Michael Lewyn's blog

Michael Lewyn is an assistant professor at Touro Law Center in Long Island.
Michael Lewyn's picture
Blogger

Externalities, Meet Externalities

(NOTE TO READERS: An expanded, footnote-filled version of this article is online at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1632935 )

 

Externalities are costs (or benefits) imposed on third parties by another individual’s voluntary action.  Government regulations exist at least partially to protect us from externalities created by others.

What a bus rider wants

As I began to type this, I was on a Greyhound bus somewhere in southern Ontario, on the first leg of my return from Toronto (where I have spent the past year getting an extra degree) to the United States.  As I type, it occurs to me to ask myself: what are the interests of the long-distance bus rider?  Are they the same as users of other forms of public transit, or closer to those of drivers and truckers?  My short answer to these questions is: a little of both.

Being Productive On The Bus

In a recent blog post (at http://www.planetizen.com/node/44518) Steven Polzin argues that drivers are more productive because they get places faster.  His post, in turn, generated an avalanche of critiques noting the negative externalities of auto travel (e.g. pollution, death and injury from traffic accidents, health costs of obesity, etc.).

But what I'd like to address is something else: the positive productivity benefits of transit use.  Let's suppose that it takes me 30 minutes to reach destination X on the bus, and 15 minutes by car.  Obviously, the car is more productive.  Right?

A Blunt Tool

How can one measure the housing affordability of a city or region?  One common option is to focus on a region’s median home price (or the median home price divided by median income).  I’ve used this method myself, and regional medians will often be the best tool available.

But sometimes, this method leads to absurd results.  For example, the median home price for metropolitan Atlanta is $150,000, which makes Atlanta seem like a remarkably affordable housing market.(1)

Waiting for a miracle

I was reading Wendell Cox's recent attack on the Center for Neighborhood Technology's affordability calculations, and was struck by one thing he wrote:“transportation costs will be reduced in the future by the far more fuel efficient vehicles being required by Washington.”* 

In other words, don't worry about Americans being impoverished by the cost of a car for every man, woman, and 16-year old in the House: the technological miracle of fuel efficiency will save us. 

Yes, Zoning Still Encourages Sprawl

A few weeks ago, Randall O’Toole  (a leading anti-anti-sprawl commentator) and Matthew Yglesias (a Washington-based pundit who primarily writes about politics, but occasionally veers off into planning issues) had an interesting discussion about the extent to which sprawl is a result of land use regulation.(1)

How Much Does Congestion Matter?

When Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s suggested that bicyclists’ needs should be accommodated in federally-funded road projects, the road lobby responded with something approaching hysteria.

Sprawl In Canada and the U.S.: A Comparison

I am spending this spring at the University of Toronto working on an advanced law degree (called an L.L.M.), and am writing a thesis comparing sprawl in Canada and the United States.  Here are a few preliminary findings:

Living in Mrs. Jacobs' Neighborhood

A decade or so ago, after reading some of Jane Jacobs’ work, I became aware of the distinction between mixed-use and single-use neighborhoods.  In those days, I imagined that in a well-functioning urban neighborhood, every non-polluting use would be mixed together, and the lion of housing would lay down with the lamb of commerce.

Taming the Office Park

Most attempts to regulate suburban development have focused on containing the growth of suburban housing. But such regulation, by restricting the supply of buildable land, risks incresing housing prices. And from a more libertarian perspective, an individual's interest in choosing to "drive to qualify" may seem quite appealing. Attempts to regulate commercial suburban development do not involve the same sentimental considerations as limits on residential development, but do risk increasing prices for commercial land, thus increasing prices for everything else.

Pages