Can I just say that this is an extremely bizarre Journal piece?
By requiring car drivers to pay a fee to drive in a city at peak hours, congestion pricing reduces traffic and raises money that can be used to support public transitâ€”both worthy goals.
Yet congestion pricing has dubious environmental value. Traffic jams, if they’re managed well, can actually be good for the environment. They maintain a level of frustration that turns drivers into subway riders or pedestrians.
This is David Owen writing that congestion pricing is a bad idea, because congestion encourages drivers to switch to transit or otherwise get off the roads. But this misses the point that congestion pricing works by…encouraging drivers to switch to transit or otherwise get off the roads. And as a bonus, it creates revenue which can be used to build more transit alternatives for frustrated drivers.
Owen seems to be arguing that if the primary effect of congestion pricing may be to spread driving out over a longer period of time rather rather than to encourage a shift away from driving. But of course, the primary effect of traffic might be to spread driving out over a longer period of time rather than to encourage a shift away from driving, particularly in places that don’t have good transit systems (which makes the revenue question all the more salient).
Aside from that, the messaging here is just atrocious. Owen thinks it’s a bad idea to support measures that increase costs for drivers, specifically because those increased costs might lead to more pleasant driving conditions. And he wants transit supporters to embrace traffic as a good thing, because it leads people to switch to transit. This is completely backward.
If we want drivers to accept new fees (and we need them to, if we want to be able to support an appreciable amount of new infrastructure investment) we have to convince them that it is in their interest to pay more. Meanwhile, arguing that traffic is good is the kind of thing that gets urbanists tarred as detached from the realities of real Americans. I’m just imagining someone in Raleigh reading this, imagining that the government will go out and build a streetcar system, then do everything it can to make traffic worse in the area so that people are desperate to ride the thing.
A final point — greenness aside, it’s worth pursuing policy goals that improve economic efficiency. We want our cities to work better. Congestion isn’t good for workers or for metropolitan economies (and it might easily contribute to decisions to relocate away from a big city, generating a bad economic outcome and potentially increasing carbon footprints even more (depending on where they move). Solving problem congestion is a worth goal in its own right. Happily we can do that while, and by, making the city more convenient for everyone — drivers, walkers, and transit riders alike.