Parking Meters - The Effects Today

Bryan ROctober 31st, 2007
By: Bryan R

(Page 3 of 3)

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One of King County's many traffic bottlenecks

Traffic has become as synonymous to King County as rain, coffee, and Microsoft. Just like in 1935, our roadway “commons” are under threat of over exploitation. While building larger roads is the answer to some, many of the major bottlenecks in our freeways are physically constrained and expensive to work around (i.e. the 520 interchange). Another argument is that increasing the capacity of a seemingly “free” resource just encourages more consumption (who hasn’t taken one drink too many at an open bar or gorged oneself silly at a buffet). Plus, not all of us want to drive everywhere we go.

Some unusual, and unpopular, ideas have been put on the table including more aggressive HOV infrastructure, instituting pedestrian only downtown zones or charging vehicles to enter high traffic areas. The latter idea, dubbed the congestion charge, has already been implemented in London. This fee applies for cars crossing the busy London downtown area during rush and business hours, but some vehicles like hybrids, taxis, buses, motorcycles, bikes, etc. are exempt. A year later, London has experienced a dramatic reduction of congestion with this charge.

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Heavy London congestion was taxing everyone

Critics warned of businesses going under, overcrowded public transit, hurting the little guy, an unfair tax, and general chaos. Sounds a little familiar, right? Ultimately, London reports that traffic is down, more people are walking and biking, public transit rider ship is up but not dramatically, and congestion is down. Some retailers reported a loss of sales since the fee was implemented but part of this decline might be related to a more general economic slowdown. On the other hand, downtown offices reported that productivity and profitability were up suggesting that at its worse, the congestion fee had a neutral impact in terms of economics and a positive impact from an environmental and public health perspective (due to more walking and biking and less air pollution). Sounds like a win-win for business and the environment.

Many of our common pool resources like the environment, our roadways, and public lands are currently being over exploited. Some of these resources have already been stretched to nearly their maximum capacity which means more innovative solutions might have to be explored to solve our problems in an attempt to find win-win solutions. Such solutions are often uncomfortable, unfamiliar and seem to go against our intuitions, but at the same time, they might offer us the simplest solution…just like the parking meters of 1935.

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