Saturday, January 27, 2007

Cut-through Pricing

Sorry I've disappeared a bit recently. I'm in graduate school at U.Va. but hopefully I'll be getting involved in city issues again soon.
Anyway, I read the recent article in the C-Ville about cut-through traffic, and I wanted to share an idea with you.
It appears that there is broad agreement that cut-through traffic is a big problem in the city, and most of it isn't city residents and almost none of it is residents/employees in the relevant area.
An economist would suggest that this situation is a hidden subsidy of transportation to a few drivers, at the expense of neighborhood safety and quality, meaning public health, safety, and welfare. I propose that we could have a better system if we taxed that subsidy away, and used the proceeds to fund multimodal transportation improvements in the city and put a percentage into the affordable housing fund. Cut-through pricing is a regressive tax, since the pricing is the same regardless of income or wealth, so it's important that the funds be used to promote better transportation and housing options for low-income people to balance that.
I think the best way to do it would be to set up electronic tolls on roads that neighborhoods nominate. Neighborhood residents and employees would not be charged for using those roads, but people who neither live nor work there, who are cutting through to another destination, would pay a dollar or so. In high traffic, it's a fair price to avoid congestion. When there isn't high traffic, cut-throughs aren't necessary (though people are still free to do it).
I'm not sure how much this system would cost to set up. Similar systems have been set up in places like London and Singapore to manage congestion efficiently (and we could do that also, perhaps obviating the need for cut-through traffic in the first place), but I've never seen a system initiated to protect neighborhood quality.
I like that this idea supports neighborhoods in that they choose which roads get pricing, and they don't pay for their own roads. Neighborhoods could also decide how much each road should be charging.
What do you think?

top left photo: one local solution for cut-through traffic is to block off streets for everyone. photo by Bill Emory.
lower right photo: signs indicating electronic road pricing in london. traffic is not slowed or stopped. photo by Nevilley From.


emory said...

Inspired idea! The main challenge, the Dillon Rule. In Virginia, localities can't blow their nose without permission of the state legislature. Lobbyists for roads hold more sway in Richmond than do lobbyists for pedestrian friendly neighborhoods.

emory said...

Great podcast here from Coy Barefoot and Peter Norton about the move from streets being the place for pedestrian to the wholly owned territory of the automobile