In this issue:
"Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably will not themselves be realized." So said the great architect and planner Daniel Burnham—pioneer of the skyscraper, designer of some of the 19th century's most stunning buildings, and creative and organizational force behind the "White City" of the Chicago World's Fair. Burnham's admonition resonates today. Planners, including transportation planners, have always liked to think big. Who doesn't? People are drawn to outsized ambitions and outsized promises. And it's easy to believe that we face big problems, which in turn require big solutions. How can we make transportation policy, after all, without also tackling land use, housing, and public health?
Björn Hårsman and
Thirty-five years ago, economist John Kain proposed several simple pricing mechanisms for roadways that would "improve urban transportation at practically no cost." At about the same time, Nobel laureate William Vickrey championed a number of likeminded ideas, especially in New York City, that would reduce traffic congestion and improve the efficiency of the transport sector. Some of these proposals would also involve "practically no cost," even using the technology of the 1960s. For example, Vickrey proposed varying the tolls on New York's George Washington Bridge with the time of day, which would make rush-hour driving more expensive and reduce traffic congestion.
American politicians are bitterly divided on many matters of public policy, yet they seem to agree that spending on transportation programs creates jobs and thus constitutes a path out of the nation's long and deep recession. Infrastructure investments are prescribed to stimulate the economy in the short term by creating construction employment, and to foster longer-term economic growth by making the transportation system more efficient and reliable. Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, rural and urban elected officials—all seek funding for roads and transit projects in their districts, asserting repeatedly that these expenditures will create jobs. President Obama vigorously sought to create jobs through transportation spending in the recent economic stimulus package. This seemed familiar: in 1991, when signing the historic Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA), President George H.W. Bush stated that the value of the bill "is summed up by three words: jobs, jobs, jobs."
Lucas W. Davis and
Matthew E. Khan
Over the last two decades private vehicle ownership in the developing world has increased at an unprecedented pace. Between 1990 and 2005 the total number of registered vehicles in developing countries rose from 110 million to 210 million, and by some estimates it is forecast to reach 1.2 billion by 2030. Rising incomes explain a large share of this growth; as people get richer, they can afford the personal mobility that an automobile confers. Some of this demand for automobiles is satisfied when people in poor countries buy new vehicles. But another important, yet rarely discussed, factor is international trade in used vehicles. High-income countries export large numbers of used vehicles to low-income countries, and this trade will probably grow.
Elliot Martin and
Carsharing in North America is changing the transportation landscape of metropolitan regions across the continent. Carsharing systems give members access to an automobile for short-term use. The shared cars are distributed across a network of locations within a metropolitan area. Members can access the vehicles at any time with a reservation and are charged by time or by mile. Carsharing thus provides some of the benefits of personal automobility without the costs of owning a private vehicle.
Cities should charge the right prices for curb parking because the wrong prices produce such bad results. Where curb parking is underpriced and overcrowded, a surprising share of cars on congested streets can be searching for a place to park. Sixteen studies conducted between 1927 and 2001 found that, on average, 30 percent of the cars in congested downtown traffic were cruising for parking. More recently, when researchers interviewed drivers stopped at traffic signals in New York City in 2006 and 2007, they found that 28 percent of the drivers on a street in Manhattan and 45 percent on a street in Brooklyn were cruising for curb parking.
Eric A. Morris
According to Lee Friedman, Donald Hedeker, and Elihu Richter, repealing the federal 55 mph speed limit in 1995 resulted in 12,545 deaths between 1995 and 2005. That's about 45 percent more American fatalities than we have suffered in 9/11, Iraq, and Afghanistan combined. And all those human tragedies are due not to weighty national security imperatives but to the fact that we all want to drive a little bit faster.