How to Discourage Driving
Updated June 29, 2011, 10:52 AM
Should urban planners try to make life miserable for drivers, in order to discourage gasoline consumption and encourage an urban pedestrian renaissance? Planners should try to create pleasant, foot-friendly places, but they should also facilitate fast commutes. If we want to discourage driving, the right way is to use congestion charges and gas taxes, not by arbitrary annoyances that stymie drivers.
The hodge-podge of anti-car planning interventions contains many policies that are eminently defensible on their own merits. Barring cars from some pedestrian zones in Zurich or Midtown Manhattan makes sense, not because these areas deter driving, but because they create usable, pleasant spaces. There are good reasons to protect urban space from the car, but that isn’t the same thing as barring driving for the sake of barring driving.
The case for taxes, relative to the arbitrary inconvenience of excessive traffic stops, is that they create revenue rather than just wasting time. Both tools can deter driving by causing pain to motorists. But a congestion charge generates an offsetting boost in revenues, which can be used to provide public transit or anything else. Congestion charges are also flexible — in minutes they can be raised or lowered to respond to changing local conditions — while physical fixes are more enduring.
The issues around parking are similar. We should not arbitrarily limit (or encourage) the private provision of garage spaces, but drivers should pay for the full social costs of their parking. Since the space on a New York street is worth at least as much as the space underground, it should cost as much to park on the street as to park in a garage.
It is terrible to unnecessarily waste the time of drivers or anyone else, but we should charge drivers for using the valuable space of city streets.