MoCoCo on library parking: is Don Praisner senile?
The Montgomery County Council is considering ending their subsidy of free parking at libraries which are located in town centers with paid parking. I'm watching the Council hearing on streaming video, and they just got to it. I'm liveblogging it below.
Final update: The Council just voted 5-4 for an amendment which essentially guts the proposed resolution entirely. It keeps the subsidy but limits it to only two hours per person day (instead of being renewable as it is now). This is a nearly insignificant change from the current policy.
Proponents of repeal had 5 votes for repealing the parking subsidy, but Don Praisner (who didn't appear to really understand what's going on) switched his vote when Andrews rewrote his resolution-gutting amendment to something that was in effect entirely identical to the previous version. For some reason, Praisner thought there was a meaningful difference. Instead, he appeared to get duped into voting against his own position.
Council staff: People expect to pay for parking at these town centers. You pay for parking at the doctor. You pay if you go to testify at the County Council. Why should the library alone be free?
Also, it's nearly impossible to enforce this. People can go punch their tickets at the library and then go shopping instead of reading books. Therefore, Council staff recommends we repeal the policy.
George Leventhal: Voted against it, but lost 7-2 a few years ago. There are better things to make free. Wouldn't it be great if Ride-On buses could be free? Councilmember Andrews actually mentioned that in his campaign. But we can't do that.
There have been touching appeals for the poor. But the poor have to own cars to park at the library. There are better ways to help the poor. And it's way too complicated to enforce. Many poor people ride the bus, but that's not free. If you take Metro, we don't subsidize that.
$90,000 is just a seat-of-the-pants estimate. Once people figure out that they can always park free at Rockville Town Center, who knows? And honest people will be at a disadvantage by not cheating.
"This glorifies the culture of the automobile at just a time when there's interest on the Council of reducing Vehicle Miles Traveled."
People with disabilities already park for free in Rockville.
The fact is, the county is urbanizing. Urban libraries don't provide free parking. So free libraries = free parking is not the case at the MLK Library in DC, or the library in downtown Baltimore, or the library founded by Ben Franklin.
I know people in Rockville feel strongly about this. Rockville got a beautiful new library. But why should Rockville be telling Silver Spring what to do even though the Silver Spring Advisory Board doesn't want it because it will overburden the Wayne Avenue garage.
Phil Andrews: Reading a bunch of letters by people talking about how important the libraries are. Imposing fees would impose a hardship on adult students who meet at libraries for literacy classes. Parking fees for these low-income immigrants would foreclose participating in classes.
The basic reason is to make sure there's no obstacle to ensuring library use. A dollar an hour parking charge could be an obstacle. (DA: Andrews has still not addressed the argument that most of these low-income people may not drive to the library.)
Policy is in place, it's accomplishing its purpose, and there's no compelling reason to eliminate it. It'll become more important as more libraries go into places with paid parking like Silver Spring, maybe Wheaton and Derwood near the Shady Grove Metro.
Valerie Ervin: Silver Spring is densely populated and will only get more densely populated. Silver Spring Advisory reversed their decision from 2006 and now believe free parking is a poor use of resources.
I live in Silver Spring and most Ride-On buses stop right at the library. The poor people we're taaking about heavily use Metro and Ride-On bus and WMATA bus.
Silver Spring advisory council wrote, there's already a public lot near the library that's inexpensive and free on weekends. "Free parking is a regressive subsidy to those who can already afford cars" with no subsidy to those who take the bus or Metro. Silver Spring has the busiest bus station in the county and many who don't use libraries now may start going there.
Don Praisner: Don't believe free parking is a God-given right. We're more and more an urban area, and in an urban area you pay for parking.
Seems we're starting off on the wrong side of the equation: let's have paid parking and then come up with exclusions from there.
Marc Elrich: Despite calling Silver Spring and Rockville urban, they're really not urban. We have a small urban core, but the library draws on a far larger service area that's not urban. Those people don't have the opportunity to walk there, and Ride-On is not widespread or frequent enough for everyone to use.
It's not as accessible as people make it out to be. Large non-urban areas of the lower county use Silver Spring. Rockville Town Center is a small urban core, but then it's very low density after that. Rockville isn't DC and Philadelphia.
Roger Berliner: Pleased to join Leventhal on this intiative. His rationale is compelling. Parking is such a driver. We need to increase cost and decrease the amount of parking. That's where we need to go to reduce VMT.
Paid parking was never an issue at the Bethesda library, but it got swept up in these issues in Rockville. The potential for abuse is huge in Bethesda.
$90,000 is a lot. We were trying to fund 24-hour care for mentally disturbed folks, which was $200,000. This could fund half of that.
Nancy Floreen: Supported free parking previously, and continue to lean that way, but think we need to reexamine parking policy. We have inconsistent behaviors. We subsidize county employee parking and will still do that at Rockville. We do that here [at the county headquarters], while visitors only get one hour for free.
But if we're going to do this, we should do it consistently, not on a property-by-property basis. So voting against.
Don Praisner: Could we really enforce it? Staff: No, not possible to enforce because the libraries have said they don't want staff enforcing this.
Andrews: We shouldn't gut this just because we can't 100% enforce it. There's one hour free parking at the County Council. People could validate here and then go somewhere else. Just because there's some abuse doesn't meant it's not worthwhile.
We do provide heavy subsidies for Ride-On already. Perfect shouldn't be enemy of the good. We could adjust, move the kiosk further into the library.
Proposing an amendment as a "reasonable compromise": limit free parking per day to 2 hours total for library users, nonrenewable.
Leventhal: Issue isn't just abuse. Just library users may use up all the parking. We already paid $15 million for the library.
By the way, you don't get free parking at the HOSPITAL. I'll start offering amendments to subsidize parking for everything. And surely Andrews doesn't think that the gigantic structure of subsidies for automobile use outweighs transit.
Now Don Praisner is asking if the amendment applies to all county libraries. Andrew says yes, Praisner says then he can't support it, so Andrews asks if there is alternate wording that would make it acceptable. Praisner says if it applies only to Rockville, Bethesda, and Silver Spring he will. So Andrews changes it to only apply to garages that charge for parking. Huh? This makes no sense. Leventhal is baffled.
For Andrews' amendment: Andrews, Floreen, Trachtenberg, Praisner, Elrich
Against: Leventhal, Ervin, Berliner, Knapp
For the amended resolution (which only changes current policy a tiny bit): Andrews, Floreen, Trachternberg, Praisner, Elrich
Against: Leventhal, Ervin, Berliner, Knapp
To summarize, Andrews was trying to kill the resolution and keep the policy. Praisner spoke in favor. Then he wouldn't support Andrews' amendment which would keep the parking subsidy for all libraries, but would support it if it only subsidized parking at libraries with pay garages Now nothing changes, except you can only validate for two hours of parking a day. Andrews has succeeded in keeping the parking subsidy that requires free parking at all county libraries. Does Praisner know what he voted for? I can't tell. Maybe Praisner thought that it was a choice between pay parking at all libraries, versus pay parking only at Rockville, Bethesda, and Silver Spring. That might make more sense. Only that's not what he voted for at all.
Now nothing changes, except you can only validate for two hours of parking a day. Andrews has succeeded in keeping the parking subsidy that requires free parking at all county libraries. Does Praisner know what he voted for? I can't tell. Maybe Praisner thought that it was a choice between pay parking at all libraries, versus pay parking only at Rockville, Bethesda, and Silver Spring. That might make more sense. Only that's not what he voted for at all.
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