Woebegone budgets, &c.

A wrap-up of items from my latest week away:

* Paul Merrion in Crain’s points out that “intense opposition to [refinery] expansion plans following BP America Inc.’s scuttled proposal to dump more waste in Lake Michigan… raise the prospect of even higher prices at the pump if pollution-control technology makes refinery expansion unfeasible.” Well, duh (and that’s a good thing, IMO), but I wonder if all those drivers signing petitions against BP’s expansion realized that they, too, are part of the problem. Probably not, of course.

* Greg Hinz pre-emptively rued this week of fiscal crisis:

the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) will unveil a proposed 2008 budget that, unlike prior versions, almost certainly will be the real Doomsday thing… Mayor Richard M. Daley on Wednesday will unveil his own heaping helping of woes: service cuts and tax hikes that insiders have warned may include a stunning $100-million hike in the property tax… the Cook County Board considers an increase of 2% in the county’s sales tax proposed by county President Todd Stroger… as Springfield squabbles over a proposed property-tax hike that threatens to hit city homeowners with what County Assessor Jim Houlihan says would be an average 40% increase on bills due later this year… “It’s an all-out race to see who can raise taxes higher, faster than others in the race,” says Gerald Roper, president and CEO of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.

My favorite: city water and sewer rates will go up by $65 million. This, in a city that (this never fails to astonish people elsewhere) has no water meters. That’s right, I of the paused showers and ultra-efficient dishwasher (hey, Californian parents will do that to you) pay the same rate as someone who runs the sprinkler 24/7. Maybe the infamously corrupt water department might consider adding meters, and charging people per use — instead of regressively raising rates across the board?

* Sadly, two fascinating trial balloons that went up last week amidst the tax-hike frenzy got shot down really fast. A tax on parking spaces, apparently floated by the governor (and discussed here last year), appears to have disappeared into the muck. A city gas tax hike, and parking-meter increase, disappeared between last week’s rumors and this week’s proposal. Not that Fran Spielman didn’t get a chance to get a great quote about it:

Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th) said she’s all for doubling the gas tax, but only if the Chicago Transit Authority gets the money. “I don’t think we’re going to get the help we need from Springfield. (CTA funding is) a critical issue for me, and I don’t see anybody paying attention,” she said.

* Andrea Johnson in LiveScience reports on an aerial survey by Bryan Pijanowski of Purdue University that found three surface parking spaces for each licensed driver around Purdue. Not quite the seven I’ve seen quoted elsewhere (where’d that come from?), but then again this didn’t count residential garages, on-street parking, or structures of any sort. However, the fact that such a survey was possible

* I scribbled this down about Interbike in Las Vegas, over on Flyertalk:

I’m (hardly) old enough to remember CABDA, the last of the regional bicycle trade shows (and right next to the UA hub at ORD!). Eurobike Portland sounded interesting while talk of that lasted, and with the industry’s recent growth perhaps a competitor could’ve survived.

My employer treats our convention as an honor bestowed upon cities that meet our standards, since our attendees expect to learn from the cities they visit. APBP, Thunderhead, and other bike groups do the same. Granted, I see everything through the lens of the built environment, but wouldn’t it be cool if bike dealers could walk out of the convention center and see… people bicycling, thanks to good facilities and a healthy local bike culture? Maybe then they’d start to get excited about the changes possible in the communities outside their own shops — a great way to build overall demand and sales.

* A photo of me by Hayley Graham accompanied this Chicago Journal article about the Pilsen Park(ing) Day action.

* Counterintuitive: facing losses in 2005, CalTrain (which has a unique combination of an hourly pay structure and nearly equally balanced loads) worked its way out of a deficit by expanding service, particularly faster express trains. Fewer stops = more runs with the same crews. A virtuous-cycle, revenue-growth approach to budgeting, rather than the vicious-cycle, cost-cutting approach — they’d be easier if only transit captured more of the value it created, of course.

* NYC’s public-service bike safety ads carry the simplest, stupidest, but most necessary message possible: Look.

* I typically dislike freeway-median transit — it inhibits the potential for pedestrian friendly, transit oriented development, since the stations are necessarily embedded amidst stinky cars — but I could get behind Mark Oberholzer’s idea:

integrating turbines into the barriers between highway lanes that would harness the wind generated by passing cars to create energy. “Opposing streams of traffic create really incredible potential in terms of a guaranteed wind source,” Oberholzer says… “The technical problems of tying into the grid and managing the flow made me think of putting the power to a different use,” he says. “I’m pretty excited about integrating a subway or light-rail train right where the barrier is. I love the idea of siphoning off electricity generated by private transportation to run public transportation.”

One thought on “Woebegone budgets, &c.

  1. On the other hand, another plan (linked in the press to Tom Cross) to direct regional sales taxes on gasoline to transit, and to raise car registration fees to make up some of the lost General Fund revenue, has at least this to recommend it: the sales tax on gas goes up with the ever-increasing price of gas, whereas the per-gallon gas tax goes down. At some point, the per-gallon tax should be reindexed, since it is losing its purchasing power as a result of higher gas prices.

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