• Ending New York's Traffic Jam: Campus Network Testimony to NY City Council

    Mar 6, 2015Brit Byrd

    On March 5, 2015, Campus Network Senior Fellow Brit Byrd testified before the New York City Council on the topic of vehicular traffic congestion and potential policy solutions. His written testimony is reproduced below.

    Good afternoon. My name is Brit Byrd. I am the Senior Fellow for Economic Development for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and a student at Columbia University.

    On March 5, 2015, Campus Network Senior Fellow Brit Byrd testified before the New York City Council on the topic of vehicular traffic congestion and potential policy solutions. His written testimony is reproduced below.

    Good afternoon. My name is Brit Byrd. I am the Senior Fellow for Economic Development for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and a student at Columbia University.

    The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network is the nation’s largest student-driven policy organization, with more than 120 university campuses in 38 states, involving thousands of young people nationwide. In my capacity as a Senior Fellow, I have examined the economics and urban planning implications of New York City’s on-street parking spaces. I appreciate this opportunity to share some of my research and policy suggestions, which I elaborate on in depth in the attached white paper. That paper was also presented to members of the National Economic Policy Council at the White House last December.

    Vehicular traffic congestion presents a serious and ongoing challenge in the City of New York. Most recently, the city’s “Vision Zero” program has highlighted the tragic human cost of reckless and haphazard traffic. This is sadly only one facet of a diverse and widespread problem, spanning concerns about public health, environmental emissions, losses in economic productivity, and responsible urbanism. The economic cost alone is staggering. The Partnership for New York City estimated that as much as $1.9 billion is lost annually due to inventory, logistical, and personnel costs of traffic congestion, and up to $4.6 billion is lost as unrealized business revenue.

    The city has not been blind to this problem, and has pursued solutions at the state level and to a more limited extent within its own departments. But the city hasn’t fully taken advantage of one of the largest tools at its disposal: the management of on-street parking spaces. De-incentivizing vehicular traffic within the dense, transit-rich parts of our city is a straightforward task in that raising the cost of a car trip results in fewer car trips. Efforts at enacting a congestion pricing plan in 2008 and the current Park SMART NYC program reflect an awareness of this policy tool. But parking policies that use the same mechanisms have been almost entirely overlooked, even though they represent an ideal opportunity for the city to raise the effective cost of driving while operating entirely within its own powers.

    City-administered on-street parking spaces are currently highly undervalued. Current rates vary from $1–$5 across the city, while pricing for an hour of parking in a private off-street garage suggests the market rate is closer to $15–$30. As noted in my white paper, there is extensive research showing that parking prices in cities with transit alternatives, such as New York City, respond remarkably well to classic principles of supply and demand: raise the price of parking and demand will decrease. Conversely, lower prices encourage a higher demand. This is especially pertinent when on-street metered parking is so much less expensive than off-street parking. In one study of six different urban sites, roughly one-third of traffic congestion consisted of people avoiding off-street market prices by circling around an area searching for cheap on-street parking.[1]

    Parking spaces represent an enormous quantity of public land that is in effect rented out by the city, but the current management scheme heavily subsidizes the use of this space for a relatively small portion of New Yorkers. Only 22.7 percent of New Yorkers commute to work alone in a vehicle, and only 46 percent of households own a vehicle.[2]

    Today I am here to urge the City Council to pursue two policies that would help reduce traffic congestion, discontinue subsidizing car ownership, and raise revenue.

    1. Introduce a residential parking permit system for on-street parking spaces on residential side streets.
    2. Devote a small number of on-street parking spaces for the exclusive use of car-sharing vehicles.

    Both of these policies would raise additional revenue for the city, which I further advocate should be allocated to capital budgets for City Council districts that employ participatory budgeting.

    Proposal #1 -- A Residential Parking Permit (RPP) System

    The vast majority of on-street parking in the city is on residential side streets is completely free. In 2013, research found that “free and available on-street parking increased private car ownership by 8.8 percent for households with off-street parking in the New York City region.”[3] Simply put, this free parking represents an indirect subsidy of personal car ownership and induces additional traffic congestion. Moreover, the free use of residential on-street parking represents a complete concession of a valuable public resource to a small portion of citizens.

    In place of free parking on these residential side streets, New York City should implement a residential parking permit (RPP) to set a more appropriate price for the public space being rented. This would also eliminate the existing informal subsidy for personal car ownership and reduce traffic congestion and other vehicle-related negative externalities. In contrast to metered parking, an RPP scheme operates by charging residents a monthly or yearly charge to park within a given zone.                                         

    An RPP system benefits drivers by making it easier to find a parking spot available close to their front door and simplifying alternate-side parking. Perhaps for these reasons, there is evidence that New York City drivers are already prepared for RPP. Urban planning researchers Zhan Guo and Simon McDonnell found in 2013 that 52 percent of NYC drivers in the outer boroughs and upper Manhattan were already willing to pay for a residential permit, with a median volunteered price of $408 a year.[4]

    Proposal #2 -- On-street parking spaces for car-sharing vehicles

    Car-sharing services are already known and popular to many New Yorkers. For a relatively small yearly subscription fee and an hourly usage rate, subscribers can rent a car for the occasional trip, such as moving, trips outside of the city, or trips to big box retailers. The service is an ideal complement to an RPP system, since many car owners in New York City use their cars largely for these kinds of trips. Additionally, the service offers an affordable alternative for those not willing to pay the high entry costs of purchasing, insuring, and fueling a car.

    As it stands, car-sharing services mostly partner with private garages or other private institutions, limiting their coverage and public knowledge of the service. Devoting public on-street parking space to car-sharing infrastructure both complements the goals of RPP pricing and provides a distinct public service within itself. Research shows that car-sharing programs encourage similar policy goals as increasing parking rates, and can even encourage drivers to forgo personal ownership altogether in favor of car-sharing. Hoboken, New Jersey implemented a “Corner Cars” program, in which on-street parking spaces were rented to car-sharing services; 3,000 participants say they have given up their personal cars due to the sharing program,[5] and each car-sharing car is estimated to have replaced 17 private vehicles.[6]

    Directing a Portion of Revenues toward Participatory Budgeting

    In addition to helping to reduce congestion, both of these policies would also produce new revenues: RPP through the lease of permits, and car-sharing through yearly leases of individual spaces in responsible public-private contracts. The revenue raised by this rent has a more direct connection to the physical landscape and infrastructure than other municipal revenues, such as property or sales taxes.

    As Councilmembers doubtlessly know from their commutes between City Hall and their district offices, transportation is more than just a line item in our budget, but rather a fundamental part of the daily quality of life for all New Yorkers. Smart transportation policy tackling traffic congestion could have a profound, rippling effect upon the way in which New Yorkers work, study, relax, and feel a connection to their communities. Directing a portion of these new revenues to Participatory Budgeting, a process in which citizens deliberate and vote on capital investments, will both strengthen our infrastructure and citizens’ connection to the processes that enable its funding and maintenance.

    Introducing residential parking permits, and public car-sharing spaces represents a step toward a better New York City for all of its citizens. But here too there is also a policy byproduct that is greater than the sum of its parts. Connecting the ubiquitous public resource of parking spots with the more arcane and less accessible processes of municipal budgeting makes government less invisible to the citizen on the street.

    Thank you and we look forward to working with you.


    [1] Shoup, Donald C. The High Cost of Free Parking. Chicago: Planners Press, American Planning Association, (2005)

    [2] U.S Bureau of the Census. 2008-2012 American Community Survey Estimates. Census Bureau. Available: http:// factfinder2.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/community_facts.xhtml

    [3] Guo, Zhan. "Residential Street Parking and Car Ownership." Journal of the American Planning Association 79, no. 1 (2013): 32-48.

    [4] Guo, Zhan, and Simon McDonnell. "Curb Parking Pricing for Local Residents: An Exploration in New York City Based on Willingness to Pay." Transport Policy, (2013), 186-98.

    [5] Shoup, Donald. "Informal Parking Markets: Turning Problems into Solutions." In The Informal American City: Beyond Taco Trucks to Day Labor, 277-294. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, (2014).

    [6] Osgood, Andrea. "On-Street Parking Spaces for Shared Cars." ACCESS Magazine 1, no. 36 (2010).


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  • Obamacare's Nine Lives

    Mar 5, 2015Richard Kirsch

    If Obamacare survives yesterday’s Supreme Court challenge, it will really be the cat with nine lives.

    The death of what became the Affordable Care Act has been predicted regularly ever since President Obama’s election in 2008. Right after Obama’s election, I got a wave of calls from reporters, each highly skeptical that the President-elect would really try to get health care passed. When you consider the relentless attacks and near-death experiences ever since, the reporters’ skepticism was understandable.

    If Obamacare survives yesterday’s Supreme Court challenge, it will really be the cat with nine lives.

    The death of what became the Affordable Care Act has been predicted regularly ever since President Obama’s election in 2008. Right after Obama’s election, I got a wave of calls from reporters, each highly skeptical that the President-elect would really try to get health care passed. When you consider the relentless attacks and near-death experiences ever since, the reporters’ skepticism was understandable.

    So when I found myself with a fresh wave of anxiety before the Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday on the latest assault on the law, I decided to list all the times that the survival of what became the Affordable Care Act was up in the air. And when I then counted them, it turned out that they number eight. So if Obamacare survives this last, desperate challenge at the Supreme Court, it really will have nine lives. Here they are, in chronological order:

    1. The Great Recession: After Obama’s election a chorus of pundits predicted that the new President would have to give up his promise of health care reform because of the economic crisis. Instead, the President worked to get the economic stimulus passed, while paving the ground for health reform moving. Just a few weeks after the stimulus became law, the President went on a national tour to push for action on health care. 

    2. Tea Party August: The tea party movement came to national attention, with loud, vitriolic attacks on health care at congressional town meetings held by Democrats in August 2009. Republicans gleefully predicted they had killed the bill. But by the second half of August supporters of health reform had rallied at dozens of town hall meetings, usually turning out more activists than the tea partiers. The press didn’t give the same attention to meetings that were not marked by raucous demonstrations. But Democratic members of Congress were sent back to Congress knowing they had support in their home districts to move ahead.

    3. Scott Brown’s Election: The surprise election of Republican Scott Brown to the U.S. Senate in January 2010, on a platform opposing health care, looked like it might kill the bill. But having voted to pass the legislation in both houses, Democrats were not going to turn back. President Obama rallied the public by finally attacking the practices of health insurance companies and even without a filibuster proof majority in the Senate, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act became law.

    4. The Supreme Court Challenge: Immediately after the ACA’s passage, opponents launched a legal attack, which – shocking most legal scholars – was taken seriously by the courts. And by the time the Supreme Court heard the challenge, the odds were that the Court would gut the key provision of the law that enabled insurance to be affordable to individuals. But Chief Justice Roberts saved the day  – and much of the Court’s credibility.

    5. The 2012 Election: If the Senate had gone Republican in 2012 – as was widely predicted – and Mitt Romney been elected, Obamacare would have been repealed. Instead, the ACA emerged with a new electoral mandate.

    6. Government Shutdown and Congressional Repeals: I hesitated to put the 50 or so Republican votes to repeal the law, culminating in the government shutdown in the fall of 2013, on the list, only because of President Obama’s veto pen. But even if the ACA always had the presidential veto as armor, the barrage of repeal missiles has got to be counted. Texas Senator Ted Cruz led the government shut down before health insurance enrollment opened up because, as he said, “no major entitlement has ever been implemented and then unwound.”

    7. Healthcare.gov: And then, with the disastrous launch of the website to enroll people in health care, Ted Cruz appeared to have gotten his wish fulfilled. The ACA might not be legally dead, but much of it was functionally comatose. Then the administration resuscitated the website, and millions were enrolled and started benefitting from the coverage. It looked like, As Cruz feared, the ACA was here to stay.

    8. Supreme Court Redux: That is until the Supreme Court agreed to hear a desperate, last minute challenge to ACA’s for millions of newly enrolled people in the King v. Burwell case. Could this be like one of those movies where the soldier survives the war, only to be killed by a bullet on his way home, fired by an enemy that hadn’t heard the war was over?

    The news reports of the oral arguments yesterday were encouraging, particularly Justice Kennedy’s raising of a constitutional issue with the plaintiff’s case. And there are a host of other legal reasons to believe that the lawsuit is groundless. But then it did get this far. The opponents have been relentless. They haven’t gotten the message that the war is lost.

    In June, we’ll find out if the ACA is the cat with nine lives. Easy to laugh at, if not for the fact that the actual lives of millions of people who rely on the law for life-saving health care are at stake. 

    Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform.

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  • America's Tax Code Is Broken, But the Rubio-Lee Plan Won't Fix It

    Mar 4, 2015Eric Harris Bernstein

    "We believe that America’s best days are still ahead. But we also recognize that restoring the shared prosperity that comes from a strong economy requires reforming the most antiquated and dysfunctional government policies, beginning with the federal tax system."

    -Senators Marco Rubio and Mike Lee 

    Finally, something we can all agree on. 

    "We believe that America’s best days are still ahead. But we also recognize that restoring the shared prosperity that comes from a strong economy requires reforming the most antiquated and dysfunctional government policies, beginning with the federal tax system."

    -Senators Marco Rubio and Mike Lee 

    Finally, something we can all agree on. 

    In their joint op-ed in this morning's Wall Street Journal, the two Republican senators proposed a new tax plan and argued that our current federal tax structure is broken, its problems "rooted in the same fundamental unfairness and inequity of a government that picks winners and losers."

    Again, we here at the Roosevelt Institute welcome this realization. For too long, our tax code has helped the few at the expense of the many. Unfortunately, an analysis of their proposed solutions shows that the senators have come out on the wrong side of this argument. 

    First, they propose lowering the top corporate tax rate to 25 percent. This would be a step worth discussing if not for the fact that, with offshore tax havens and a wealth of other tax benefits, America's largest corporations currently pay an effective rate of just 12.6 percent. In the words of Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz, it would seem that the problem is not double taxation, but no taxation.

    The senators then argue that, in order to incentivize investment, they would make all capital expenditures 100 percent tax-deductible, suggesting that taxes have squeezed corporations out of the investment business. But if this is the case, then how do we explain the $2 trillion currently being held abroad by America's largest corporations? And what about the enormous sums that companies like Apple and Home Depot are spending on buybacks to enrich investors? 

    In fact, new research from Roosevelt Institute Fellow J.W. Mason shows us that the link between corporate cash flow and productive investment has been all but severed since the shareholder revolution of the 1980s. Shareholders now pocket an increasingly large portion of corporate earnings and borrowing that would have once gone to capital investments, job creation, or raising workers’ pay. Given these facts, as well as the current level of historically high profts, it is clear that corporate investment is not suffering from lack of funding, and that more spending on corporate welfare is the wrong way to go.

    Lee and Rubio suggest that corporate taxes drive American industries abroad. This is absolutely true: Corporations want to benefit from American security, infrastructure, and human capital, but they don't want to pay their share to maintain those invaluable assets, so they shelter themselves in tax havens like Ireland. The problem, from our point of view, is not, as Rubio and Lee suggest, that the tax code taxes corporations (indeed, that is what a tax code exists to do); the problem is that it allows wealthy corporations to avoid those taxes. 

    We need policies that will ensure corporations contribute like the rest of us, not ones that will commit more public money to private enterprise. 

    The senators state that their plan is guided by the principles of fairness, freedom, and growth. This raises the question: In whose mind is it fair to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on wealthy corporations, while Americans drive on pothole-pocked roads and send their children to overcrowded schools to learn from underpaid teachers?

    For the individual income tax, Rubio and Lee propose reducing the number of brackets to two -- one at 15 percent and one at 35 percent. Even though they have been greatly reduced since the 1980s, lowering rates for middle-income earners is worth discussing. The far more significant part of this proposal, however, is the 11 percent tax break for top income earners, which would further reduce the amount of public funds available for things like roads and schools, and which would further tip our economic balance toward the wealthy.

    The senators would likely argue that this tax break will stimulate productive spending, but trickle-down economics did not work under Reagan and will not work now.

    Toward the end of their op-ed, the authors posit a series of pro-family tax reforms, like tax credits for children and tax breaks for couples filing jointly. These policies are rooted in a belief that families with married parents are more economically stable and productive than single-parent families. Again, this may be a point worth debating, but these miniscule incentives are scarcely more than lip service to the American middle class, which this plan largely forsakes in favor of more tax cuts for large corporations and the wealthy. 

    More generally, Rubio and Lee frame their entire plan as a benefit to average Americans, but do this while glossing over policies that will only continue our current trend of supporting the wealthy at the expense of the country as a whole. The Stiglitz tax reform plan, on the other hand, offers a blueprint for a tax code that would bolster the middle class while driving growth and opportunity. 

    Now that we’ve all agreed on the problem, we should look to solutions that economists tell us actually work.

    Eric Harris Bernstein is a Program Associate at the Roosevelt Institute.

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  • Reduce Police Brutality Through Community-Building

    Mar 2, 2015Andrew Lindsay

    Efforts that connect police to the community in which they serve help to reduce encounters that lead to extrajudicial killings by police.

    Efforts that connect police to the community in which they serve help to reduce encounters that lead to extrajudicial killings by police.

    In Darren Wilson’s grand jury testimony, he describes Michael Brown, an unarmed teen, as a “demon.” After he fired the first shot, Wilson says he heard a “grunting, like aggravated sound” coming from the teenager. He explains, “You could tell he was looking through you. There was nothing he was seeing.” After firing 12 rounds, Wilson eventually shot Brown in the head, killing him.

    In a 911 report, a caller related that someone, possibly a child was pointing “a pistol” at random people in a Recreation Center. The caller clarified that the gun was “probably fake.” According to the responding officers, they approached 12-year-old Tamir Rice, ordering him to hold up his hands. Tamir reached to his waistband and grasped a bb gun. In a matter of seconds, one of the officers fired two shots, fatally hitting Rice once in the torso. Footage was released of the officers tackling the bereaved 14-year-old sister of Rice after they shot her 12-year-old brother. Rice’s mother said that a friend had given him the toy gun to play with minutes before the police arrived.

    In these descriptions we see fewer teenagers and more vicious animals. Many extrajudicial killings of Black people share similar dehumanizing stories. Policy makers and community members need to shift this pervasive negative narrative. Micro-place community policing is one solution.

    In vulnerable communities, high rates of gang violence and high rates of police bias come hand in hand. Between 1991 and 2013, there were on average approximately 400 police killings reported to the FBI from local police. Out of all these incidents reported annually, an average of 96 per year involved a white police officer killing a black person. In contrast, there were no fatal police shootings in Great Britain in 2013. In Canada, cases of ‘justifiable homicide’ hover around a dozen annually. These figures reveal a disturbing propensity for US police officers to use deadly force and a high potential for racial bias in shoot/don’t shoot scenarios.

    Project Longevity in Connecticut, Operation Ceasefire in Boston, and lesser-known initiatives in Chicago and Cincinnati are organize to reduce the homicide victimization and gang violence among young people in these areas, with the help of local law enforcement and community partners. However, these programs also have unseen potential to increase police-community relationships and humanize black lives in the eyes of law enforcement. Community members not only patrol with police but also are considered equal partners.

    Project Longevity is a community-oriented policing strategy to reduce gang violence in three of Connecticut’s major cities: New Haven, Bridgeport, and Hartford. It is modeled after successful efforts implemented by the Chicago Police Department (CPD) and Operation Ceasefire: Boston Gun Project. Connecticut has seen dramatic declines in police and civilian violence after the initial implementation of this program.

    Project Longevity directs federal and state spending to the most vulnerable communities in these cities with the purpose of steering at-risk youth and repeat offenders away from violence. A broad array of social services (housing, educational opportunities, addiction and mental/health care) are offered to those who want to end the cycle of community violence and gang activity – with the option of “receiv[ing] the full attention of the law” the next time any crime occurs.

    Longevity combines social services, law enforcement, and community involvement to target crime and positively influence dynamics between residents and the police. Key to this strategy is a quarterly “call-in,” an intervention that combines local, state, and federal level law enforcement; community members; service providers; parents; and members of the clergy.

    According to Tiana Hercules, “They speak to these young men and in some cases young women at the call-in and explain to them the consequences of further gun violence in the city of Hartford. Essentially, the message is put the guns down or the next body that drops in the city or person to get shot is going to receive the full focus of law attention. And not only yourself, but also those who you run with.” Violent crime in Connecticut’s three big cities after Project Longevity has decreased nearly 15 percent and crime in the state has decreased 10 percent, twice the national average. Longevity is credited with half of this overall cut in statewide violent crime.

    The problem of police brutality in the United States is one of police accountability, but not in the conventional understanding of the term. The typical hypothesis is that once law enforcement is vigorously policed they will be held to a higher standard, decreasing the likelihood of police excess. This is the motivation behind the Obama administration’s $75 million push for mounted body cameras nationwide. Perhaps if Darren Wilson were monitored, he would not have so easily killed Mike Brown, or so the story goes. However, history teaches us that this conventional way of policing the police may be misplaced. In the trial of LAPD officers who beat Rodney King in 1991, videotape evidence was argued away because it did not present the full picture. This year, apparently indisputable video was refuted in the recent police killings of Eric Garner and John Crawford.

    Instead of external accountability, police officers need to develop a greater sense personal accountability to the vulnerable in communities where they serve. This need for personal accountability stems from a racial and spatial separation that keeps communities and police isolated. This gap reinforces the biases that keep youth like Mike Brown and Tamir Rice dehumanized by the very people tasked with their protection. Programs that put law enforcement and communities in greater contact should be encouraged.  There is no better policing mechanism than one’s conscience. Working closely with residents provides information that can prevent dangerous encounters with police, simply by police intimately knowing community members and their families. More importantly, these programs humanize members of vulnerable communities to law enforcement. Darren Wilson was wrong. There are no demons, just police officers isolated from communities.

    Andrew Lindsay, a 2015 Truman Scholarship Finalist in Massachusetts, is a junior at Amherst College, where he is an active member of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and studies Law, Jurisprudence & Social Thought.

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