Blog: February, 2011
Pay-As-You-Drive Auto Insurance Comes To California
Beginning this month, Californians will have a new option for auto insurance. It’s called Pay As You Drive (PAYD), and it could save money and reduce our impact on the environment at the same time.
Traditional auto insurance policies charge customers in a lump sum and do not price risk according to driving volume. There have been attempts by insurance companies to incorporate driving volume into insurance rates, but these types of plans are based on estimated mileage only. In contrast, PAYD bills consumers for the amount that they actually drive.
California insurance regulations that went into effect this month will now allow insurance companies to check odometer readings themselves, hire vendors such as smog-check technicians and car dealers to record mileage, track mileage through the GM OnStar system, or install automatic mileage recording devices.
PAYD policies are already being offered in California by State Farm and AAA, with potentially more to come in the future through Allstate and Progressive. Customers can receive insurance discounts for self-reporting their odometer readings, or allowing their insurance provider to automatically access mileage data if their vehicle has an active OnStar system. OnStar, an onboard GPS and emergency service provider offered on select GM vehicles, has the capability to record vehicle metrics such as odometer readings. The logic seems to be straightforward – driving carries an inherent risk, and insurance companies are incentivized to find a way to reward customers financially for driving less.
Under State Farm’s policy, which bases premiums on reported mileage, customers who seldom drive may see an annual premium reduction of up to 45 percent. Other pricing models exist in several other states for PAYD: MileMeter of Dallas, TX allows customers to select a mileage bracket and pay for any excess miles driven. The value of unused miles can be credited towards a policy renewal.
The expectation is that motorists who drive fewer miles will be drawn to PAYD policies. Those who wish to reduce premiums may be inclined to drive less, either by carpooling more often or riding transit.
A report published by SPUR in 2009 shows how PAYD has the potential to substantially curb greenhouse gas emissions. SPUR projects that if all Bay Area drivers were moved to PAYD policies, the total vehicle miles traveled by drivers would be reduced by up to 8%.
This would result in a potential carbon savings of up to 1.073 million metric tons in the greater Bay Area. Even if only 10% of drivers switch to PAYD, a more feasible rate of conversion, it could result in savings of 100,000 metric tons per year. SPUR has endorsed expansion of PAYD as one of the best options to reduce emissions regionally.
All this, and it doesn’t cost the taxpayer a dime during California’s ongoing fiscal crisis.
In light of the recent revolutions in Egypt and the Middle East, public squares are once again emerging as the epicenters of social change.
Frank Lloyd Wright for the 21st Century
A new exhibit at the Milwaukee Art Museum examines the modern day implications of Frank Lloyd Wright's organismic model of architecture, and envisions how he would react to the inefficient and unnatural suburbs of today.
Helsinki's Underground Master Plan
The city of Helsinki, Finland is building hundreds of underground facilities in order to avoid urban sprawl and free up the land, however it's unclear just how environmentally friendly the city's "subterranean world" actually is.
Everything You Want To Know About Energy In China in One Infographic
A cool infographic shows the breakdown of energy consumption in China and reveals that 97% of Chinese surveyed think their government should be doing more to combat global climate change.
Elderly Madrid Man Builds Incredible Spanish Cathedral Entirely From Trash
An elderly Madrid man has constructed a 131 foot cathedral nearly single-handedly, using no blueprints or engineering plans, and only salvaged or found building materials.
Public Input Summaries from the First Open House and Workshop
At our open house and workshop on January 15th, we presented a series of presentation boards as well as a range of different ways to provide feedback, from questionnaires to collages. After transcribing all of the public comments, the project team created an overview of public input, posted below along with a detailed record of all comments. In the coming months, the project team will take these preliminary results and translate them into alternative scenarios.
Thanks again to everyone who attended the open house and contributed feedback. The next Ocean Beach Master Plan public workshop is scheduled for May 2011.
Ocean Beach Word Cloud
A “word cloud” or “weighted list” is a way of portraying the text in a document so that the higher the incidence of a word or term, the larger its font will be. After SPUR interns Sarah Favrot & Javier del Castillo spent a great deal of time and effort transcribing the many responses and comments of the January 15th Ocean Beach Master Plan openhouse, they thought it would be fun to turn all that information into something a little less dense and slightly more visually appealing. Wordle.net is a website that turns any text into a word cloud such as this one. So here it is, the feedback of over 200 Bay Area participants represented as a word cloud. Enjoy!
The Weekly Snapshot
New CarSharing Association Aims to Reduce Car Ownership
Eighteen car-sharing companies from around the globe recently formed the official "CarSharing Association" as a way to come together under the common goal of reducing car ownership and encouraging sustainable forms of urban mobility.
Federal Restructuring of Fannie and Freddie Ignores Underlying Cause of Crisis
Author Christopher Leinberger argues that the principle cause of the mortgage meltdown was not the "usual suspects" of greed and corruption, but instead a fundamental shift in market demand from low-density suburbs to walkable urban development.
John Stewart Discusses the Importance of The City
The Daily Show host discusses the importance of cities with Harvard economics professor Edward Glaeser, author of the new book "Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier and Happier"
A stunning short film by director Martin de Thurah showcases the vibrant cycling life of Copenhagen.
A Month into the Job, Mayor Lee Foresees Extreme Financial Pain
San Francisco's new mayor suggests that the city may have to cut millions in employee pensions and healthcare in order to avoid facing bankruptcy.
Budget Wars in Washington—Will Infrastructure Investment Make the Cut?
The next several weeks in Washington promise to offer extremely important insights into the future of public transportation spending in this country. Watershed moments are ahead for most every item on the SPUR agenda. Here’s a quick primer of why and of what’s at stake for advocates of smart growth:
In October 2010, we anticipated that infrastructure spending would anchor the legislative agenda for 2011. Such nuts-and-bolts spending has often provided an area of consensus in a divided legislature, and the Obama Administration has repeatedly endorsed national infrastructure investment as vital for immediate job creation, as well as long term U.S. economic growth and competitiveness. The recent election of a wave of deficit hawks to the House will challenge this idea.
Last week President Obama upped the ante when he released his Fiscal Year 2012 budget. Most striking is that amidst nearly across-the-board cuts, transportation and clean-energy technology stand out as areas where significantly increased investments are proposed. According to the Department of Transportation, the overall funding request is a 66% increase above FY 2010 – the last enacted appropriated level. Equally exciting for livable streets and transit advocates is the parallel proposal of the Administration to authorize a six year budget for reauthorization of highway and public transportation spending—$119 billion—beginning with $22 billion in 2012.
Specific highlights of the proposed 2012 budget:
- $556 billion six-year surface transportation reauthorization “to improve the Country’s highways, transit, and rail infrastructure and to ensure that these systems are safe.” (Most surface transportation acts are major multi-year bills: the next will cover a six year time span. The last such bill expired in 2009. Since then, all U.S. transportation programs have been funded through a series of stop-gap measures.)
- $50 billion “Up-Front” economic boost that would foster job creation in infrastructure (note the care with semantics: the White House wants to avoid the appearance of a second stimulus)
- $5 billion to establish an Infrastructure Bank intended to leverage a combination of public and private funds to fast-track and guarantee financing for infrastructure projects determined to be of regional importance. (Scaled down from the President’s original $50 billion proposal, this innovative model could prove a pilot for future public infrastructure finance.)
These investments are part of what Obama calls our generation’s “Sputnik moment”; recalling the shock in the 1950’s when the Soviet Union orbited a satellite and gave Americans a wake-up call to increase investments in science to remain competitive. The Obama Administration has proposed a parallel program for spending on high-speed rail and renewable energy technologies. Republicans assert that “investment” is Democrat-speak for more deficit spending.
In this divided Congress, a natural tension has arisen between those who support strategic investment and those who feel the priority should be deficit reduction. The debate has begun in earnest on the House floor this week.
Fiscal conservatives feel they have three paths to scuttling Obama’s proposed budget
1. The Fiscal Year 2011 budget, passed with severe cuts at the end of last week and now being debated in the U.S. Senate
2. Debate on increasing the debt ceiling--conditioning an increase in the debt limit on a major spending cuts
3. The Fiscal Year 2012 budget that was just announced
So Washington right now is a virtual three ring circus.
For interested observers, the third “ring,” the 2012 budget wars, may well prove to be most consequential.
As Fiscal Year 2011 is nearly half-over, the major impact of the FY11 budget debates this week will be in setting the tone for the more consequential contest over FY12.
The debate is certain to be significant. The stakes are remarkably high. The government has been running on a series of temporary spending measures known as Continuing Resolutions (which continue spending at previously appropriated levels until consensus is reached) since Washington’s failure to enact a consensus budget last fall. The most recent CR expires on March 4, and without a compromise in Congress by that date, the government will effectively shut down. When that occurred under strikingly similar circumstances in 1995, public opinion turned against the Newt Gingrich-led House and support returned for beleaguered President Clinton, who subsequently cruised to re-election.
Here’s a prediction how these budget debates will play out in Washington:
- Fiscal conservatives in the House, wanting to show how serious they are about cutting spending, will pass a FY11 budget with strikingly deep cuts (this happened late last week, as predicted)
- The Senate will restore some cuts and accept others, and conservative Democrats votes in the Senate up for election in 2012 will be decisive.
- Faced with the Senate’s more moderate measure, Republicans will threaten to shut down the government. But they won’t. The lessons learned from 1995 will cause all parties to avoid shutting down the government.
- Conference committees, where a final budget is worked out, will be extremely contentious. If they can work out a compromise, it will set a tone for endless political skirmishing in Washington until November 2012.
The terms of actual spending and investment policy for the next two years will be impacted by the 2012 budget—which won’t be passed until September but will be debated all summer. Nowhere has President Obama made more bold pronouncements than in transportation and energy.
The Caltrain, San Francisco. [Photo by flickr user smif]
SPUR’s issues will be at the center of the debate. We have consistently supported increasing the proportion of investment in multi-modal transit, especially rail. The President’s strong opening gambit sends the signal that he is serious about making progressive transit a priority. The lines are drawn. The issues are clear. Now comes the battle in which the future direction of so many important programs will be determined.
New PPIC Report Argues for Jobs, Not Homes, Near Transit
The Public Policy Institute of California has just released a new series of reports assessing how prepared California is to implement Senate Bill 375, a state mandate to reduce driving through better land use planning. One report focuses on the connection between transit and jobs. The other focuses on the tools planners can use to reduce driving and the willingness of local officials to use them. The reports are also summarized in a single report, which was presented and discussed at an event today in Sacramento.
1. Employment density (roughly the number of workers per square mile) in California is 15 percent lower than the national average and declining. This is largely happening as work spreads out away from traditional downtowns to smaller centers or non-centers throughout metropolitan areas. And employment density is more strongly associated with transit use than residential density.
2. Residential density is higher than the national average and increasing. It is 49 percent above the national average and rose from 1990 to 2008 while residential density nationally remained flat. This is largely because new development is denser than historic development in most places and because population is increasing at a faster rate than sprawl’s outward march.
3. The location of one’s job relative to transit is a more important factor in determining whether or not someone will take transit than how close someone lives to transit. This is (as the report states) because “high employment densities appear to boost transit ridership (and therefore reduce VMT) more than high residential densities.”
4. While rail is a major component of transportation spending, new stations and lines have not resulted in major changes in ridership. According to the study, between 1992 and 2006, 217 new rail stations (including several bus-rapid-transit stations) opened in the state. From 1990 to 2008, transit as a share of all commuting statewide increased from 5 percent to 5.5 percent.
This is an important paper that challenges conventional notions of TOD. It also reinforces many arguments SPUR has been making in recent years.
SPUR began analyzing issues around employment and transit in 2006 with the beginning of our work on the Future of Downtown San Francisco. In our policy paper we argued that important regional transit locations such as the half mile areas near downtown San Francisco’s BART stations make more sense for commercial than residential development. This argued against the predominant thinking at the time, which was to make downtowns more lively and “livable” through adding as much residential development as possible.
As metropolitan regions engage in the creation of Sustainable Communities Strategies, two lessons from the PPIC report as well as prior SPUR reports are clear:
1. We should revise SB 375 to allow dense commercial development around transit to access the same incentives as residential development.
2. We should revise the housing bias in ABAG’s Focus program and Priority Development Areas as well as MTC’s transit expansion criteria (Resolution 3434) to encourage communities to plan for dense commercial development immediately adjacent to rail stations. Residential is not the only use that we should be trying to get locals to plan for near transit.
The PPIC papers give major research support to the argument that the goal of reducing driving will not happen unless there is more of a statewide focus on employment density.
With Detroit in Dire Straits, Mayor Invites Big Thinking
In order to take on the challenges posed by a shrinking population, lost revenue and tight budget, Mayor Bing of Detroit is making an open call for any plans, proposals and theories on how to cure the ailing city.
Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change
In an interview, urban planner Peter Calthorpe talks about his new book Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change, and discusses the role of “New Green Urbanism” and transit-oriented development the twenty-first century.
Time to End City Incentive for Suburban Subdivisions
As demographics shifts and there is less of a demand for single-family housing, the “suburbia-loving” region of Charlotte, North Carolina will have to update its zoning to accommodate an incoming population more partial to dense development.
Eat Your Subdivision
To address concerns about food security and quality, a growing number of residential communities are incorporating agricultural spaces into their housing developments.
City to Legitimize Mystery Stop Signs
Last year, the city of Cranston, Rhode Island found that a third of all its stop signs had not been installed by the city, but instead by a mysterious unknown. Now the city plans to legalize the hundreds of the “unauthorized stop signs.”
Twitter's Possible Relocation Opens Debate over How to Keep Jobs in the City
San Francisco might be the cultural center of the region, but in the technology sector the city has generally played second fiddle to the Silicon Valley. That began to change during the dot-com boom and then again more recently, a new generation of startups is setting up in neighborhoods like SoMa and Potrero Hill. (SPUR discussed the trend in its “year in urbanism” recap.)
One of the most well-known of these emerging technology companies is Twitter, which has been headquartered in SoMa since its founding. So the announcement a few weeks back that Twitter is looking at moving its headquarters southward to Brisbane is a worrying development. This has led to a response by San Francisco to try to keep Twitter in town – specifically, the Board of Supervisors is considering a payroll tax break for firms that move into the Mid-Market neighborhood, which is where the city hopes to convince Twitter to relocate.
City officials hope the legislation, planned to be introduced at the Board of Supervisors meeting today, will boost jobs and provide a means to help revive the downtrodden stretch of the city's grand boulevard. The once-bustling theater district has resisted efforts to spruce it up for decades, but it has been showing signs of promise over the past two years with efforts to attract artists, theater groups and a shopping center.
But more generally, the threat of losing the headquarters of such a successful and growing firm serves as an ongoing illustration of how hard it can be to keep firms in SF, and gives us an opportunity to consider ways to keep these jobs in the region’s core.
The difficulty of doing business in San Francisco is often exaggerated, but there is certainly some truth to the idea that some city policies can act as a drag on companies, particularly as they begin to grow:
1. Payroll taxes: San Francisco requires businesses over a certain size to pay a 1.5% payroll tax, unique among Bay Area cities. Taxing payroll is a direct disincentive to hiring additional workers and makes San Francisco particularly less competitive for growing firms, particularly in industries with significant amounts of venture funding and other risk capital. The City had already identified this as an issue before the discussion around the Twitter move, having waived it for biotech companies. The Board of Supervisors is expected to consider an overhaul soon. (More on SPUR’s views on business taxes here and here.)
2. Lack of office space: Even with the recession, San Francisco County has the Bay Area’s lowest office vacancy rate (14.5%), and not much construction is planned in the immediate future. More generally, Proposition M, passed by the voters in 1986, imposes strict limits on office space growth downtown; this might limit the damage done to the rental business during crashes, but it also means less new space for job growth in the region’s most transit-rich district. This issue was among the problems cited when SPUR considered the future of Downtown San Francisco.
3. Outdated spaces: Even when space is available, it might not be fit for the needs of growing companies. This is not only due to issues with the facilities themselves (e.g., small floorplates), but also because high growth companies like Twitter need the ability to lease additional space as the need arises – flexibility that is not common, and made less so by San Francisco’s tight market.
While the payroll tax exemption before the Board will be a great tool for bringing employment to the Mid-Market district, and may potentially keep Twitter around, this solution will still not change the overall city’s attractiveness for employers in general. While Twitter is a valuable asset (many other startups have literally popped up in its shadow, helping to form a new Web 2.0 cluster), San Francisco needs to address the deeper issues that drive growing companies down the peninsula.
Moreover, this example of Twitter flirting with Brisbane also serves to demonstrate the downsides to the Bay Area’s lack of regional co-operation. Assisting certain companies to be in San Francisco instead of Brisbane may be to San Francisco’s specific benefit. But a race to the bottom among the region’s municipalities will ultimately benefit no-one other than the employers who choose to game the system.
Instead of one-off confrontations focused on individual employers, the Bay Area needs to begin to employ a regional approach to economic development – one that allows cities to target certain sectors, but also avoids conflicts that reduce our tax base without actually adding jobs. As SPUR has argued in the past, it’s time for the Bay Area to adopt a real economic development strategy, with proactive measures to create jobs, rather than reactive ones meant to keep them.
Ocean Beach: In Context
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