Published in the Boulder Daily Camera 4/20/97
The big picture on city's effort to curb driving
By Evan Ravitz
Boulder has a parking AND a congestion AND a safety AND an emergency response problem. Amory Lovins (credited with single-handedly convincing electrical utilities to fund conservation rather than build more generation capacity) says: "If you don't understand how things are connected, the cause of problems is solutions." Traffic circles -Boulder style- are merely the most dangerous and expensive "solutions" staff have given us. Let's look at how things are connected to get the big picture:
City Council's policy of creating congestion to get people out of their cars is a failure. The just-released "Modal Shift in the Boulder Valley 1990-1996" study shows that our "shift" out of single occupant vehicles ended in 1994 (p. 3). But Council's congestion IS getting people off their bicycles: Cycling is now declining FAST, from a high of 13.8% of all trips in 1992 to 10.5% in 1996 (p. 2). We cyclists think it's because of the increasing danger, and a comparison of cycling accident statistics by traffic engineer John Allen 3 years ago showed an accident rate 3 times as high here as the national average for cities our size. Yes, that does take into account our higher proportion of cyclists.
Busing -in spite of the HOP and the lion's share of funds- increased from 1.9% to 3.3% also from 1992 to 1996.
A flaw in the study makes it LOOK like walking is the biggest success, accounting for 21.9% of trips. Because they define a trip as anything longer than 1 block (p. 50), every time you park more than 1 block from your destination your walk to and fro is counted as 2 trips on foot. This makes Boulder's increasingly-distant-parking problem seem like a foot travel success! With the numbers for walking basically level (within the margin of error), one can see that real pollution-and-congestion-saving walking is actually decreasing like cycling, and for the same reason. It is often dangerous or unpleasantly threatening to travel in Boulder without heavy armor -a car or bus. The City's obstructions don't calm traffic but enrage drivers, who try to make up lost time by hard acceleration and braking.
Aspen, by moving to charge $1/hr. for parking (double Boulder's rate) in January, 1995 has partly solved the REAL underlying problem: automobile over-use (unnecessary use) is subsidized by all of us. Bus use went up 33% in 5 weeks, parking is easy now, and congestion and pollution are noticeably down as people don't circle looking for a parking spot (Denver Post, 2/13/95). Analysis (see below) shows Boulder's parking to be fabulously subsidized (as is Aspen's, still) , and now serves as a reward to drivers who have navigated the circles, bumps, red lights and congestion. We all pay higher prices because something like 1/4 of all our expensive city real estate is covered with empty cars and lots, which raises the cost of the remaining land. Downtown businesses must also raise their prices for all of us -including those who don't park- to validate the "free" parking they subsidize through the CAGID tax district.
Boulder's move to build another parking structure will temporarily ameliorate the worst symptoms, but will still be subsidized, and thus will continue to encourage auto over-use, as we outgrow the structure. In designing parking lots 2-300 square feet are allotted per car, to include backing space. For most office workers, this is a lot more space than their offices. Yet the cost is far less: $175 per quarter in the parking structures for 2-300 square feet. As office space that rents for about $1800 per quarter, according to downtown landlord Steve Tebo. And the structures cost about the same per square foot to construct as office buildings, according to Councilman Steve Pomerance.
When the City starts charging more of the real costs of parking, it will have plenty of money to fund real alternatives: frequent bus service on a real grid system (instead of the current "hub-and-spoke" system, which is really a slow hub-and-spaghetti system), a grid of bike paths and lanes, outlying parking lots, etc. Otherwise we will be subsidizing these largely-unused alternatives AND the over-use of cars. It needs to be done FAIRLY, proportional to land value, everywhere in the city. It should be phased in to give people time to change their habits. I'd suggest doubling the rates, letting people see if it works as it did in Aspen, then letting the citizens vote on doubling them again.
Instead of this ready-to-go system, Boulder is spending $800,000+ for the "Congestion Study" which, for years now, is looking at more expensive and invasive ways of accomplishing the same thing: toll booths or microchips in every car to track & charge for driving. It's well past time for the City to stop addressing every symptom with studies, public relations and obstructionism and to stop subsidizing our worst problem. First, they MUST stop hypocritically giving away 150 parking spots to City employees for $.50-$1.00 a day (Boulder Planet 3/26 p.11).
If you agree with this, please call 440-6838 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. If we don't "connect things" Boulder will continue to fall apart.
Evan Ravitz was voted "Best Activist" by readers of the Boulder Daily Camera.