Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Q: Why Does Nobody Walk?

A: There is nowhere to walk to.

In my neighborhood in Albuquerque (Far Northeast Heights), I just went on a walk. As I was walking, I decided to estimate how large each house lot was: 33 of my steps. This means that only about 2-5 people live within 33 steps worth of street frontage. In this situation, a lot of street frontage is required to create enough density for any business to be successful. Though there are nice smooth wide sidewalks throughout my neighborhood, nobody uses them unless they are walking their dog. The closest services are located in a strip mall at the bottom of a large hill.

People will not walk if there is nowhere to walk to.

In contrast, my neighborhood in Tucson has no sidewalks, but many people walk through this area. This is because there are places to walk to. There are two bus routes that intersect a block away. There is a taco shop, offices, a haircut place and two food stores on this same intersection. The lot sizes are smaller, and the roads are arranged in a grid, which allows for easier walkability.

Even though my neighborhood in Tucson does not have the proper facilities for walking, MANY people walk through it because there are places to walk to.

Sidewalks are not important. Destinations are.

Monday, March 8, 2010

A Gas Tax Solution: Not All Urban Areas Are Created Equal

Let's face it: our infrastructure is broken. As population and road growth increases every year, less and less money is dedicated to essential infrastructure. As a country and people, what should we do? How can the government help?

I have read many articles recently discussing the idea of a gas tax in order to pay for our currently broke infrastructure system. I personally think this is a great idea; after all the gas tax has not risen much since the 1970's and since then, we have added a lot of infrastructure (especially roads) to our national network.

However, a blanket gas tax is so politically unpopular (especially in "tough economic times") that it will probably not happen for a long time, if ever. Therefore, I have a different solution: a gas tax based on zip codes.

The United States is not built in a uniform manner. Therefore, it should not have the same gas tax everywhere. For example, let us compare Manhattan, NYC with rural New Mexico. Both places have the same gas tax. However, virtually all the people who are driving cars in New York City are wealthy; most of the car drivers in rural New Mexico are car dependent and probably middle class or poor.

Based on this analysis, the gas tax should be different in different areas based on car dependency. If the gas tax goes up by 20 cents in NYC, it would hardly impact how people traveled around. If the same amount of taxation was applied to rural New Mexico, it would dramatically affect everyone who lived there on a wide variety of levels.

The gas tax should be raised incrementally based on where people live and work. This may sound complicated, but it can be made easier by the wide usage of zip codes. Zip codes comprise a small enough area that they could be used for this sort of analysis. If you live in an area with no public transportation, low density and low walkability ratings, you would have a small gas tax increase. If you live in an area with good public transportation, you would have a larger increase, and so on.

One of the biggest problems with this would be people traveling outside of their city to find area codes with lower zip codes. This could be countered by the use of credit cards. Since most people use credit cards for gas anyways, the card reader could scan where you live and charge you accordingly. Since this system would be costly and problematic, the easier solution would be to have very little initial difference between prices in the different areas. If a rural area has a 4-5 cent price difference from the urban area, there would not be significant numbers of people traveling to the rural areas for gas.

The advantage of this type of gas tax would be the ability to reward areas with more transit options. The extra tax dollars would go towards enhancing transit and livability in whatever urban area the zip code correlated with.

The most important part of this plan would be development incentives. New development approval would be tied in part to the gas tax in the given zip code. If the gas tax is low, development taxes would be high. If the gas tax is high, the development taxes would be low. It would create an incentive system for creating livable communities. Through this system, gas taxes could be used to make livable and walkable area more livable and walkable, as well as encourage non-livable and non-walkable areas to develop differently.

Though this idea is still a work in progress, I think it has potential to become a blueprint for change. Though I think the gas tax should definitely be raised, this kind of taxation would affect different people differently. Income taxes are applied based on how much is made; let's look at gas taxes based on how much, and where, gas is needed.

Let's Review:

Gas tax increase is a must

Should not be applied the same to everyone

More taxes for people who depend on gas the least

Less taxes for people who depend on gas the most

Taxation based on zip code

Still just a moderate increase for everyone at first