Misplanning is a problem, but cars are no scapegoat. Though it seems like a "chicken or the egg" situation, cars, not poor land use came first. To challenge Gordon Bishop's view in a recent environment column, consider this: If buildings are sprawled all over, it is hard to get to them without a car. On the other hand, if you have a car, it is easy to get to open land which can be built on.
Despite Mr Bishop's contention, increasing the cost of driving does reduce automobile use, and following is an example how.
Federal tax code permits the deduction of unlimited costs incurred by an employer who provides parking, though limits tax free employer provided transit subsidies to $15. A study performed by the Southern California Association of Governments reveals the effect of the tax bias. In Los Angeles, County employees have subsidized parking, while Federal employees do not. Of the County employees, 70 percent drive to work alone, while only 40 percent of the Federal employees drive solo. Both groups of employees are surely of similar bureaucratic mindset, so the cost of driving clearly affects travel habits.
Though increasing the cost of driving significantly will shape land use, Bishop is correct to call for better planning. In order to complete the transition to better land use, revision of auto-centric zoning codes is needed. Many municipalities and counties require off-street parking, which invites people to drive. In order to keep land use spread out enough to keep congestion on the local roads down, Floor to Area Ratio's (FAR) call for large tracts of land surrounding buildings to be unused, making it hard to walk where you want to go. Both of these regulations needlessly jack up the cost of building too.
Reshaping land use to support walking, cycling and transit is critical to maintain our ecosystem and economy. Above are the primary steps to the change. Bishop and I agree; now is the time to begin.
Authors: Daniel Convissor
Section: Letters to the Editor
Publication: The Newark Star-Ledger
Date: 22 August 1991
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Home Page: http://www.panix.com/~danielc/
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Last updated: 4 April 1999