The annual study on the cost of traffic congestion gets its share of publicity. A new one on the cost of sprawl deserves just as much attention. The authors say that while the congestion studies suggest the solution is to build more highways, they wanted to look at the price of land-use patterns that force people to travel farther to get from home to work, shopping and other destinations.
So City Observatory, an online urban policy think tank, put together what it calls a “sprawl tax,” which includes transportation costs, plus the excess hours spent commuting. The first analysis estimates that commuters in the nation’s 50 largest metro areas pay a sprawl tax of more than $107 billion a year, nearly $1,400 for the average worker. That total rivals the $124 billion estimate for the cost of congestion – time and money lost stuck in traffic.
This opinion piece goes on to suggest the shopworn Industrial Age remedies of locating housing closer to jobs in central metro areas and beefing up public transit. But both are unrealistic, retrograde solutions.
Housing market economics typically attach a price premium to downtown housing that makes it unaffordable for many. Second, employment is changing and is far less permanent than it used to be. People stay in a home longer than with a given employer. Third, public transit use is dropping, not surprisingly so since it tends to lengthen rather than shorten the duration of commute trips.
In the 21st century, information and communications technology (ICT) makes it quite possible for knowledge workers to live and work outside of metro centers, improving their quality of life and eliminating the urban sprawl issue.