Monthly Archives: August 2010

Crater Lake User Fees

The Antiplanner’s Ride Around Crater Lake Three Times in One Day (RACLTTOD) went well. My brother Richard joined me for all three laps, his wife Carin for two, and the Antiplanner’s faithful ally (and sometimes commenter) Andy Stahl for two. With two 2-mile detours to Cloud Cap overlook, Richard and I did a total of 100 miles with 11,800 feet of elevation gain in 8 hours and 20 minutes of ride time–11 hours including lunch, rests, and sightseeing.

Crater Lake from Cloud Cap overlook.

An amateur racer, Andy is by far the better rider, but he handicapped himself by riding tandem the first lap with his 10-year-old son. A 10-year-old simply does not have the power to carry his own weight on such a long ride, so Andy had to work extra hard. After resting the second lap, Andy was easily able to drop the rest of us on a regular bike.

Andy and his son, Olallie circling the lake on the first lap.

While we were riding, comments on this blog focused on national park user fees. The original director of the Park Service, Steven Mather, believed that the parks should pay their way. Unfortunately, this goal was undercut, first by Congress which limited the amounts parks could charge and later by Mather’s successors, who were eager to get federal funds to subsidize park expansion and operations.

The Antiplanner, Carin, and Richard halfway through the third lap. Andy is way ahead of us, but our main concern is keeping warm as the day is cooling off.

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Free Parking Revisited

Two weeks ago, the Antiplanner responded with dismay to George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen’s op ed against free parking. This led to a variety of responses in the blogosphere, none of which address the Antiplanner’s point. Instead, they all argue against the minimum-parking requirements found in many zoning regulations.

In particular, Cowen himself points to a study that found that Los Angeles’ minimum-parking requirements forced some developers to build more parking than they would have without such requirements. But Cowen’s op ed was titled, “Free Parking Comes at a Price,” not “Minimum-Parking Requirements Come at a Price.” The op ed was based on a book by Donald Shoup titled “The High Cost of Free Parking,” not “The High Cost of Minimum-Parking Requirements.”

Nothing the Antiplanner wrote defended minimum-parking requirements. Instead, the Antiplanner pointed out that, even without such requirements, most businesses still provide free parking for their employees and customers. It is one thing to oppose minimum-parking requirements as an unnecessary form of government regulation. It is another thing to favor government regulation mandating that private businesses charge for parking.

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RACLTTOD

Probably no more posts this week as the Antiplanner is heading down to Crater Lake for RACLTTOD–Ride Around Crater Lake Three Times in One Day. The Crater Lake rim road is about 33 miles around with about 3,800 feet of elevation gain. Three laps, with a couple of side trips to a point called Cloud Cap, make a hundred miles with nearly 12,000 feet in elevation gain.

Don’t bother Googling RACLTTOD; as far as I know I am the only one to have done such a ride, about four years ago. This year I have challenged a couple of friends to join me. I’ll let you know next week if I make it.

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Budget Maximization & Walkin’ Jim

I have a friend who needs my help, and I hope some of my readers will help him too. Back in 1985, the Antiplanner worked exclusively for environmental groups like the Sierra Club and Wilderness Society, reviewing Forest Service plans and helping environmentalists understand how the Forest Service worked. My research showed that the Forest Service lost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year doing environmentally destructive activities.

Walkin’ Jim Stoltz

Why would it do this? The Forest Service’s own historian argued that the agency was “unlike other bureaucracies.” It was “more like a religion. . . fulfilling a sacred mission to bring wood to the world in order to avert the evils of a timber famine.” Other people suggested the agency had been captured by the timber industry.

Neither of these explanations made sense to me as they were not consistent with some of the things I saw the Forest Service do. Instead, as I reviewed plan after plan and collected data on thousands of timber sales and other activities, I realized that the only explanation that was consistent with all the agency’s policies was budget maximization. This did not mean that anyone in the agency necessarily thought, “How can I maximize my budget today?” Instead, through a process similar to natural selection, those policies that maximized the agency’s budget tended to be favored over ones that did not.

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We Want High-Speed Rail, As Long As It Is Free

Americans want high-speed rail, as long as someone else pays for it. States are chuffed upset, for example, because the federal government now says it wants the states to put up 20 percent of the capital cost. The original Federal Railroad Administration grant guidelines issued back in 2008 suggested that the feds might pay all of the costs. Though they added that states that provided matching funds might be more likely to get federal grants, no doubt some states feel betrayed by this change of policy.

Someone is going to say, “but the federal government paid 90 percent of the cost of interstate freeways, so why will it only pay 80 percent of the cost of rail?” The crucial difference is that both the federal and the state shares of the interstates were paid out of gas taxes, in other words, user fees. (Though called a “tax,” the gas tax was a user fee because it was imposed only on purchasers of gasoline–98 percent of which was used for driving–and because state gas taxes from the start, and federal gas taxes after 1956, were dedicated to highways.)

The interstates were also built on a pay-as-you-go basis: no borrowing in anticipation of future federal gas tax revenues. This introduced feedback into the system: if people didn’t drive, there was no money to build roads. That’s why it took longer than expected to complete the systems: not because people didn’t drive on the interstates–they drove on them like crazy–but because neither Congress nor the states indexed gas taxes to inflation.

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Living Lightly in Portland

The New York Times loves to tell stories of people who got off the “work-spend treadmill” by selling off all but about 100 personal items and moving into a 400-square-foot studio apartment in Portland. Even the Wall Street Journal has jumped on board by telling the heartwarming story of someone who bought and remodeled a small bungalow in Portland.

Actually, they didn’t exactly remodel it. Instead, they tore it down and built this 7,600-square-foot house complete with a wine cellar, sauna, and lap pool. But the good news is that the owners feel the home is too ostentatious, so they are selling it and plan to buy a smaller house in Portland. And a house in Hawaii. They are also keeping their condo in San Francisco.

It is good to know that the Antiplanner is not the only one who is skeptical of conspicuous minimalist consumption.

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A Light-Rail Line That Pays for Itself?

Faithful Antiplanner ally Craig sends this amusing article from the Portland Oregonian in 1988. Unfortunately, a subscription to NewBank is required to view the link, but the gist of the article is that Congress gave Portland’s TriMet transit agency $6.2 million to subsidize a development on the city’s light-rail line that would make the light rail “self-supporting.”

The plan was called “Project Break-Even,” and as then-city Commissioner (now U.S. Representative) Earl Blumenauer explained it, “what is contemplated here under Project Break-Even is targeted economic development where government money is used to kick things off, but most of the investment is from other sources.” In other words, although the term probably hadn’t been coined yet, they were subsidizing a transit-oriented development.

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A Free Parking Space Grows in Manhattan

The Antiplanner blew it yesterday by saying there was no free parking in Manhattan, which shows this Oregon resident doesn’t spend much time in the Big Apple. It turns out Manhattan has lots of free on-street parking, though on many streets you have to move your car to the alternate side of the street every night.

This doesn’t change my main point, which is that it is one thing to argue that cities should not price parking below market rates where there is a market for parking. I have no problem with this. But it is quite another thing to argue, as many urban planners following the Shoup model do, that private businesses should be required to charge for parking (or be limited in how much parking they can provide) in areas where the market rate for parking is zero (meaning most areas outside of central city downtowns).

But I began to wonder: if there is so much free on-street parking in Manhattan, why would someone pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for their own personal parking space? Census data indicate that, outside of towns in Alaska that are not accessible by auto, Manhattan has about the lowest rate of auto ownership in the United States: just 22.5 percent of households have a car, compared with more than 90 percent in the rest of the country. So you might not think there would be much demand for parking.

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Free Markets and Free Parking

The Antiplanner is disappointed that my distinguished colleague and fellow supporter of free markets, Tyler Cowen, has fallen for the “high-cost-of-free-parking” arguments of Donald Shoup. Shoup is an excellent scholar, but like many scholars, he has the parochial view that the city that he lives in is a representative example of what is happening everywhere else.

Should free parking be a thing of the past?

Shoup’s work is biased by his residency in Los Angeles, the nation’s densest urban area. One way L.A. copes with that density is by requiring builders of offices, shopping malls, and multi-family residences to provide parking. Shoup assumes that every municipality in the country has such parking requirements, when in fact many do not, and that without such requirements there would be less free parking. This last assumption is extremely unlikely, as entrepreneurs everywhere know that, outside of New York City, 90 percent of all urban travel is by car, and businesses that don’t offer parking are going to lose customers to ones that do.

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More on Driverless Cars

Between hiking, cycling, and doing research on transportation and tax-increment financing, the Antiplanner has been too busy to write a decent column today. So I’ll just link to a couple of recent articles on one of my favorite topics, driverless or autonomous cars.

First, the Kansas City Star notes that driverless cars are “just around the corner.” The article apparently also inspired an editorial cartoon on the subject.

Second, the New York Times Freakonomics blog has a second article about driverless cars. This is a follow-up to the one it had last July. Freakonomics has previously covered other transportation issues, including toll roads and gas taxes.

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