San Francisco mulls congestion pricing, seeking safety and climate change solutions

Major cities like San Francisco often have traffic congestion problems. During heavy traffic times, cars are typically gridlocked with slowly moving traffic, and the number of vehicles means a concentration of toxic exhaust fumes. Many cities around the world have implemented congestion pricing to limit the number of vehicles and produce many benefits.

Recently the San Francisco County Transportation Authority announced a new study of Congestion Pricing for the city. In 2010, San Francisco had studied the issues and wrote a report concluding that congestion pricing could produce positive benefits for San Francisco.

As a sometimes visitor to San Francisco, I know that especially during the week it can be so painful to drive to San Francisco that I prefer to leave my car somewhere else and take mass transit into the city. Unless, that is, my trip is to an area away from the downtown core. In other words, this sort of response to the existing congestion is an informal cost of congestion, and that some such as myself are not willing to pay the price of dealing with the hassle of driving in San Francisco.

The new study aims to “understand whether congestion pricing could be an effective and fair tool to reduce congestion” and that it will also study discounts for using transit, bicycling and walking.

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San Francisco is not the only USA city that is looking into this idea. New York City has finalized a congestion pricing plan that would affect people seeking to drive into lower Manhattan. According to Smart Cities Dive, both Seattle and Los Angeles are conducting their own studies of this idea. Bucharest has announced a plan targeting heavily polluting cars. And other cities in Europe have implemented congestion pricing plans.

In a related move, in October the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) unanimously voted to ban cars from driving on Market Street east of 10th Street. Market Street is currently one of San Francisco’s most heavily traveled streets, but the “Better Market Street” plan envisions that street serving a very different purpose to what it serves today. One that might be more similar to the grand walkable plazas of European cities.

For over a decade San Francisco has redesigned Market Street and other streets in the downtown core to support a more equitable balance of use between cars, and transit, and bicyclists, and pedestrians. This includes dedicated protected bicycling and transit lanes, which in turn limits the number of lanes for car drivers.

San Francisco has always taken a different approach to roads and highways from other cities in the USA. For example when US Highway 101 was built, it enters San Francisco from the south but then becomes a city street – Van Ness Boulevard – and winds its way through San Francisco until close to the Golden Gate Bridge where it becomes a limited access highway again. What I understood is that city leaders a few decades ago fought against a plan to carve San Francisco in half and build US 101 as a limited access highway straight through the city. They did not want their beautiful city destroyed by such a highway, and the result is that US 101 is instead routed along city streets.

How many other cities have allowed whole neighborhoods to be destroyed in the name of “Progress”?

The question one has to consider is whether Cars are the only way or the best way to transport people around cities. The car manufacturers told us decades ago that cars would give us the freedom to go wherever and whenever we want. And we built our cities to suit the vision told to us by the car manufacturers. But the result has been more of a burden than any kind of freedom. Is sitting in a 10-mile-long traffic jam, crawling at 10-20 miles/hr, any kind of freedom?

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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