Congestion Pricing Gains Traction in Seattle

Congestion pricing is a popular subject of conversation in Seattle, even if the idea hasn't yet proven popular with voters. The city is looking for ways to lead on climate change by reducing emissions from transportation.

July 31, 2019, 9:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Alaskan Way Viaduct

Tony Webster / Flickr

Katie Wilson pens a two-part opinion piece about the difficult political job of positioning a city as a climate leader—in this case the city is Seattle, and the politician is Mayor Jenny Durkan, who called in 2018 for the city to study congestion pricing as a key piece in a plan to reduce the city's emissions from transportation.

Wilson writes: "Does Mayor Jenny Durkan have a vision for reducing emissions from transportation? In fact, last April she announced a big idea that many transportation and climate advocates found surprising and exciting: congestion pricing — charging fees for driving that more accurately reflect real social and environmental costs."

Consultants released the study in May 2019, over a year later, with strong cautions about the difficulties of implementing a congestion pricing without overburdening low-income populations and groups that have traditionally been marginalized by planning decisions.

Wilson expresses some skepticism that Durkan is willing to expend the political capital to get a congestion pricing plan a cross the finish line. "If Durkan is serious about overcoming this obstacle to her big idea, her record so far doesn’t show it. No doubt the mayor inherited some real difficulties, but a series of major setbacks has given advocates good reason to be frustrated."

Contributing to Wilson's skepticism is a long list of projects intended to be funded by the Move Seattle Levy, but which have fallen by the wayside as that money has fallen short of promises.

With the diminishing scale of that effort, in mind, Wilson asks the question: "Suppose congestion pricing fails to materialize. What’s left of Durkan’s vision? When she announced her climate agenda last April, one more transportation idea made the cut: electric vehicles."

Part two of Wilson's screed focuses on positive action toward a less carbon intensive transportation system, including four recommendations:

  • Prioritize "transit, biking, walking, and rolling"
  • Go big on bus service
  • Challenge employers to step up by subsidizing transit, offering bike parking, and charging for parking
  • Integrate land use with transportation by building a lot of affordable housing near transit lines.

In separate article on the same subject of cleaning up the city's transportation systems, Daniel Malarkey focuses on the potential for congestion pricing to cut traffic and generate revenue for other forms of mobility that would benefit low-income residents of Seattle.

In yet another article, Doug Trumm reports that ride-hailing company Uber recently released its own study analyzing the effects of a potential fee on ridehailing services for traffic in Downtown Seattle.

Trumm summarizes the key findings from the study: "Peak car trips would drop 7%, and automobile travel times to and from downtown at peak times would drop 30% with dynamic tolling topping out at $3.80 in afternoon rush, under the study’s projections. More importantly, pollution would drop, transit ridership would increase 4%, and the city would generate at least $130 million in annual revenue."

The ride-hailing study was built on the framework of the city's study released in May.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019 in Crosscut


Opinion: Aging Population, Declining Fertility Requires Long-Term Investments

Faced with the dire consequences of a one-two punch of aging populations and declining birthrates, one writer has suggestions for how policy can help ensure a better future.

August 9, 2022 - Financial Times


The Surprising Oil Tax in the Inflation Reduction Act

President Biden has made reducing gas prices paramount in his administration, so it was likely a surprise to hear a Republican senator last Sunday warn TV viewers that a revived and increased oil fee in the climate bill will increase their gas costs.

August 15, 2022 - Bloomberg News

People gather on a street with no cars during the L.E.A.F. Festival of Flowers in the Meatpacking District of New York City.

The Tide Has Turned Against Open Streets

Once a promising development for advocates pushing for a less car-centric future in cities, the open streets movement has ceded significant ground to cars since the height of the pandemic.

August 14, 2022 - The New York Times

110 Freeway

Opinion: Los Angeles Transportation Plan Will Increase Driving

L.A. Metro’s plan to add hundreds of miles of new traffic lanes is projected to increase carbon emissions by 10 million metric tons.

August 18 - Los Angeles Times

Flooding at the Whitehall Street station, New York

How Extreme Weather Threatens Transit Systems

As weather events become more intense and unpredictable, transit agencies must take steps to protect their aging infrastructure from flooding, storms, and extreme heat.

August 18 - Next City

Close-up of car tailpipe emitting smoke

Federal Rule Would Require Regional Emissions Reduction Targets

A rule shelved during the Trump administration would require states and metropolitan areas to set targets for reducing tailpipe emissions, but advocates say it doesn’t go far enough to mandate results.

August 18 - Governing

Assistant or Associate Professor of Urban Design

Harvard University Graduate School of Design

Professor of Urban Planning

Harvard University Graduate School of Design

Professor of Urban Design and/or Urban Planning

Harvard University Graduate School of Design

New Cityscape Explores Methods of Measuring Blight

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

2022 National Cohousing Conference

Cohousing Association of the US

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Hand Drawing Master Plans

This course aims to provide an introduction into Urban Design Sketching focused on how to hand draw master plans using a mix of colored markers.