Carol Stream, Illinois. Photo by Alex MacLean.
Happily, a long time Chicago friend joined us here for dinner last night. We sat on the porch to watch and listen to the city, fired up the grille, and enjoyed catching up – it was a treat.
We were surprised and pleased to hear that he has been reading what we have been writing. And he had a suggestion: ‘stop wringing your hands and start offering some solutions.’ (He was more tactful, but we got the message). Fair enough. Herewith, a first installment of suggestions aimed at shifting public policy in the direction of making a more sustainable next city.
1. Immediately stop all construction of any new parking facilities across the nation. This would make me a real popular guy, but we have enough parking and cars already. Basta.
2. Remove parking requirements from all zoning ordinances. No more accomodating the car, no more trying to squeeze cars into our cities and towns. We have what we have – no more parking spaces are needed. Take the streetcar, walk, bike, buy a Segway, ride the bus.
3. Having achieved the first two suggestions, and instantly witnessing the turmoil these will certainly induce, simultaneously require congestion pricing in all cities. Briefly, congestion pricing, which is already in place in London, Stockholm and elsewhere, and has been proposed for Manhattan, requires payment of a fee if you want to bring a vehicle into a central sector of a city. In London, the fee is about $15 a day, and if you violate the rules, the fine is between about $150 and $350 per violation. Former London mayor Ken Livingstone was trying to set much higher fees for vehicles that are major polluters, but he got canned in the recent election – we’ll have to see where things go from here.
4. Now here is an inverse suggestion. For any new exurban or suburban development, levy a very stiff ‘congestion development’ fee. I am thinking that this has to be on a graded scale to take location, unit size, and development size into consideration.
But the fee has to be big enough to cover the cost of building new and caring for existing infrastructure, including roads and utilities, and schools and social infrastructure as well. And it has to be big enough to induce redevelopment of existing places, making them more dense and more affordable, rather than using up more land and resources in the countryside. Young families move to the edges of cities to secure inexpensive housing, and to get their kids into good schools. Instead, stay in the city, and let’s fix the schools. So I think we should start at something like $400,000 or $500,000 per unit as a minimum.
Hysterically, we attended a lunch presentation today where the speaker, from a ‘green’ group giving awards for ‘sustainable’ projects, called one of his awardees, which looked a lot like the typical suburban/exurban development mess, “transit ready development.” Oh no you don’t…
These places generate very high levels of car trips, they require commutes at least to a distant commuter parking facility, or worse they encourage long commutes to and from workplaces. (Folks are commuting to and from Washington these days from Pennsylvania – take a look at your map). There is a longer list of the problems developments like this create, but for the moment, let’s just stick with a few transportation related issues. Estimates suggest that commuters waste 5.7 billion gallons of gasoline a year, as they sit for an average of 46 hours a year in traffic.
Schaumburg, Illinois. Photo by Alex MacLean.
Now take the downtown congestion pricing fees and the suburban and exurban levies and start building transit options. Quickly. Let’s get rid of as many cars as we can, as fast as we can.
Anyway, it’s a start. More to follow.