Thursday, August 16, 2012

More Hidden Auto Biases: Street Assessment Edition

Last week the Minneapolis StarTribune reported on Edina, Minnesota's new street assessment policy. The assessment
"requires property owners to pay the entire cost of road reconstruction.
Starting with projects that got underway this year, homeowners will get 15 years instead of 10 to pay for projects in their property taxes. Interest rates charged by the city will be cut in half, and the payment formula will be standardized so homeowners pay the same principal amount each year.
Together, those changes approved Monday by the City Council would save someone with a $10,000 street assessment about $730. Annual payments would drop from $1,375 over 10 years to $868 over 15 years."
So far, so good. But here is what Edina did to placate homeowners:
"The city also will assume the costs of sidewalks, trails and lighting associated with projects, paying for those improvements with new franchise fees paid by utilities. Depending on the project, that could save residents money."
 The problem here is what value do sidewalks and streets have for homeowners and the city? I think Edina is getting the association wrong, and the homeowners should pay to maintain the sidewalks and the city should have responsibility for the streets. New York requires property owners to maintain sidewalks because of threats of lawsuits. Many cities are being sued under the ADA because sidewalks are impassable. The city has little incentive to maintain sidewalks, and in many cases cities will fail to do so. Here is a paper by Donald Shoup that suggests one way to maintain sidewalks.

Beyond maintenance, requiring homeowners to maintain streets over sidewalks is a bias toward cars over pedestrians (and cyclists and kids and other who might use these suburban sidewalks).

Joe Urban makes related points over at Streets.mn here.
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