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Breakfast links: A difference of opinions


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Tyranny of the minorty: The Examiner's bike-hating and plenty opinionated opinion contributor has moved on to transit hatred in another one of the usual kooky screeds about how any government policy other than building everything for cars, all the time is insane. WashCycle patiently rebuts.

Back and forth on parking minimums: In the most mild-mannered war of words the internet has seen in a while, Cato's Randal O'Toole responds to Donald Shoup's response to O'Toole's original reaction to Tyler Cowen's op-ed about Shoup's book. Did you follow all that? (Michael Perkins)

Political soap opera: If Kwame Brown wins his bid for DC Council Chair, who will run to replace him? Plus, an interesting possibility: Independent-in-name-only Michael A. Brown could switch back to being a Democrat. (Washington City Paper)

Trading barbs: DCist quoted Mayoral candidate Vincent Gray calling parking rates "outrageous" during yesterday's debate, making Matt Yglesias worry Gray might "undo the controversial Fenty-era education and transportation reforms." Gray also called out Mayor Fenty for his sluggish implementation of inclusionary zoning. (DCist, Steven Yates)

The road not driven: EcoVelo has a different way of thinking about bicycling miles that could help cement cycling as active transportation, not just recreation. (Rob Pitingolo)

Ban overboard: The California Senate rejected a statewide ban on plastic shopping bags. Unlike DC's per-bag fee, the law would have banned all single-use plastic bags at groceries, large pharmacies and major retailers that sell food. (USA Today)

Feet in an actual street: An "Open Streets" event in Madison, WI (city of 235,000; metro of 561,000) drew more than 50,000. Compare this with DC's "Feet in the Street," which drew small numbers in a park last weekend because HSEMA's rules wouldn't allow one on a regular street. (Alliance for Biking & Walking)

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Erik Weber has been living car-free in the District since 2009. Hailing from the home of the nation's first Urban Growth Boundary, Erik has been interested in transit since spending summers in Germany as a kid where he rode as many buses, trains and streetcars as he could find. Views expressed here are Erik's alone. 

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I love Madison. Great city.

There's a huge bike culture there, particularly for a city of that size. I'm guessing that Lance Armstrong was there not just because of Madison's bike reputation, but also because he's sponsored by Trek, based in nearby Waterloo, WI.

The New York Times also had a great piece on cycling in and around Madison. Madison (and its hills) were the proposed Olympic cycling venue for Chicago's 2016 bid:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/28/sports/cycling/28wisconsin.html

It's also just a great little city, showing the kind of urbanity you can have with a relatively small population. Madison's location on the isthmus between lakes Mendota and Monona forces the core of town to be more dense than you'd expect, and the dual anchors of the State Capitol and the University of Wisconsin provide for a strong economy and lively streets downtown.

And - let's go RED!

by Alex B. on Sep 2, 2010 9:43 am • linkreport

The usual Gray dithering, looking for where the wind is blowing--he doesn't look so good does he, David. This makes me think the devil we know is better than dealing with this nonsense, maquerading as consensus building.

by Rich on Sep 2, 2010 9:54 am • linkreport

DCist quoted Mayoral candidate Vincent Gray calling parking rates "outrageous" during yesterday's debate, making Matt Yglesias worry Gray might "undo the controversial Fenty-era education and transportation reforms."

Sigh. Of course he's going to undo the latest reforms. That's the platform he's running on. Of course, he told the folks at GGW that "bike lanes are the way of the future", so it's all good.

Oh well, two steps forward, one step back.

by oboe on Sep 2, 2010 9:55 am • linkreport

The Examiner does some great local reporting, but man oh man, are their editorials awful. What makes them especially bad - other than their selective use of "facts" - is their utter predictability. Name the topic and you know what the editorials and op-eds will say.

by Fritz on Sep 2, 2010 10:01 am • linkreport

David,
I was wondering if the news of Gray's statement on parking has made you reconsider whether urbanists should be afraid of him? I still can't find a transcript of the debate so I could understand if you wish to reserve judgment until you read it.

Also, I loved Brio trains (what's in the picture) as a kid, though I never had anything that complex.

by Steven Yates on Sep 2, 2010 10:05 am • linkreport

Feet in an actual street...

I'm thinking of holding a "Feet in the Street" in my backyard next weekend. Anyone up?

by oboe on Sep 2, 2010 10:08 am • linkreport

Why does people think that in order to be a transit advocate, you must support high parking meter rates? This is such a simple minded, shallow attack.

The parking rate increases were driven only by revenue generation. This has nothing to do with transit advocacy.

I can guarantee you that if these rate increases resulted in less income from parking meters, because they caused lower usage (which would actually be the requirement, in order for them to have any positive effect on getting cars off the road, versus simply making parking more regressive in cost), they would immediately be rolled back to the point where they generated the most revenue.

Beyond that, to suggest someone is anti-transit because they don't support parking-meter gouging is absurd. Parking meters aren't used by commuters; they are used by shoppers, businesspeople going to meetings, service people, and so on.

You could price them out of practical use if you wanted, but if that is your goal, then why not just eliminate them? I don't see anyone from the so-called "green team" advocating for their removal, so they must be anti-transit too, I suppose?

Calling someone anti-transit because they don't support meter-gouging is a sham and a diversion.

by Jamie on Sep 2, 2010 10:16 am • linkreport

@Jamie
Cheap parking encourages taking a car over mass transit, so I guess you could call it not being a transit advocate, but I think it's more about urbanism generally. So more cars means more demand for roads and more demand for car centric development. Most of this can be better explained by others, like Donald Shoup's The High Cost of Free Parking

by Steven Yates on Sep 2, 2010 10:39 am • linkreport

"I can guarantee you that if these rate increases resulted in less income from parking meters, because they caused lower usage (which would actually be the requirement, in order for them to have any positive effect on getting cars off the road, versus simply making parking more regressive in cost), they would immediately be rolled back to the point where they generated the most revenue."

As well they should. 1. The city needs the money. 2. Pedestrians in the city need the traffic shielding that parked cars provide, which means we need to keep those parking spots filled. It's just we need the prices to be high enough that people don't go cruising for spots.

by Omri on Sep 2, 2010 10:45 am • linkreport

@Jamie Pricing a scarce resource well below the equilibrium price creates excess demand. It increases congestion both by subsidizing driving and by encouraging drivers to circle the block looking for street parking rather than spending much more at a garage.

Even if none of the above were true, the city needs the revenue. Gray has proposed lots of new programs, and has not once explained how he would find the revenue to pay for them. Decreasing meter revenue isn't going to help pay for his many unfunded campaign promises.

It is, though, a convenient issue to demagogue on, especially since Gray and the council forced Fenty to take the heat for the increase, but were of course happy to spend the money it raises.

by jcm on Sep 2, 2010 10:47 am • linkreport

I don't disagree with your premise, but it goes way outside the basic premise to link parking meter rates with transit advocacy. We're not talking about free, easily available surface parking, versus a totally different construct. We are talking about the price charged for a resource that is already in far greater demand than supply.

Besides which, do you dispute that this policy is driven by anything other than revenue generation? Do you really think that these rate increases will have any effect on parking meter use? If it actually did reduce use, how do you think the administration, either under Fenty or Gray, would react to that?

The same logic you use, would indicate that we should stop enforcing parking restrictions, generally. The point of meters and parking restrictions is to encourage turnover, which, by definition, also encourages more people to drive to any given place. You should be flatly against strict parking enforcement and high parking ticket rates, since such enforcement makes more parking available and therefore encourages driving.

Yet the same legislation that increased the meter rates, also increased parking ticket fines.

by Jamie on Sep 2, 2010 10:48 am • linkreport

"It increases congestion both by subsidizing driving and by encouraging drivers to circle the block looking for street parking rather than spending much more at a garage"

It would be almost impossible to price meters to a point where people would make this decision when parking for under two hours.

Most people circle for parking because it's more convenient than because it will save them a couple bucks.

But anyway, it sounds like you basically agree with my point. The parking rates won't change anyone's decision on the mode of transit - maybe just their decision on where to park. Pretty small potatoes, that.

by Jamie on Sep 2, 2010 10:58 am • linkreport

I'll agree with Alex B. Madison has had a strong bike culture fueled by the University of Wisconsin. Segregated bike lands on University Avenue and other main routes have been the norm for over 25 years.

by Andrew on Sep 2, 2010 11:03 am • linkreport

It is purely fantastic the rate at which non-recreation bicycle useage has caught on in the US and especially our region. The area still has woefully inadequate facilities for cyclists. I will be speaking with my delegate about introducing legislation to develop a bicycle registration system similar to the system for automobilies with the State MVA. Just like for new cars, a small fee would be charged for registering your bicycle in the State of Maryland and this fee would be dedicated to a statewide trust fund to implement the vast network of bicycle trails and shared routes that would otherwise take decades to implement due to funding constraints. The registration system would also have a side effect of reducing bike theft in the state and should give cyclists even footing with motorists in transportation debates.

by Cyrus on Sep 2, 2010 11:21 am • linkreport

@Jamie

Again, I don't think anyone is accusing Gray of being anti-transit per se. What people are saying is that he may be less progressive than Fenty on transportation issues (of which parking certainly is one).

I would say that increased parking meter rates generally bring the market on parking closer to being in balance. Which means a combination of things: fewer people drive, more take transit, less time spent circling for a spot, more turnover of street spaces, increased revenue for the city. All of these are good from an urbanist point of view. Of course even better than plain higher rates would be performance parking, which does all of these things even better. Obviously it comes with a downside of paying more to park (and possibly lower business activity, though I've never seen this proven). I think the benefits outweigh the costs, and I'm sure most urbanists do as well. So in this case Gray is against this particular good urbanism strategy.

by Steven Yates on Sep 2, 2010 11:26 am • linkreport

@ Jamie No, I don't agree with your point at all. In fact, I fear you totally missed mine. I'll say it again: pricing a scarce resource well below the equilibrium price creates excess demand. If parking cost $1000 an hour virtually no one would drive. Obviously, I don't advocate that, but your claim that "parking rates won't change anyone's decision on the mode of transit" betrays a fundamental ignorance of economics.

by jcm on Sep 2, 2010 11:28 am • linkreport

I especially loved the part of that Examiner editorial that cited some recent violent incidents on Metro as a reason not to build more public transit. If the Examiner is going to do that, then transit advocates should be able to cite drive-by shootings as a reason not to build more roads. A lot more people in the area die in drive-bys than die as a result of Metro crime. (When was the last time someone was murdered on Metro? Has it ever happened?)

by Phil on Sep 2, 2010 11:30 am • linkreport

By the way, I agree that Gray is basically an empty suit who has sold out to every entrenched interest group in the city to get elected. David has seen the polls that say Gray will win, so he's pulling his punches on issues like this and writing a series of flattering articles to maintain his access in the new administration. It's a time-honored tradition of American "journalism."

by Phil on Sep 2, 2010 11:35 am • linkreport

@Steven, I think that the benefits and costs of high meter rates are debatable, and there are merits to arguments on both sides. My issue is the immediate reaction that Gray's position on this makes him contradictory and anti-urbanist.

"parking rates won't change anyone's decision on the mode of transit" betrays a fundamental ignorance of economics."

Citing an extreme example as evidence that I don't understand economics simply undermines your credibility. My argument was not that ANY parking rate increase could not POTENTIALLY affect transit decisions, but that THIS one would not. If you want to discuss the benefits of pricing street parking such that it will not be practical for as many people as would otherwise use it, then fine, let's discuss it. But that's not what's going on here.

My argument was that any parking rate increase that does not actually reduce usage would not have any affect on transit decisions, and that since this rate increase is revenue driven, it is very likely that it is not designed to reduce usage.

Sure, supply is less than demand, so until you increase the price beyond the equilibrium for a product with limited supply, usage will exactly equal availability. If, in fact, this price increase caused a reduction in use, then it is a certainty it would be adjusted again to ensure maximum revenue -- since revenue was the motivation behind the change.

This is all well and good, if your only goal is revenue generation, but that is not your stated goal, and that is not the context of the criticism being levied against Gray.

by Jamie on Sep 2, 2010 11:36 am • linkreport

I am not an O'Toole fan, but I think he hits on an important point: Shoupians aren't concerned with free parking, but with defining maximum parking.

And the problem with street parking pricing is understanding the demand. Sure if a Georgetown Cupcake open on your block, charging $15 a hour for street parking might make sense. But one block over? And what happens when Georgetown Cupcake moves? I'm sure any bureaucracy is smart enough to price each spot according to the actual demand, and the positive associated with market pricing quickly evaporate as you abstract the model.

by charlie on Sep 2, 2010 11:51 am • linkreport

@Jamie

Just to clarify, I did not accuse you of "a fundamental ignorance of economics." That was was jcm. Though I would agree that any increase in the parking rate will decrease the quantity demanded of parking, since demand for parking is certainly not perfectly inelastic. How much of a change depends on the elasticity of demand, which we don't know without some data.

The fact of the matter is that market rate parking is an urbanist issue, and Gray has seemingly stated that he is against it, so in this case he is anti-urbanist. The reason this is such a big deal I think is that in terms of stated policies, there are very few differences between Gray and Fenty. And if we just look at issues this blog covers, there are probably even fewer. This issue has (I think) been the only clear stated policy difference of relevance to this blog. Coupled with only rather vague pronouncements from Gray, I think urbanists/smart growth people are understandably weary of Gray when compared to Fenty.

by Steven Yates on Sep 2, 2010 11:57 am • linkreport

The problem is that "demand" is not the same as "usage." This is a complex issue, and the simplistic analysis ignores that. There is not simply a break point at which people will take transit instead of driving. What is the profile of the people who park at meters in DC? Do you have any idea? Is public transit a reasonable option? If you make parking expensive or difficult enough that any substantial number of these people would not choose it, are you so sure that they would instead choose to make their trip by public transit? How many people would choose to not make the trip at all, or go somewhere else such as to an alternative destination for their shopping or entertainment? What are the "urbanist" costs for making the city an impractical destination for tourists or people who don't have good enough access to public transit to make the trip in any reasonable time?

The academic analysis that is made here ignores realities. It's not a fish bowl. In the case of parking meters, this is even more stark. They generally serve people who do NOT live near the destination itself and are therefore not as familiar with the alternatives, or people to whom they are not easily accessible. They are used by shoppers (for whom riding bus & metro is unreasonable when returning home with purchases), service people, and people doing business for whom the cost doesn't matter much.

At the end of the day I think meter rates are very unlikely to have much impact on usage in the scale that we're discussing here.

Sorry about misattributing that comment to you.

by Jamie on Sep 2, 2010 12:11 pm • linkreport

Did anybody catch this gem in O'Toole's response:

"Cato is currently expanding its building and I understand it is installing showers for cyclists, as required by DC zoning codes, and is not providing a cash-out option for cyclists (or other employees) who do not plan to use those showers."

What!?! Building codes now require showers for bicyclists!?! I had no idea...

by Adam L on Sep 2, 2010 12:18 pm • linkreport

@Jamie; a huge problem I have with the concept of "performance parking" is with the "85% usage" metric you are essentially holding an auction -- and there is always someone more willing to pay more than you for a "preferred" space. It's the classic case of a theory running amuck -- and the better answer is KISS.

by charlie on Sep 2, 2010 12:18 pm • linkreport

@Jamie
In economics terms (which is what I was using) "quantity demanded" and "usage" ARE the same thing. There is not a single "break point" where people will switch to transit, but several break points where groups of individuals will start using transit. Putting all this data together we get a curve. Now we don't know the shape of this curve without usage data. You seem to think it's relatively inelastic. I tend to think it's somewhat more elastic, to the point where we would see some (probably small) difference.
I'll concede that some people may choose not to come at all, but it's possible some people maybe more likely to come because they are more likely to find parking. Again, we would need data (which we sort of have in certain areas of performance parking). But no one (or at least very few) out there wants to raise the parking rate so that no one will pay to park, they merely want the price to be set to better reflect the market.

by Steven Yates on Sep 2, 2010 12:32 pm • linkreport

I think that the best analogy you could make to parking is to buying concert tickets to a popular act.

It's going to sell out either way, and the price of the tickets simply changes who goes to the concert.

Some acts choose to keep their ticket prices well below the price that demand could fetch, because they want their product accessible to everyone, not just their richest fans. This is good business because it creates goodwill. People don't want to feel like they are being gouged.

Back to parking, excessively high street parking undoubtedly contributes to the perception of being gouged when you visit DC - which is already very real.

There is no question that eliminating every single circling car would not just get them into a parking garage - it would get rid of some of them altogether, which would have very real consequences to business as well as the vitality of the city. Besides which, the areas in DC where there are even parking garages are hardly comprehensive.

DC is becoming a better city with better transit options and we should keep on that path. But this is not something you can change overnight with a big stick, the infrastructure needs to match the policy at the other end. Trying to force people into other transit modes by make parking impossible while many people have no good alternative won't do anything other than keep some people out of the city.

by Jamie on Sep 2, 2010 12:34 pm • linkreport

@jamie:

Citing an extreme example as evidence that I don't understand economics simply undermines your credibility.

Oh for Heaven's sake, no it doesn't. It's the same thing as debating those tax-cut fundamentalists who argue that cutting taxes *always* generates more revenue. The obvious question is, "Why not cut taxes to zero then? Obviously that would generate the most revenue, right?"

The obvious response to your assertion that parking prices *never* impacts the question of mode is to bring up the extreme case. It's clear by your prickly retort that you're prickly about having been utterly refuted, so instead of getting grumpy, why not go back and try to recalibrate your position?

by oboe on Sep 2, 2010 3:43 pm • linkreport

@oboe, are you reading any of what I'm writing before freaking out about it?

Where did I say that parking prices *never* impact the question of mode?

I explicitly said, in the exact comment you are referring to, and I quote myself:

"My argument was not that ANY parking rate increase could not POTENTIALLY affect transit decisions, but that THIS one would not"

Bold added in addition to my previous caps, for double emphasis, as apparently is required.

Is there some filter that is used by typical GGW commenters that causes you to read everything that is not written in the manner of absolutes, to translate it to the nearest possible absolute?

I mean, really.

I haven't even said that I oppose these parking fees, I just said that they were designed explicitly to raise revenue, and that is exactly what they will do. If you can offer any evidence to the contrary, by all means do so.

by Jamie on Sep 2, 2010 3:51 pm • linkreport

Eric,

Id appreciate being able to give an important clarification.

HSEMA's concerns specifically prevent that event from taking place on the specific part if the specifc street (K St.) under the specific guidelines that were proposed earlier this year.

It is certainly possible that this event, ir a similar one, could take place in the future on a street in D.C.

All that happened was that one specific proposal was turned down. Please do not extrapolate too much from that.

Thank you,

Kevin Kornreich
Emergency Information & Operations
DC HSEMA

by Kevin Kornreich on Sep 2, 2010 5:50 pm • linkreport

Kevin,

The complaint is the general absurdity of HSEMA's decision not to allow open traffic "inside of" a closed event. As I understand it, HSEMA rejected the K Street Feet on the Street proposal because it would have allowed north- and southbound traffic to flow along 7th, 14th and 17th Streets (so as not to gridlock the entire CBD) and the agency has a general policy prohibiting this because it's considered a hazard, despite the fact that similar interactions between cars and pedestrians happen each day. If I misunderstand that, I apologize and would appreciate a better explanation why HSEMA rejected the event proposal, but until then, I'll continue to induce that HSEMA's policies are inflexible and somewhat absurd based on the case that proved them to be so.

by Erik W on Sep 2, 2010 9:47 pm • linkreport

@Jamie "Where did I say that parking prices *never* impact the question of mode?"

You said:

"It would be almost impossible to price meters to a point where people would make this decision when parking for under two hours."

"I haven't even said that I oppose these parking fees"

You referred to it several times as "gouging". Do you support gouging?

by jcm on Sep 3, 2010 8:28 am • linkreport

"It would be almost impossible to price meters to a point where people would make this decision when parking for under two hours."

Which you translated as, "well what if you priced them at $1000 an hour?"

Let me rephrase that.

It would be almost impossible to price meters to a point where people would make this decision when parking for under two hours without affecting usage, and consequently reducing revenue. Sorry, I thought that was entirely obvious.

Parking garages are fundamentally less convenient than meters, and pricing is nearly always structured for long term vs. short term parking.

Sure, you could make meters $6 an hour, which would put them about on par with a garage. Of course nobody would use them since most people don't carry two rolls of quarters around to park at a meter for an hour or so.

"You referred to it several times as "gouging". Do you support gouging?"

It depends who's being gouged.

by Jamie on Sep 3, 2010 8:37 am • linkreport

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