking cities should have—and where that parking should be—a wide variety of stakeholder need to interact in a complex political process. Debates over parking policy, it turns out, are rarely just about parking.

In her thesis, Cara Ferrentino (MCP ’13) took a close look at the formation of parking policy in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She shows how three distinct groups—the “growth coalition”, “limited growth” advocates, and “smart growth” bureaucrats—have nudged the city into adopting and reforming policies regarding parking supply.

Cambridge was forced to confront parking in the 1970s, when EPA regulations enforced a mandatory parking freeze on the city’s non-residential parking supply to ensure compliance with the Clean Air Act. But, driven by concerns over the freeze’s impact on Cambridge’s commercial growth, the city lifted the freeze in 1997 and adopted instead a variety of demand-side approaches to managing parking supply. Today, Cambridge uses a number of incentives to encourage the use of alternative modes of transportation. These are often implemented in cooperation with the city’s major employers.

Cara evaluates the success of these efforts and finds that, while many employers have taken steps to encourage alternative transportation, the city nonetheless builds more non-residential parking than it uses. She notes that the city will need to rethink both the supply side and the demand side of parking policy in the near future if it is going to provide just the right amount of parking in all the right places. Read more about the past, present, and future of parking policy in Cambridge in Cara’s thesis.

Stuck in Traffic: The Failure of New York City Congestion Pricing

By Dom Dada

By Dom Dada

As is apparent even to the tourists in Times Square, Manhattan’s traffic jams are a consistent source of delays, aggravation, and air pollution. As part of 2007’s PlaNYC, the New York City government’s comprehensive vision for the future, the city proposed implementing a congestion pricing system similar to those in place in London and Singapore. The goal was to ease the flow of traffic, encourage the use of public transportation, and nudge residents towards more sustainable patterns of everyday life.

As Patrick Lynch (MCP ’10) shows in his thesis, the city’s congestion pricing plans were initially promising. Proponents had strong support from residents, state politicians, and the federal government. However, implementation died in the New York State Assembly, which refused to even vote on the measure. Patrick notes several reasons for this, including a byzantine program approval process and disagreement over how revenues should be spent.

The biggest problem with congestion pricing, however, was the conflict between winners and losers. While the measure enjoyed the support of local politicians in Manhattan and the Bronx, representatives of the city’s other boroughs felt that their constituents were being unjustly targeted. Proponents did little to address these concerns, and they did a poor job of building a supportive coalition to counter their opponents. Ultimately, opposition from a politically important and geographically concentrated bloc created a hostile political climate and doomed efforts for congestion pricing in the city.

Read Patrick’s conclusions about New York City’s failure to implement congestion pricing and his thoughts on implementation of related schemes elsewhere in his thesis.

Seattle’s Long Journey to Interurban Rail

Seattle Sound Transit (Photo Credit: Transportation for America, Creative Commons license, http://www.flickr.com/photos/t4america/5415978003/)Nicknamed the “Emerald City” for its lush evergreen forests, Seattle has a reputation as a forward-thinking and environmentally-minded city. However, even in the progressive Pacific Northwest, powerful institutional barriers can materialize to oppose environmental planning efforts. Kim Foltz (MCP ’10) tells the story of Seattle’s decades-long flirtation with interurban rail and reveals the great difficulty with which progress has been made.

Transportation planning is one of the most intractable problems in sustainability. Transport systems are incredibly complex and deal with multiple and diverse barriers in the realms of finance, logistics, and politics. Also, because they often depend on special tax increases, large transit projects are generally subject to voter approval. Beginning in the mid-1990s, transportation planners in the Seattle area tried to establish public support for a light rail system through the electoral process. Transit advocates have made incremental electoral gains over the years–most recently in 2008–but as Kim shows, these victories have been hard-won and reflect the resistance that planners face in securing public mandates for ambitious projects.

Kim demonstrates the vulnerabilities that transit planners were subject to in the political process. Politically savvy rail opponents were initially able to hijack the public conversation by framing the region’s transportation problem solely as one of congestion, favoring new road-building campaigns and ignoring mass transit’s environmental benefits. Additionally, the need for public support throughout a three-county area led to competition among the various cities involved in the interurban rail project. These problems were exacerbated by what was originally a poor public outreach campaign on the part of the transit agency, and have resulted at several points in watered-down plans and concessions to political opponents. While transit advocates were eventually able to build support for a rail system in the Seattle area, the political process that led to their ultimate victory was exhausting and time-consuming.

In her thesis, Kim weighs the benefits and drawbacks of making planning decisions through the ballot box. Read more here, or engage in a discussion about the public’s role in planning on EPP’s Facebook group.

What Are the Risks and Opportunities of Regional Planning?

Photo credit: Abby Ladybug

Many of the ills facing metropolitan areas, such as traffic congestion, strained public infrastructure, and regional inequality, are caused, in large part, by the negative impacts one community faces because of the decisions of another. For example, as a town far outside the urban core develops more housing, it may create more traffic for communities further in as commuters shuttle through to centers of employment or education. Without effective mechanisms for both horizontal (e.g. city to city) and vertical (e.g. city to nation) coordination of planning and governance, the metropolitan region can face a “tragedy of the commons,” where the prosperity and quality of life declines for the region as a whole.

In an effort to support the growth and development of a high-quality metropolitan region, the Boston Metropolitan Regional Planning Commission’s (MAPC) MetroFuture regional planning process engaged over 4,000 of the area’s residents between 2002 and 2009 and produced a new vision and action plan for the region.

Evan Thomas Paul (MCP ’11) looks at the strengths and weaknesses of the effort and concludes that the process can serve as a model for other regions, while cautioning against some of the political, financial, and citizen burnout challenges of the process.

You can learn more about this topic by reading Evan’s full thesis “Projections, Politics, and Practice in Regional Planning: A Case Study of MetroFuture.”