Saturday, March 03, 2012

75% in SF oppose Congestion Pricing

SF Examiner file photo

The annual Chamber of Commerce public opinion poll is a Rorschach test: the Bay Guardian's Steve Jones is annoyed at the questions about taxes and Ranked-Choice Voting. Jones also knocks the Examiner's article that focused on the positive response to the idea of tax breaks for businesses to create jobs. 

The Examiner's Melissa Griffin notes that homelessness and panhandling are at the top of the list of citizen concerns, which is true. But only 27% made that their main concern, and 73% put other issues on top.

Jones supplies readers with a link to the poll itself, but the Examiner doesn't. Hard to see why the Guardian can provide its readers with that service and the Examiner can't.

But the Examiner does list the poll results below its story, which include issues of interest to those of us who write about traffic. The results are bad news for the city's anti-car movement: 65% say that parking in the city is getting worse; 75% oppose charging drivers a fee for driving downtown, aka Congestion Pricing; 60% oppose an increase in the parking tax; and 53% oppose raising the vehicle license fee.

City Hall is determined to shove Congestion Pricing down our throats, as planning for that eventuality continues at the SFCTA, which is funded by a sales tax that brings in $70-$80 million a year for transportation projects in the city, including paving city streets. Instead of getting mundane and essential projects like that done, the SFCTA is a breeding place for anti-car traffic schemes.

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At 8:07 AM, Blogger Nato said...

It's worth noting that congestion pricing is one of the planning fixes suggested by the Cato Institute to account to car costs. They oppose spending money on transit modes that compete with cars, instead advocating things like congestion fees and variable priced parking. Thi isn't because they hate cars, but because they acknowledge that private cars impose public costs for which car users must be made to compensate the public in order to maintain market efficiency and fairness.

But once again, people don't like suddenly having to pay for what they used to be given for free.

At 11:50 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Here in SF congestion pricing is being pushed by the usual anti-car suspects, the Bicycle Coalition, Streetsblog, and the SFCTA.

The Cato institute has zero influence in SF. The anti-car movement here is led by progressives. As the Chamber poll shows, Congestion Pricing would surely lose if/when it's put on the ballot, but of course City Hall may try to sneak in a "trial" version without the consent of city voters under the whether-we-like-it-or-not approach to public policy, especially anti-car policy, which is like a religion for many city progs.

At 12:39 PM, Blogger Nato said...

That sounds like a bipartisan consensus to me!

At 12:43 PM, Blogger Nato said...

Also, it's worth noting that people might have a different answer if they were offered a bunch of alternatives with the same revenue profile. "Which free service would you prefer to lose/which hiked expense would you prefer to suffer?" I mean, if someone asked me "would you like to be jabbed with a needle?" I would decline. However, if the options were "get jabbed with a needle" and "get the flu," then I'll choose the latter.

At 1:18 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Again you're offering overly abstract arguments. I understand that that's the ony way you libertarians can make an argument, but the post is about public opinion and traffic in San Francisco.

At 1:35 PM, Blogger Nato said...

I'll be more concrete, then. It's indisputably true that pro-bike folks get elected to the Board of Supervisors. Public opinion polls don't have any direct role in the planning process. Thus, your entire post is a pointless abstraction.

Or are your abstractions permissible while mine are not?

At 2:12 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Public opinion polls tell elected officials what the public thinks about specific issues. Hence, people who support Congestion Pricing in defiance of public opinion are taking a political risk. My statements in the post---based on a public opinion poll that I link---are about traffic in San Francisco.

Your statement about Cato is not, and neither is your comment about different "revenue profiles," whatever the hell that is.

At 2:36 PM, Blogger Nato said...

The board faces the kind of question I posed. They cannot give people everything they want, because money and other city resources such as space are finite. Thus they don't have a simple question of the form "to congestion price or not?" in front of them. They have a complex problem composed of traffic, budgets, street space, transit usage, and so on. All of their decisions have trade-offs, and the poll doesn't represent that. So they decline to use congestion pricing - now what do they do about traffic? Do they remove parking to make room for more lanes? Do they remove parking to make room for bike traffic int eh hopes that this will reduce teh need for both parking and auto lanes? Do they leave the status quo and just shrug their shoulders? And any of those, without congestion pricing, will still result in fairly bad traffic, but also provide no help for the city's structural deficits, and thus require more fights with the various unions (possibly losing in court), or further slashes to public services.

There's political risk regardless, and a poll showing congestion pricing is unpopular tells very little on its own, because it's just one of many unpopular things, and politicians will have to choose one or more.

At 3:31 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

There's no traffic emergency in downtown SF that requires Congestion Pricing. The anti-car movement---led by City Hall---likes to pretend that this city of 800,000 has the same problem as London or Paris, but it doesn't. City Hall is no doubt disappointed that its trial balloons on Congestion Pricing haven't swayed public opinion.

At 4:30 PM, Blogger Nato said...

While I've never driven during rush hour in London or Paris, I will say that SF street traffic peak directions between 8 and 9:30am and 5:30-7pm seems pretty jammed up to me on those days when I have to drive for whatever reason. I don't think it's gotten as bad as it was in '07-'08, but I certainly haven't thought people were strange for complaining about the traffic. Ironically, they usually tell me they'd prefer to ride, but are too scared. I'm thinking here of a friend who works at Dolby, another who works at a real estate investment bank, a woman working personnel for a law firm downtown, and a vet-tech at the SPCA hospital. Granted, not all of them drive as it is, but I think the principle remains the same.

At 7:14 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Of course there's plenty of traffic in downtown SF, especially during commute hours. More than 35,000 vehicles drive into the city every workday, and, according to the city's Transportation Fact Sheet, 36% of city residents drive to work.

But it's ridiculous to compare traffic in large European cities like London (7 milion) and Paris (2 million) with SF (800,000).

But if SF continues along the delusional "smart growth" path, it will eventually achieve gridlock downtown.

At 8:41 PM, Blogger Nato said...

Wait, how would congestion pricing cause gridlock?

At 9:44 PM, Blogger Nato said...

Also, why would the size disparity make them incomparable? 2 million is 28.6% of 7 million, and 800 thousand is 40% of 2 million, so SF is closer to Paris in size than Paris is to London.

At 10:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But it's ridiculous to compare traffic in large European cities like London (7 milion) and Paris (2 million) with SF (800,000).

Why not? San Francisco may have half the population density of Paris, but SF's job centers are very tightly packed - from Civic Center to the Embarcadero along Market Street. Paris' Government buildings are nearer to the Seine, the business centers to the East, and La Defense to the West. Paris has nowhere near the traffic density of SF. Probably due to that damn bike share program!

At 10:24 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

You and City Hall can dream about Congestion Pricing in SF, bit it clearly doesn't have enough political support.

"Wait, how would congestion pricing cause gridlock?"

No, it's the city's the dumb "smart growth" policies that will cause real gridlock downtown, especially from the Bay Bridge, since the city is allowing 26,000 people on Treasure Island.

At 11:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"No, it's the city's the dumb "smart growth" policies that will cause real gridlock downtown, especially from the Bay Bridge, since the city is allowing 26,000 people on Treasure Island."

Rob opposes the bike/ped path for the western span.

At 12:01 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Do you think a bike path would mitigate all that traffic? Not to mention the $550 million price tag.

At 12:14 PM, Blogger Nato said...

I'm actually somewhat agnostic about whether congestion pricing is appropriate for SF. I do, however, think that something needs to happen to deal with the large negative externalities created by auto dependence. I lived in Los Angeles and thereabouts for ~12 years, and a bunch of other places while I was in the Army, and it's left me with the impression that there's three main urban planning options:

1)Keep spending a lot of effort on accommodating autos until everything is separated by on-ramps, freeways and parking lots (the LA metro area standard).

2)Cap densities and allow essentially no change, until either the city is basically all rich people, or it goes into decline because businesses move away and it becomes too expensive to maintain. (Santa Barbara, Sunnymeade aka Moreno Valley)

3)Find a way to increase the number of people who can live and work in a given area. (SF, NYC, Portland...)

At 12:52 PM, Blogger Nato said...

$550 million is an incredible amount for a bike/ped path, but of course, the proposal in question wouldn't just be a bike/ped path, it would be a maintenance access road as well. That's good because it reduces the need to shut down lanes and impede traffic, but it also makes the deck a lot heavier, and that's where the real expense comes in. If it were a pure bike/ped path it seems highly unlikely that it would be so heavily engineered that it would require extensive and expensive changes to the bridge. I'm not saying that's the way we *should* go, because reducing maintenance closures might be worth the extra money. I'm just pointing out that 1)it's not purely bike/ped access that's the source of the huge cost and 2)bike/ped access is not the only way it would help mitigate traffic.

At 7:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

NY Times coming around on Congestion Pricing.

Rob becoming more irrelevant.

At 10:00 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Irrelevant to New York City, but I'm talking about San Francisco. Besides, the changes discussed in the story haven't been implemented.


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