Friday, May 11, 2007

green choices - no free parking

Slate ran an article recently about why there really is no such thing as "free parking" due to the environmental costs of providing parking.

Seattle is taking that thought a bit further and putting the squeeze on parking spaces to encourage use of public transit and bicycles for commuting instead of driving.

This Chicago Tribune article looks at the issue of parking and congestion across the country.

The increasing social and environmental costs of car traffic and parking have reshaped my thinking on transportation. I lived out of state for 10 years, in an area of low population density and minimal public transit. Although traffic congestion was not a significant problem for me on a daily basis, the lack of transportation options bothered me. I hated having to drive nearly everywhere because there was usually no other way to get there. My last apartment there was on the edge of downtown Concord, NH, with many friends and a good range of Main Street shops and restaurants and two grocery stores within walking distance. I drove for my commute but usually left the car at home after work. I enjoyed being able to walk so many more places. Main Street was a social destination on Saturdays, thanks to the Main Street merchants efforts to create a viable alternative to the mall.

I still missed the cultural amenities of Chicago and finally moved back 10 years ago. I'm using my bike for an increasing portion of my shopping trips to the grocery store, hardware store, garden center, etc., thanks to a cargo trailer from a new local business.

Now that it's an option in many more places, using bicycles in combination with public transit is an increasingly viable option. Using a car share program, such as I-Go or Zipcar, is a better option for those of us who have an occasional need for a car but don't use one on a daily basis.

In another 10 years, I'd like to see a lot more bikes on Chicago streets, and a lot fewer cars. In 20 years, I'd love to see more bikes than cars on our streets. Working for better facilities and programs and better laws is a good way to get there.


NHNA said...

Our community was originally built around the EL track and as a result Rogers Park has a fantastic asset in it's mass transit system. It's unfortunate that our Alderman has never spent some of his 'time on the job' advocating the very things you are pointing out, i.e., I-Go, bicycle use, perhaps a Metra stop/station at Clark and Howard (providing direct access to Pace, & the CTA). Rather he and his developer buddies want to do studies and provide more parking! So much for progressive leadership. Excellent post!

The North Coast said...

This is a great and on-time post.

Automobile owners have been extensively subsidized by the feds and by local municipalities since 1920, to the great detriment of our cities and towns, and at last to the total destruction of our country.

How could anyone think that a parking space is "free"? How can we not see that we are spending twice as much space, money, and energy on accomodating auto owners by subsidizing their parking? At this time, the auto is the only personal property you are allowed to store in public for free (and perhaps the bicycle).

At last our authorities realize that the only answer to congestion and obscene levels of oil consumption is to Make Them Pay.

I have always wondered how things would have worked out over the past 90 years if we had never subsidized auto ownership by means of "free" parking, "free" interstate highways that cost a minum of $20MM a running mile to build (and have destroyed our cities).

If we had never subsidized car ownership, would most auto suburbs have ever been built? Or would most of the middle and lower-middle class population still be populating old city neighborhoods and sending their kids to city schools?

If the above had happened, would the public transit companies have failed as private enterprises, and had to be subsidized? Or would they still be operating efficiently and profitably, as they did until the end of WW2?

If that had happened, would our cities have become places of blight and loss and crime, with immense populations of poor folk denied access to jobs and opportunity, and mired in futureless slums for lack of basic transportation?

And would we now be consuming 25% of all the world's fossil fuels because we have about 4X as much pavement, pipe, cable, sewer, and power and com lines per person, thanks to SF-house suburban sprawl, as any other country in the developed world?

Would we have average household savings of $0.00 and average household debt levels in the stratosphere if the typical lower-middle class family was not enslaved by the necessity of owning 2 and even 3 cars, and commuting 30, 40, or 50 miles each direction to work?

I have always believed that the best way to encourage conservation and reduce waste is to make people pay their own costs, yet we almost PAY people to drive cars. About ten years ago, one commentator referred to our interstate highway system as "the nation's biggest Welfare Queen".

Time to take auto owners off the dole.

And when we do that, we can also let public transit carry it's own weight, because it will no longer need subsidies. Why? Because tens of millions of former auto owners will put it back in the black. They won't use transit because they WANT to but because they HAVE to, because they won't be able to afford their cars, especially with the escalating cost of gasoline. They will not like it, but they will do it because they have to.

And we will all be better off. Our cities and small towns will redensify. Businesses will move back to town. People will ditch their oversized suburban keeps and move into smaller, more efficient quarters within reach of the transit. They won't have 5000 sq ft houses with 4 television sets anymore, but they won't have 2 hour commutes each direction anymore,either.

Fargo said...

I think Amtrak would be a lot better than it is if we hadn't been subsidizing car ownership for all these years. Our transit picture might look a bit more progressive, a bit more like Western Europe.

The North Coast said...

Forget about Amtrack.

There wouldn't BE Amtrack, but all the wonderful railroads that failed one by one, in the 50s and 60s, that offered wonderful rail service, were it not for subsidized automobile ownership and operation, but most of all, subsidized air travel. AMTRACK was an agency formed to provide minimal service when the remaining passenger roads failed completely at last. AMTRACK was never intended to succeed, and our authorities had no committment to making it work.

Commercial air travel is one of the biggest subsidy hogs at all. My trip to St. Louis costs me about $100-$150 and costs the taxpayers about $400 more. Given that an airliner uses the most fuel on takeoff and landing,it is ludicrous to fly distances under 500 miles. I took the Amtrack last year, and it took 7 hours, which it wouldn't have 60 years previously, in the days of premier passenger roads.

I was a little kid in the 50s, and the railroads were being systematically destroyed, so only renmants of the glory days were still in place, but you could get the idea how things were at the peak. For example, on the ratty old train that ran between St. Louis and Chicago, there was a wonderful dining car, dressed up with the faded good table cloths and china with the railroad's logo on it and sterling silver flatware- sterling was customary in those days- and a bud vase with a live flower on the table. The food was superb. Railroads once hired the best chefs around and were famous for their food. And it was served with incredible courtesy. Railroad people were always very courteous and genial, and easygoing. None of the tension so evident in flight attendants.

The sick part of the destruction of our railroads is that a study done in 1988 said that a high-speed (100MPH-150MPH) road between Chicago and St. Louis could run profitably on a round trip fare of $67. Figure about $120 now. There is no comparison between the ease, comfort, and energy efficiency of a high-speed train compared to a Southwest or UAL cattlecar, for these short hops.

So why don't we have it? There are many extant but disused old interurban rights-of-way.

Could it be because we no longer have free markets but a political system where you must pay politicians and regulators for the right to operate a business, and there would be so much obstruction generated by Southwest and UAL and other entities, in conjunction with armies of NIMBYs, that such an operation couldn't make it too far past the back-of-the-cocktail-napkin stage?

I believe it would be done by now were it not for the political clout of entrenched interests, such as the airlines. Warren Buffet, among others, has shoveled nearly $700 Million dollars into Burlington Northern and other railroads, which, to me at least, is a very strong indication that air travel is a sunset industry and that the railroads are once again destined to becoome as important to us as they were in the early 20th century.

Our powers made, in the period immediately after WW2, a very deliberate decision to tax and regulate the railroads out of existance while directing massive subsidies, both direct and indirect, to commercial air travel.

And we wonder why our public transit, both long-distance and intra-city, is the worst in the world.