Drinking red wine and reading about NYC Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Kahn’s push for congestion pricing  gave me an idea: Rather than charging people to drive into the downtown core to account for the impact their drive-alone-commutes have on the city (she lost that honorable fight), how about a different way of charging people for the same issue: A Single-Family-Zone tax.

In the Seattle context right now, with single-family neighborhoods coming out against citywide upzones, an SFZ Tax makes even more sense. If neighborhoods don’t want upzones, and so, don’t want developers to subsidize affordable housing (the city’s Mandatory Affordable Housing plan would require developers to contribute to affordable housing in exchange for citywide upzones), the City should just give in to neighborhood opposition.  And then: The City should limit development to downtown, to mixed-use zones, and along transit lines, without charging developers, and, instead, make single-family homeowners pay to subsidize affordable housing in exchange for keeping their pristine neighborhood “character” and for putting a development pinch on the rest of the city.

The tax should be levied based on lot size. Property owners in denser single-family zones, where land is  being used slightly more efficiently, would pay less than property owners in exaggerated single-family zones, where land use is more cavalier. The tax could also subsidize transit passes for people who move into new transit oriented development.

I repeat: This genius notion came to me while I was drinking red wine and reading Janette Sadik-Khan’s “Street Fight” (chapter three.)

From Chapter Two:

“And it’s not just a matter of bright lights, landmarks, great restaurants, entertainment, museums, and cultural institutions. Cities’ geographic compactness, population density, and orientation toward walking an public transportation make them the most efficient places to live in the world.”

“Two thirds of the American population now lives in the nation’s one hundred largest metro areas, occupying just 12 percent of the nation’s land area yet generating three quarters of the nation’s economic output.”

“Living in cities isn’t a random demographic result. It’s a choice.”

“Instead of fighting to preserve the spotted owl in the forest, they are taking the fight to cities.”

“The urban economist Edward Glaser wrote that simply rejecting denser, taller development creates more problems if the overall number of available homes doesn’t keep pace with population growth. ‘When the demand for a city rises, prices will rise unless more homes are built. When cities restrict new construction, they become more expensive.'”

“The federal gas tax, designed as a mechanism for drivers to pay for the upkeep of the roads they use, hasn’t been adjusted in two decades, asphyxiating the Highway Trust Fund and transportation infrastructure reinvestment with it. This is no small sum: it’s been stuck at 18.4 cents since 1993. Simply not adjusting the tax for inflation for two decades has reduced the tax’s value to just 11 cents, not counting the flatline in driving.”

“…from 1947 to 2012, American taxpayers as a whole paid $1 trillion more to sustain the road network than people who drive paid in gasoline taxes, tolls, and other user fees. In 2012, $69 billion in highway spending came from general tax revenues. Driver taxes and tolls pay for only about half of the cost to build and maintain the physical infrastructure needed to drive. The remainder is paid for with general tax revenues.”

“…car-based suburbs require expensive infrastructure investments and personal vehicle and fuel costs, while causing pollution and the environmental and health problems brought by physical inactivity. Sprawling distances also mean long travel times, traffic congestion, and slowed deliveries. These issues aren’t merely inconveniences; the study found they affect the entire economic and developmental metabolism of urban America, a $1 trillion a year drag on the American economy, or 13 percent of the nation’s economic output, slowing growth.”

“developing strategies that don’t require federal vision or largesse.”

“the federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD)…”

“…in practice, help city streets to operate more like highways and less like neighborhoods. In MUTCD’s more than eight hundred pages of diagrams, human beings are conspicuously absent from any representation of the street.”

“…safe, but not specifically authorized.”

“In the absence of guidance, some cities have found new inspiration in Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: A Context Sensitive Approach, produced in 2010 by the Congress for the New Urbanism and the Institute of Transportation Engineers.”

“The Urban Street Design Guide, an urban how-to guide produced by the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), a group that I ran while transportation commissioner and which I now chair…”

“tailored to dimensions of city streets, not interstate highways…The guide details a broad range of protected bike path designs, detail on curb extensions that shorten crossing distances for pedestrians, and bus lane and other lane treatments that can reduce the speed of passing cars and make people who walk, bike, take transit, or just linger feel more at home.”

“Ray LaHood”

“the new ‘Green Book’ for the twenty-first century. How do we get from design to implementation?”

From Chapter Three:


“pronounced ‘Plan-Y-C'”

“the plan didn’t start with trying to solve the ultimate challenge of New York’s long-term growth, but with trying to solve a single problem then facing the city: where to house the vast stockpiles of chemical salt needed for city plows when it snowed…the banal stuff of municipal real estate.”

“Similar plans had been drafted in Seattle and San Francisco…But these plans lacked unifying sustainability themes across all city agencies to reach beyond urban planning and into the essential issues of land use, energy, waste management, air quality, and climate change.”

“‘Whereas [in London] we have this massive population and economic growth, and it’s fueled by all sorts of policies being executed alongside congestion charging—cycling, renewal of the subway—which then make the plan work. I think that is an incredible lesson here and for the rest of the world.'”

“Portland officials opened the Tilikum Crossing, a 1,720-foot bridge that was the first span over the Willamette River in forty years. The bridge, know as the Bridge of the People, was designed to carry trains for Portland’s light rail MAX system, street cars, buses, bikes, pedestrians, ambulances, and fire trucks, but no private cars.”

“We went from cities being a problem to density being the solution.”

“…the sustainability guru…reflected the belief that cities are sources of national strength.”

“what that infrastructure should look like or the strategies to implement it…”

“identify the talent already within the agency…”

“a razor-sharp design”

“fledgling new office for public space…”

“congestion pricing”

“instead of lurching from emergency to emergency…”

“better city”

“what problem were they trying to solve”

“Creative street design, not stop signs, could change safety on a street…”

“This format works against general public participation and in favor of the few who feel passionate enough to declare an opinion before a room of people—often the most extreme opinions, which frequently result in a polarized room.”

“meetings that would seat participants at individual tables in groups….”

“as commuters descend upon the borough’s clusters of entertainment, finance, fashion, publishing, academia, dining, and media…”

“Only 6.6 percent of the 1.6 million people who travel to work in Manhattan daily drive alone compared with a national average of 76.4 percent. Instead….”

“The large numbers of vehicles require an immense amount of room while they are moving and while they are parked, which is why most New York City street space has been devoted to them.”

“This disequilibrium”

“vendors in an uneasy dance for space, pace, and safety…”

“bringing greater equity to the transportation network and reducing the impact of congestion.”

“Singapore introduced the first congestion pricing and taxing system in 1975.”

“To reduce congestion and vehicle emissions, London officials in 2003 introduced a fee for drivers coming into the city center on weekdays. By 2006 the plan reduced congestion within the zone by an estimated 30 percent and decreased greenhouse gases by 16 percent. Meanwhile, Londoners walked an took buses in increasing numbers…”

“having one of the world’s best transit networks wasn’t enough. Maybe the price would tip the balance.”

Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 10.40.31 PM

“The network incentivizes people to drive through Manhattan for free. Charging vehicles to enter Manhattan would change the message.”

“the data showed that 97.5 percent of Brooklyn residents wouldn’t have to pay a congestion charge to get to work.”

“March 31, 2008”

“What we are witnessing today is one of the biggest cop-outs in New York’s history,” Mayor Bloomberg spokesman John Gallagher said as the plan foundered.”

“We had lost this particular battle but had changed the conversation about how New Yorkers get around and who pays for it.”

—from chapters 2 and 3, Street Fight, by Janette Sadik-Khan and Seth Solomonow

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