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What Price Congestion Pricing in Downtown Boston?

The car in downtown Boston is already on the ropes, walloped by disappearing gas stations and parking spaces slated to be replaced by Parisian-style cafe tables and benches (and don't get us started on the price of parking in general). Might the cars place atop the city's transit pyramid be threatened as well by congestion pricing? Might, indeed.

Congestion pricing may have failed spectacularly in New York City a few years back (Medford native Michael Bloomberg wanted to charge cars for entering Midtown Manhattan during rush hours). But the idea has never really died in the U.S. (San Francisco is studying it) and Boston would be a prime spot to try it. See, our traffic's really bad. Like, life-altering bad. From a column by Derrick Z. Jackson in The Globe: "Despite the $15 billion Big Dig, metro Boston auto commuters still sit through 47 hours of delays a year—longer than in Dallas, Atlanta, or Philadelphia—and waste $2.4 billion of fuel, according to the Texas Transportation Institute."

And, despite having a public transit system that snakes into the suburbs and that remains relatively cheap even after the recent fare hikes, most Bostonians and wider Hub dwellers drive to and from work (and from everywhere). Getting Bostonians to give up their cars, in other words, is not as easy as plunking down more Green Line stops or connecting the Blue Line to the Red. Enter congestion pricing. It worked in Sweden, after all.

Jackson traveled to the Swedish capital of Stockholm (pop: 820,000) and discovered the popularity and efficacy of a viciously fought congestion-pricing scheme: "On Jan. 2, the day before the trial, the roads were packed. The next morning, rush hour came, and Swedes dropped a collective jaw. Traffic flowed smoothly, with large gaps between many cars. When the trial ended July 31, Stockholm had experienced a 22 percent reduction of traffic. But perhaps more importantly, peak travel times had been slashed."

Everyone acknowledges that Boston's got terrible traffic and that the T... well, the T has troubles. But! Pump the brakes: We would think that congestion pricing would send property values and prices higher, pricing out ever more people from the prime and most convenient areas of the city. Think about it: If you lived within the congestion pricing zone already, you would not have to pay to drive into work, and would be closer to more T stops besides. Apartments and houses in Back Bay, Beacon Hill, the North End, et al, become all that much more expensive.

It can happen; in fact, it's an expected byproduct of congestion pricing. When New York was debating congestion pricing last decade, it was widely speculated that property values below 86th Street, the northern border for the congestion-pricing zone, would shoot up, creating new demarcations for the haves and the have-nots when it came to real estate. Until Boston builds more homes, especially downtown, and housing costs level off, perhaps let congestion pricing idle?

· Finding the Cure for Traffic [Globe]
· Bloodless Coup in Boston! Car Overthrown as City's King! [Curbed Boston]
· The Incredibly Shrinking Boston Gas Station [Curbed Boston]
· Where Not to Park in Allston, Brighton, South End, North End [Curbed Boston]
· Why the Hub Housing Market Could Get Worse, Much Worse [Curbed Boston]
· Will Congestion Pricing Make 86th Street the New 96th? [NY Observer]