published 4/13/96 in the Boulder Daily Camera
by Evan Ravitz
Newly appointed City Council member Don Mock says of the TMP in the Daily Camera "I think it's a lofty goal to think that somehow we can freeze our traffic at 1994 levels." Given the misleadership of Transportation Division, it's not just lofty, it's impossible. Now they are purposely ignoring the most cost-effective transportation success in Colorado in many years: Aspen, in January of 1995, ended free parking and started charging $1.00 per hour downtown, double the Boulder rate. According to the Denver Post and Aspen officials, within 5 weeks bus usage was up 32%, parking is easy to find, and pollution is visibly down as cars no longer search endlessly. The business community, which fought paid parking tooth and nail, is now pleased as punch.
Why is Transportation Division ignoring this success?
Because even after Aspen's success, they obtained a $600,000 Federal grant and Council's approval of $200,000 more of ours, for a two-year "Congestion Pricing" study, to determine whether charging drivers by how much they drove (or parked) is a good idea. Parking and driving are now tremendously subsidized by all taxpayers, no matter how much they drive. For decades, organizations like the Sierra Club have campaigned for higher gas taxes and insurance paid at the pump to more fairly charge those who drive more. Boulder can't legally charge a gas tax, or change the insurance industry. But Boulder could start charging more of the true costs of parking next week, if Council had the intestinal fortitude.
They don't yet. The main point of their recent distribution of 33,000 pieces of campaign material for the TMP, called a "survey", is repeated 3 times in the 9 "Questions for the Community": they want more money. A similar "aggressive transit" tax was defeated by the voters 2 to 1 in 1994.
The "lofty goal" of maintaining traffic at 1994 levels isn't lofty enough if the City's other goal of increasing "alternative" transportation is to be attained. Cycling -still 3 times as popular as the bus- has been decreasing since 1992 according to the "Modal Shift in the Boulder Valley" report. Commuting to work by bicycle decreased from 14.9% of all work trips to 12.3% by '94. Commuting to school by bicycle decreased from 27.1% to 22.6%. Although Council member Havlick claimed in a Colorado Daily article that these decreases are insignificant, the report states: "for a difference to be statistically significant between years, there must be a shift of at least 2.6% (1.3% around each study year)." Work and school bike commuting are down by 2.6% and 4.5%, respectively. With the HOP Survey Report showing that 59.1% "use the HOP instead of using their bike or walking", we can expect the coming 1996 Modal Shift survey to show cycling decreasing even faster, as the 1994 survey was done a month before the HOP began.
Why is cycling declining in a city formerly famous for it? The increasing danger. 3 years ago traffic engineer John Allen of Bolder Bicycle Commuters compared FBI to local reports of cyclist injuries and deaths. We had a rate 19 times higher than the national average for cities our size. Of course, Boulder bikes 6 times the average, but this still makes each cyclist more than 3 times as likely to be injured or killed here than the average! Considering this, the City's expensive Bike Week promotion of cycling amounts to reckless endangerment (Remember to tell your lawyer that if you're in an accident!) -as well as a failure.
Transportation Division: why won't you check our figures, as promised last year?
Downtown businesspeople: this decline in cycling citywide is the big reason the 13th Street Bike Path is not the success we expected.
How much does "free" parking really cost?
Parking lots are designed with 2-300 square feet of space for each car, including access and backing space. This is much more than your typical office space! If you drive to work you use more than twice the expensive real estate as someone who doesn't. Council member Pomerance told me that building a parking structure costs roughly the same per square foot as an office building. Yet, a downtown office space rents for about $20/day while your bigger parking space costs $0-4/day! The difference is hidden in sales and property taxes (which are passed on to renters too). With 7,115 total downtown parking spaces, using the average parking cost of $2/day (per diem for the $175 quarterly parking structure permit) the hidden subsidy just downtown is about $128,000 a day! (7115X$18)
Free parking to businesspeople is like a free lunch to a bureaucrat: both put it on our tab. But business folk should realize that by devoting a quarter of downtown to subsidizing empty cars, the remaining land costs skyrocket. In each 2-300 sq. ft. parking spot 50 customers can park their bikes. (in Amsterdam, a much bigger City with far worse weather, where 40% of travel is by bike, high-rise bike parks fit over 150 bikes in one car space)
How to fix it fairly:
Downtown businesspeople properly say that increased parking costs would drive business to Crossroads, etc. But Boulder citizens helped fund Crossroads, and Transportation Director Weisbach told me the City could charge for parking there. I propose creating parking price zones based on real estate costs. I suggest starting by doubling our downtown parking rate to match Aspen's modestly successful $1.00/hr, with the surrounding zone costing $.50/hr. and the city periphery $.25/hr. for the first year, to give people time to start changing their habits, and for the provision of better bus and bicycle systems. I also suggest that we treat people like adults and tell them that this is stage one, with rates re-doubled after a year. The City's TMP treats us like kids by avoiding this main issue, "tweaking" things weakly.
Adults know there's no such thing as a free lunch -or parking.
Somebody's paying! Now it is all of us, not just in the hidden
subsidies, but in our health, safety, and the physical and social
distance our paved world imposes. Let's grow up and stop subsidizing
Boulder's worst problem! To help turn the Timid Misleading
Plan into a Truly Meaningful Plan, please contact me at 440-6838
Evan Ravitz was voted "Best Activist" by Boulder Daily Camera readers