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News & Notes

Electric car charging.

Electric car charging station in St. Petersburg, FL. Photo (cc) CityofStPete

→ Grist: States promise to sell one new EV for every 24 people by 2025

They’re starting to step up. Eight states that represent, according to the New York Times, “a quarter of the national car market” just announced they’re going to work together on creating a better system for drivers of electric vehicles. They are, in descending order of population size, California, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, Oregon, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Vermont, and they say their goal is to help get 3.3 million new EVs sold by 2025. With a combined population of 79 million people, that means one EV for every 24 people.

How are they going to do it? By creating a system that will give EV owners something only gas-guzzling car drivers have now: certainty about where and when and how they’ll be able to fuel up.

I’m all for things that help improve the environment, but I’ve got to say, I’m a little sad that the environmental press is not being more thoughtful on this story. Reduced carbon emissions are wonderful, but it is not simply the carbon which is problematic, it is safety (for people inside and outside of cars) land-use, household budgets, and more. These are among the things states are supposed to do to encourage electric cars:

  • More charging stations
  • Building codes that require chargers at workplaces and “multifamily residences”
  • Reduced tolls
  • Better parking
  • Cheaper electricity prices

These are all things that encourage more driving; encouraging sprawl, paving land, putting pedestrians and cyclists in conflict with auto-traffic (I don’t think you’re any less dead after getting run over by an electric vehicle than you are getting run over by a gas powered one), and leaving individuals and families tied to the expense of a car (granted, made less so by reducing the costs of powering the vehicle).

Rhode Island seems quite proud of itself for being part of this group of states, but Rhode Island continues to poorly support alternatives to automobile use, namely mass transit and cycling infrastructure.

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News & Notes

City at Dusk, Boston (seen from Cambridge), Credit: David Fox

Boston at Dusk. Photo (cc) David Fox for Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism

→ Bloomberg: Boston Booms as Workers Say No to Suburbs: Real Estate

“In the last 24 months, suburban tech firms have been looking to relocate into town,” said Andrew Hoar, president and co-managing partner at CBRE/New England, a joint venture partner with CBRE. “For many other markets it’s the other way around. The young graduates in this town don’t want to commute.”


→ The Atlantic Cities: The End of Federal Transportation Funding as We Know It

This month marks 120 years since the federal government got involved in funding road transportation. (Strange as it sounds, bicycle advocates did the bulk of the lobbying.) The original Office of Road Inquiry — today, the Federal Highway Administration — was a line item with a budget of $10,000. That was only enough money to build about three miles of road, and the office wasn’t empowered to build roads anyway, but states fought tooth and nail against giving the feds even this incredibly modest level of transport oversight.

Today the federal transportation program faces perhaps its greatest challenge since that shaky start. The most urgent problem is funding. The Highway Trust Fund that pays for America’s road and rail program is heading straight toward bankruptcy. For two decades politicians have refused to raise the 18.4-cents-per-gallon gas tax that populates the trust, even as it steadily loses purchasing power to inflation and fuel-efficient cars. The public has yet to embrace alternative funding sources — road fares or mileage fees on the user-pay side favored by economists; income taxes on the social welfare end — in part because people (mistakenly) believe they already pay a lot for transportation.

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News & Notes

→ GoLocalProv: Guest MINDSETTER™ Aaron M. Renn: My First Impressions of Rhode Island

Thinking about it this way, the basic problem of Providence (and by extension the rest of Rhode Island) becomes obvious: it is a small city, without an above average talent pool or assets, but with high costs and business-unfriendly regulation. Thus Providence will neither be competitive with elite talent centers like Boston, nor with smaller city peers like Nashville that are low cost and nearly “anything goes” from a regulatory perspective. There’s little prospect of materially changing either the talent/asset mix or the cost structure in the near term even if there was consensus to do so, which there isn’t. So expect struggles to continue, even if there’s a bit of lift from a change in national macroeconomic conditions.


→ DC Streetsblog: Will Massachusetts Tax Parking Lots to Fund Transit?

Here’s a transportation funding idea that aligns incentives nicely: taxing parking lots to pay for transit.

That’s what one former high-ranking state official is proposing for Massachusetts, ahead of a big announcement by the state Department of Transportation. Earlier this week Governing Magazine looked at the parking lot tax plan, part of a series of policy recommendations laid out by former Massachusetts Department of Transportation Secretary James Aloisi.


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News & Notes

new-york-wetlands

Wetlands to provide a storm surge buffer for New York City. Image from Architecture Research Office

→ Fast Company: A Plan To Hurricane-Proof New York, With A Ring Of Wetlands

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, there have been a flurry of ideas on how to deal with the prospect that storms of such magnitude may no longer be once-in-a-lifetime events but the most visible manifestation–if you’re not a polar bear–of the havoc wreaked by climate change.

Seawalls. Levees. The kinds of things the Army Corps of Engineers typically builds to protect low-lying places like New Orleans just aren’t feasible for a place like Manhattan, says Stephen Cassell, the cofounder of New York’s Architectural Research Office. “It’s hard to predict how bad climate change will be,” Cassell says, noting that Sandy’s devastating surge was nearly 14 feet, which wasn’t even the worst-case scenario. “What if we build a barrier and the surge goes beyond that?”

Yes Providence, what if the storm surge is higher than our storm surge barrier?


→ New York Post: Growing NY through smarter taxes

How might two-tiered taxation work? In New York, land and improvements in residential areas are subject to an 18.6 percent property tax.Thus, land with a taxable value of $10,000 would be taxed $1,860, and improvements with a similar taxable value of $10,000 would owe another $1,860, a total of $3,720. Under a two-tier system, the tax rate for land could jump by, say, 50 percent, while the rate for improvement could be halved.In that case, the owner would pay $2,790 in land taxes and $930 for improvements — keeping the total to $3,720.

But here’s the payoff: The owner’s tax bill under that scheme would climb another $2,790 if he purchased a second lot with a taxable value of $10,000 — but by only $930 if he used that money toward building.Thus, hoarding would be discouraged; development encouraged.

The two-tier property tax has a proven record of success. In 1979, Pittsburgh began taxing land at a rate six times higher than improvements. In the ensuing decade, building permits increased by 70.4 percent.

Via: Nesi’s Notes


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Letter to the campus from P.C.’s President regarding their PILOT agreement

This letter was sent to the Providence College campus by college president Rev. Brian J. Shanley regarding the college’s agreement with the City to acquire public streets in exchange for payments in lieu of taxes:

A Message to the Providence College Community:

Providence College is, and always has been, mindful of the significant role that the city of Providence plays in the decision our students make to attend this institution. Providence is a vibrant city with rich history, great restaurants, and myriad tourist and cultural attractions. It is both an alluring and attractive setting for our students and their families. As the leaders of all of Providence’s higher education and major healthcare institutions have noted on multiple occasions, a financially sound city of Providence is critical for the continued prosperity of each of our organizations going forward. With that in mind, I am pleased to announce that the College has reached an agreement with the City that will benefit both parties. The College has agreed to pay the City $3.84 million over a 10-year period to purchase portions of three City streets: Huxley Ave., which runs through the eastern end of the College campus, and both Wardlaw Ave. and Cumberland St. which are part of the northwest border of the campus across from Alumni Hall. (Specifically, the College will purchase Huxley Ave. from Eaton St. to Ventura St., Wardlaw Ave. from Lucille St. to Cumberland St., and Cumberland St. from Wardlaw Ave. to the property line at 30 Cumberland St.)

The College proposed the purchase of these streets in response to the City’s request for additional payments in lieu of taxes. As you may know, the City reached similar agreements of mutual benefit with Brown University, Rhode Island School of Design, and Johnson & Wales University earlier this year. Mindful of the City’s willingness to structure these agreements on a quid pro quo basis, and knowing that they were hopeful of striking some type of arrangement with all of the major non-profit institutions in Providence, the College felt this was the appropriate time to seek the purchase of these streets.

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If you could buy a city street, what would you do with it?

private-street

Photo (cc) Marcin Wichary

After Brown University and then RISD made agreements with the City to acquire parts of public streets for private parking in exchange for increased payments in lieu of taxes; GoLocal Providence reports that the City will make an annoucement tomorrow that Providence College has now made a similar agreement.

So all this begs the question, if you could buy a public street, which one would you want to buy and what would you want to do with it?

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→ RIFuture.org: RI Should Lead, Not Follow, On Pot Legalization

Look around and you’ll notice the era of reefer madness is dying a slow death all over the country. Last week, Colorado and Washington became the first two states to to officially legalize it, as Peter Tosh might say. And yesterday Reason.com, somewhat fittingly, broke the story that RI state Rep. Edith Ajello plans to reintroduce a bill that would legalize and regulate marijuana much like alcohol. Maine is considering doing so too.

This is how we would get people from Massachusetts and Connecticut (and further afield) to come here and spend money. People will not be driving past much better casinos in their home states to come to our little joke of a casino in the woods of Lincoln. And unlike gambling addiction and the toll it can take on families and communities, smoking pot doesn’t really hurt anyone else and we all know massive amounts of people are doing it, legal or not.

So, legalize it, tax it, allow for a number of Amsterdam style cafes to allow for the consumption of it (is consumption the right word?). I’ve long said that Providence should position itself as the Amsterdam of New England. We should be the ones to fully shed the Puritanical guilt that pervades the region and embrace ‘sin.’

Follow the link to RI Future to view a short video interview with State Rep. Edith Ajello.

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News & Notes

→ DC Streetsblog: Oregon Takes the Next Step in Moving Beyond the Gas Tax

Rep. Earl Blumenauer likes to say that Oregon was the first state to adopt a gas tax and it will be the first state to get rid of it. In 2006-2007, the state conducted a pilot study of alternative revenue collection methods, with an eye toward moving to a better system. This fall, they’ll do another pilot, fine-tuning their process for replacing the gas tax with a vehicle-miles-traveled fee.


→ The Guardian: Paris to return Seine to the people with car-free riverside plan

The pedestrianisation of one of Europe’s most picturesque urban riversides means the death knell for the Seine’s non-stop riverside expressways. These were the pride of Georges Pompidou in the 60s when France’s love affair with the car was at its height. Opened in 1967 by him, under the slogan “Paris must adapt to the car”, the dual carriageway with perhaps the best view in France allowed a speedy crossing of Paris from west to east. But environmentalists have long complained it was a dreadful, polluting waste of architectural heritage.


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