You can thank Congress for all those tolls that will soon hit the Cincinnati region

This should be a wake-up call for not just the lawmakers who have failed to raise the gas tax since 1993 or peg it to inflation, but also every voter. Locally we hear constantly from the group opposed to the use of tolls to pay for the Brent Spence Bridge or I-75 reconstruction, but the Highway Trust Fund has been bankrupt for many years and surviving on bailouts from Congress year-after-year.

Yes, of course it’s far past time to raise the artificially low gas tax, but it is also time to change the way in which we collect funds to maintain our system and add to its capacity. Instead of a simple tax on gasoline consumption, we should move to a tax that charges people based on how much they use our roadways, not how much they consume gasoline. More from The Hill:

The Department of Transportation (DOT) on Tuesday moved up its projected bankruptcy date for the trust fund that is used to pay for road and transit projects, saying it will now run dry by the end of August. The DOT has warned that the transportation funding shortfall could force state and local governments to cancel infrastructure projects scheduled to begin this summer because federal money will not be able to assist with construction costs.

The Highway Trust Fund is normally filled by revenue collected by the 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal gas tax. The gas tax has not be increased since 1993 and infrastructure expenses have outpaced receipts by about $20 billion in recent years as Americans drive less frequently and cars become more fuel efficient. The Congressional Budget Office has projected that lawmakers will have to authorize $100 billion in new spending in addition to the $34 billion that is expected to brought in annually by the gas tax to approve a new six-year transportation bill, which is the length being sought by infrastructure advocates.

How to repurpose parking garages that are becoming increasingly obsolete

There are far more parking spaces in America than there are cars. The total is so high, in fact, that there are even more than double the number of parking spaces in America than there are people. There is a parking glut, not a shortage, and this problem is getting worse as more and more people are choosing not to drive at all or at the very least drive less.

What this means is that parking garages need to be designed in a way that will allow them to be repurposed for other uses. In Cincinnati, this is playing out at the new dunnhumbyUSA Centre where its garage is being designed so that office space can be built in its place in the future. All parking garages, however, should be designed in such a way. More from NextCity about how leaders in Atlanta are working toward just that:

On Wednesday the school unveiled SCADpad, a series of three micro-housing units in a parking garage near its Midtown Atlanta campus. The idea is a novel yet simple one: Repurpose underused parking garages — about 40,000 parking structures in the U.S. operate at half capacity, according to the Urban Land Institute — for housing in dense areas that need it. The 135-square-foot micro-apartments each take up one parking space, with an additional space for use as a “terrace” (seriously!), and were designed by 75 current SCAD students, 37 alumni and 12 professors. A dozen students will move into the apartments on April 15.

“Think about it,” Sottile said. “Many of these 20th-century parking structures are on their way toward obsolescence, and we’re asking questions about how those can be reinvented for neighborhoods. There’s also a historic preservation side of this. And we want to see how can we get them back into higher usage.”

The suburbanization and segregation of American cities didn’t happen by chance

Most urban planners are taught that public policies, in addition to free market choice, led to the suburbanization, and thus segregation, of most American cities. In fact, some argue that public policies had a far greater role in influencing this migration than anything else. More from the Washington Post:

Suburbs didn’t become predominantly white and upper income thanks solely to market forces and consumer preferences. Inner city neighborhoods didn’t become home to poor minority communities purely through the random choices of minorities to live there. Economic and racial segregation didn’t just arise out of the decisions of millions of families to settle, by chance, here instead of there.

The geography that we have today — where poverty clusters alongside poverty, while the better-off live in entirely different school districts — is in large part a product of deliberate policies and government investments. The creation of the Interstate highway system enabled white flight. The federal mortgage interest deduction subsidized middle-income families buying homes there. For three decades, the Federal Housing Administration had separate underwriting standards for mortgages in all-white neighborhoods and all-black ones, institutionalizing the practice of “redlining.” That policy ended in the 1960s, but the patterns it reinforced didn’t end with it.

“Exclusionary zoning” to this day prevents the construction of modest or more affordable housing in many communities. Decisions about where to create and whether to fund transit perpetuate these divides. Government ideas about how to house the poor lead to Pruitt-Igoe and Cabrini-Green, and then government’s fleeting commitment to those projects led to their disintegration.

How the prevalence of independent coffee shops is a reflection of where we live

I love coffee and I especially love coffee shops. I find them to be a productive and relaxing third place in my life where I can also benefit from chance social encounters that are otherwise impossible from the comforts of your couch. Not to mention, good coffee (black) is absolutely delicious.

But so many people around the world get their coffee from big chain retailers. What does that mean for our neighborhood business districts, and what does it say about our communities if they are filled with only national chains, local chains or some sort of mixture? More from the Washington Post along with some great maps produced by MIT:

Coffee shops are unlike other community assets in that they enable us to mingle with strangers in ways that we might not in restaurants, to meet a wider range of people than we would in a bar, to linger in ways that we don’t at the grocery store, or to people-watch with an ease that would be awkward almost anywhere else. That’s not to say that coffee shops are the only places that potentially create such community (nor that they serve this function in all communities). But if high-end restaurants and organic groceries are signs of areas with a lot of literal capital, independent coffee shops are one plausible indicator of social capital.

Product design reacting to increasing use of bike share systems

Bicycling in general, and bike sharing specifically, is taking off. Cities all across the country are experiencing gains in this mode of transportation. The Queen City is no different, and will add a bike share systems of its own later this year. But you really know a trend has been fermented into culture when fashion and product design starts to react. More from The Atlantic Cities:

The manufacturers of the Bixi — that ubiquitous bike-share technology in a dozen cities, including New York, D.C., and Chicago — are proud of the “attractive and practical luggage rack” they provide for the front of each bike. But it turns out that 17-pound front rack has pretty awkward proportions. It’s narrowness makes it tough to stuff your backpack in there. And the bungee cord that secures your items goes over the top, squashing tall bags.

Never fear. In the next few months, two companies (one inspired by New York’s Citi Bike, the other by Chicago’s Divvy system) are rolling out new bags specifically designed for this urban commuting challenge.

The dirty truth behind transit park and rides

Following the decade-long debate over the first phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar, the region seems to be back on-board with the idea of regional transit. Heck, even The Enquirer is hosting regular visioning sessions about regional transit these days. As an updated regional plan is developed, let’s be wary about the purported benefits of large park and ride stations touting their “free” parking. More from streets.mn:

In Minneapolis, we’re lucky to have anything more than a sign at our transit stops. We have plenty of room for improvement for our local service. But we instead choose to binge on ridership growth on the fringe, no matter how much money it costs us to “buy” those riders. Yet there are opportunity costs: For less than the cost of two Maplewood park & rides serving up to (2×580=) 1160 parked cars, we’re building a full Arterial BRT line on Snelling Avenue scheduled to open next year. Those improvements will serve an estimated ridership of 8,700. And, unlike additional parking spaces, these amenities serve all riders (not just the 3,000 new ones). This is 7.5 times more productive than the same investment in parking.

It’s not wise for our transit strategy to attract ridership at all costs by subsidizing car storage. Nor is it fair to transit riders who, by their own choice, pay the same fare but do not consume the same expensive parking spaces.