Blogging Bayport Alameda

August 12, 2015

Stick in the mud

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:02 am

Since we’re on the topic of infrastructure.  I will point out — by the way — that most (not all) people who opt to use bikes as an alternative to some of their transportation trips have cars and therefore also pay all the car related registration fees.  So the population of people that only have bikes that are not paying their “fair share” is fairly small.  Additionally given that car related fees do not wholly subsidize car infrastructure means that someone else — even those rogue bikers that don’t pay registration fees — are paying to ensure that cars can get from point A to point B.

Anyway, here’s a great article about how the US doesn’t have enough courage to do everything that it needs to do to disincentivize driving. To add a “stick” to the whole carrot and stick theory. Highlights:

[R]elative to European cities, it is exceptionally hard in U.S. communities to implement real disincentives to driving.

There are ways to do it. We could reduce parking availability or raise parking rates. We could implement congestion pricing. We could roll back subsidies for gas and highways and public parking garages. We could tie auto-insurance rates or infrastructure taxes to how much people actually drive. All of these “sticks,” to use Piatkowski’s term, would have a real impact on how people chose to get around. And that impact would no doubt be larger than what we get from building new bike lanes, sidewalks, or bus stops.

But why not just wield disincentives as what they honestly are? “Behavior change” sounds vaguely manipulative (whether we’re talking about behavior involving automobiles or thermostats). But in this context, the disincentives are really about removing subsidies and distortions from the market. Parking isn’t really free. Gas taxes don’t actually cover the costs of maintaining our roads. So why is it so hard to disincentivize driving at the same time that we incentivize the alternatives, at least until they’re in some better kind of equilibrium?

“Because we’re afraid,” Hamilton says. “Because we don’t have the guts to pull the levers on what we want. We know that we want a walkable, bikeable, transit community. We’re building it. But we’re afraid to push the disincentive lever too hard.”

Alameda is, of course, no exception.  We are highly reluctant to remove distortions from the market because there is this belief that parking, like in Monopoly, should be free and that the only people who deserve to use the roads unfettered are cars.



  1. Well put, Lauren. All taxpayers are heavily subsidizing cars. It really doesn’t make sense that every froggin’ road on the whole transportation grid is dedicated to making things easier for people in cars and harder for everybody else. Even on Shoreline, where things are now somewhat better, the car — with all its energy use, pollution, noise and menace to people on foot and bike — has merely been slightly taken down a peg.

    We definitely need more bike-friendly corridors across the island. After reading your earlier column yesterday, I was reminded to do my crosstown errands on bike and immediately saw both the beauty and limitations of what’s there for my trip from near the ferry building to my bank at Southshore. For one, we need the stretch down Central Avenue to be made bike friendly. Right now, the Shoreline bike lane just halts abruptly, funneling riders into the wrong side of the car traffic or into the Crown Beach parking area.

    Still, despite the limitations, the trip was very pleasant, getting me to the front door of Trader Joe’s in 19 minutes (despite having to loop an extra three blocks farther than the car route down Otis Drive), as opposed to the 16 minutes it normally takes by car (including traffic lights, finding a place to park and walking through the parking lot).

    Comment by Jack Mingo — August 12, 2015 @ 7:28 am

  2. I’m one of those people who have several bicycles and a car. However prior to owning the car and motorcycle, I traveled the Bay Area only by bicycle and public transit for several years. I did not pay registration or auto insurance on this bicycle. And liked it this way.

    Once I got the car, I lawfully resigned myself to paying for “motor vehicle” insurance and CA registration. My days of “poaching” the vehicle infrastructure were over, sadly.

    But I’ve recently come to be a strong believer in that ALL vehicle operators should “pay their fair share” with regards to the roads and their costs to society. You see, our family acquired a second car, and my insurance and registration costs have doubled! Now it is clear to me that all the people with only one car are not paying their fair share.

    My proposal is that anyone operating a vehicle on CA roadways should be paying the same registration and insurance costs as the State Citizen with the maximum number of motor vehicles. That way we are all paying our equal, FAIR share. Does anybody know how to look up Jay Leno’s registration and insurance costs? I assume he is probably the benchmark.

    Comment by Brock — August 12, 2015 @ 8:22 am

  3. Good post.

    It seems to me that, with technology, it is now a lot easier than it was only a few years ago to price the road space we decide to allocate to cars and dramatically improve the efficiency of its use.

    We can reduce the amount allocated to cars so that biking, walking and transit are not so penalized, and at the same time avoid traffic congestion with reactive pricing (a la Uber). There actually needn’t be traffic jams at the tubes. Perhaps we could issue everyone in Alameda, by virtue of living here, with some traffic credits which they could sell (if they biked or rode the bus, or they drove at off peak times) or buy (if they really needed to get though the tube at 8:15 AM). The prices can reflect the true costs of road-use and lead to better maintained roads.

    We could price street-parking in a similar way.

    It’s all very compatible with free-market economics too, and ought to appeal to those of that persuasion.

    But perhaps people prefer the freedom of sitting in a traffic jam on a pot-holed street.

    Comment by BC — August 12, 2015 @ 1:56 pm

  4. #2: Brock, no one is “poaching” when it comes to paying for streets, roads, freeways, and other infrastructure. Property taxes (state), income taxes (state, federal), and bond measures pay for MOST of our roadway construction and maintenance costs.

    State and federal gas taxes, license and vehicle registration fees, and other user fees (bridge tolls, etc.) only pay for a small portion of roadway construction and maintenance, so the hols from drivers about “poachers” (who usually pay their fair share of property taxes, sales taxes, and income taxes, even if they rent) are not backed up by the facts.

    Comment by Jon Spangler — August 12, 2015 @ 2:30 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Blog at