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Part 1: Mark Baumer Reflection: Impounding Vehicles & Immigrant Rights

This is part of a multi-part reflection I've been doing following the death of my friend, Mark Baumer . There's nothing graphic i...

My Statement on Brown University

Hello readers,

Since November of last year, I have been at significant tension with Brown University about its decision to ignore my rights to academic freedom at the university. The university has sent me numerous letters making it clear that it has decided to retaliate against me for having brought an unofficial complaint against a professor after that professor made threatening comments to me in a classroom setting about a political disagreement s/he had. Although that dispute was initially resolved in an amicable way, and although I am choosing the protect the identity of that professor since I think s/he is an otherwise upstanding and good person, the university administration's choice to use this incident to dismiss me is in gross violation of my rights as a student, as an employee, and as a human being more broadly.

The heart of this matter lies in the student teaching experience I had the following semester. The teacher I worked with was extremely hostile about my interactions with other staff. He cordoned me off from other people at the school. While teaching, I arrived one morning to walk into him having sex with another teacher-- someone he referred to openly as his "work wife" at school. Fearful of how the previous interaction with a professor over politics might be brought to bear upon this relationship, I made every possible effort to bend over backwards in order to work with this teacher, despite his actions. I brought my concerns to university officials in February, at the withdrawal deadline, and nearly resigned from the university, despite having previously had only As, Bs, and passing (pass/fail) grades. 

Nonetheless, despite my best efforts to work with this difficult man, it did not work out. And despite the supportive feedback that a number of my professors have given to the university, the administration has chosen to steamroll my and their concerns.

Brown University first offered me the option of leave, which I actively pursued and was in the last stages of completing before my department chair withdrew the offer. I then pursued an appeal of my expulsion from the university. Other professors have spoken for me, including my advisor who undertook heroic feats of effort to stand up for my rights and my process, to defend my reputation, and to assert that I had done nothing wrong. Unfortunately the university canceled our meeting to speak with the deans of the Graduate School, and then this morning canceled yet another meeting for the appeals process.

I have not been allowed to speak or attend any meetings in which decisions have been made about my future. I have not been allowed to view the record of accusations against me. I have seen records of my teaching destroyed, so that I have no recourse to show what kind of a teacher I am. The university's letter to me dated May 15th makes allegations against me which are new and brazenly false, and I believe designed to make me fearful to stand up for myself lest my reputation be destroyed by the most powerful institution in the state. Essentially, having been the victim of a predatory relationship, I am now being painted by the university's letter as an aggressive and violent person with no regard for the social mores of the university. Many of you will know firsthand that I can be politically outspoken, and indeed the choice to publish a letter like this is quite bold, but I hope it has never been anyone's experience to think of me as a harmful person, and I will not allow the university to lie in order to say so.

Brown University chose the wrong target. I have nothing to hide. From November until now, I have painstakingly and patiently worked through the closed process of the university, respectfully channeling my concerns and doing everything I could to avoid public embarrassment to the department. I will not be cowed by this illegal action, and I will publicly put the university on the defensive for its attack of the First Amendment, the Academic Freedom code of the university, Title IX, the NLRA, and other provisions of law that should afford me rights in this process.

While I have reams of documentation of my case, I will need time to redact documents to protect innocent parties. I will be sharing everything from this experience publicly, once that has been undertaken. The university has taken action not just against me but against students and professors who have spoken for me, and while I believe those parties wish not to have their identities known, I will share name-redacted evidence I have of this retaliation by Brown. 

Powerful institutions rely on our shame and compliance to do the things that they do. A key part of how evil happens in the world is that good people become cowed. Even within the process, it has been my experience that many of the people who have failed to stand up for me within the university have done so out of fear, misunderstanding, or institutional compliance, rather than malice. Nonetheless, this is wrong. We must always stand up, even when it seems likely that doing so will hurt us personally. I am a person of integrity, and having nothing to hide. I cannot say the same for Brown.

~~~~

No More Parking.

My esteemed colleague Brent Runyon of the Providence Preservation Society was published in the Projo today objecting to variances being offered to the Garrahy Garage project. He unfortunately offers quite a modest criticism of the project, and advocates need to go a lot further to call Garrahy into question. Quoting his full letter:

Variances Threaten Urban Experience 
I attended the May 8 Downtown Design Review Commission meeting where we learned more about the proposed Garrahy Garage. When the Journal first reported plans for a new garage in 2014, the General Assembly-backed plan included 20,000 square feet of commercial retail space. Last week, the Rhode Island Convention Center Authority sought a variance from the requirement for retail space along the Clifford Street portion of the garage. 
Variances have already been granted to both the South Street Landing parking garage and a mixed-use building on Clifford Street. This kind of development does not advance the goal of knitting Downtown and the Jewelry District back together unless it provides ample ground floor activity. Don’t we want more space for sidewalk cafes and small businesses to energize and strengthen our neighborhoods? We have seen the positive impact of Buff Chace’s work at the Biltmore Garage. A previously desolate block of Washington Street has been brought to life with restaurants and shops.

Granting variances from this requirement will not advance the vision for the “innovation and design” district. Providence cannot continue to prioritize cars over pedestrians if we want to create places were people want to be. Let’s recall the spirit of famed urbanist Jane Jacobs, who said that "streets and their sidewalks—the main public places of a city—are its most vital organs." We need to think about our city’s potential and say “no” to more variances.

Daytime, weekday parking at the Biltmore Garage, 2014.
Yodel-lay-hee-hoo! We're above the tree line for cars!
Runyon is making a moral appeal to preserve some semblance of a downtown, and he is right as far as he goes. He needs to go further.

The garage should not be built. Parking is a private concern, not a public one. The United States can't manage to create a public healthcare system like every other major country has, but its municipal, state, and federal policy is set up to pay for everyone's parking. After debt service is considered, this will cost Rhode Island more than $80 million-- that's almost three times what the (supposedly fiscally-irresponsible) Raimondo public college plan costs per year. 

Creating some shops at the bottom of a publicly-funded eyesore is not good enough-- that might be okay as a regulation if only private money was being used, and even then the city would have a strong interest in limiting parking. 

That there even is a Rhode Island Convention Center Authority is a problem. The state should not be running convention centers. It should be investing in public services and public spaces. This agency operates the free parking that is offered to downtown URI students (whose campus is feet from Kennedy Plaza's transit hub), and the Convention Center Authority is the reason that there are still no protected bike lanes on Sabin Street, according to a statement by Providence Planning official Bob Azar (Azar later rescinded the comments, but we know what that means).

Awash in Parking, But Nothing to Park For
Sadder still is the fact that Providence lacks in no way for parking. And not just surface parking-- indeed, there's a lot of that, and some garage proponents say that providing state-funded garages is a way out. Providence also is full of half-empty garages, almost all of which had some public subsidy to cause them to come into being, according to the mayoral statement that Brett Smiley's campaign sent to Transport Providence in 2014. These garages take taxable land out of circulation, create additional incentives to drive rather than use transit, and put a tax burden on development that could provide affordable and beautiful living and working spaces in our city. All this parking is one of the worst things for affordability.

The Providence Journal itself found that the giant outlay of public money the state defiantly and illegally put to parking just a few years ago has led to the lots sitting half-empty

It's time for these quasi-public corporate agencies to stop destroying Providence. No garage. No public money spent on parking. Spend it on our depleted schools, our sidewalks, parks, bike infrastructure, transit, and other public amenities.

It's time to be a capital that's actually creative.

The Solution: Yes, active sidewalks. But more.
It's time for a parking lot tax. Pittsburgh has a 40% rate, and it raises more money for that city than its local income tax.
It's time to use that tax money to lower the burdensome property taxes that regressively attack renters in the city.
It's time to stop funding parking garages.
It's time for a parking-neutrality policy like Zurich, Switzerland-- a city of similar size, density, and hilliness as Providence.
It's time to start funding RIPTA, which gets less than a quarter per capita what the MBTA gets.
It's time to take some on-street parking away-- we'd only need a tiny bit-- to help some people get out of their cars, to stand up for our poor, our children, our elderly, our disabled, our business community, and our giant student population.
It's time to make affordable, beautiful spaces seriously.

And Then There's Car-share, Ride-share, and Automated Cars
I am not a big pusher of automated cars, which I think have major safety and induced demand dangers, but after they come to market, one thing everyone does seem to agree about is that parking spaces will be in much lower demand. Car-share and ride-share, which each already exist, already reduce the need for parking-- even for those who essentially are using a car for all their travel. Even if you read my above list, which focuses on places, transit, biking, walking, and crunchy Swiss social-democratic experiments, you should question why it is that the State of Rhode Island and all its Providence Plantations should be invested in a dead-end real estate concern. Maybe Curt Schilling can come to the ribbon cutting.

Sidewalks being left unactivated are just a part of what's wrong with Garrahy. Kudos to Brent Runyon, who is a treasure to Rhode Island. May our elected officials understand him as the moderate he is.

~~~~

Could Providence Achieve Oslo's Car-Free City Center Plan?

In 2015, the government of Oslo, Norway declared its commitment to removing cars from its city center. A recent Streetfilm on Oslo highlights some of the successes the city has already had, as it focuses in on 2019 as the endpoint by which to achieve its car-free goal.


As Streetfilms points out, Oslo doesn't intend to completely remove all vehicles from the city center, but instead wants to get as close as physically possible to getting rid of private vehicles. So some of the changes involve car-sharing programs. But a surprisingly large amount of the city's plan to move away from cars involves walking, biking, and transit. 

One especially exciting goal is the removal of all street parking from downtown Oslo. The city is making progress on this goal, turning car parking into protected bike lanes. Sometimes existing protected bike lanes are being expanded as part of the sidewalk, and what was previously parking is becoming the new bikeway. Transport Providence did an analysis of Providence's streets that concluded that a very small percentage of on-street parking removal could lead to a pretty hefty change in the amount of bike amenities the city has. Some Providence-based firms, like Park with Spotter have started making it easier to find parking spots in the city in people's driveways, which could hopefully lead to better public support for parking removal in Providence. The city of Zurich, Switzerland has a policy of parking neutrality, whereby when new parking spaces are added somewhere in the city, the developer is responsible to remove them somewhere else, and that has led to great success, as reported on by Streetfilms and UConn engineering professor Norman Garrick.

Providence to Oslo Comparison

One of the questions that comes up when European capitals do ambitious things with their transportation is whether Providence can really expect to be able to achieve the same. The honest verdict is that some changes will take time, while others can be done quickly and without delay.

Oslo has around 700,000 inhabitants (a Boston-sized figure), but its density is around 3,500/sq. mile. For comparison, Providence's density is almost 9,700/sq. mile. But the way that Oslo's borders are set up obviously make this somewhat of an apples-to-oranges figure. Just looking at a map shows that a lot of land in Oslo is relatively uninhabited green space. I would ballpark maybe a quarter of this area being taken up by inhabited space, so the density of that inhabited area is more like 14,000/ sq. mile (I got that by multiplying 3,500/sq. mile x 4, which I'm not certain is methodologically sound, but makes sense to me).

The immediate result of this figure tempers the idea that Providence is denser than Oslo, but I'm not so sure it torpedoes the comparison, even so. This image shows parts of the state that are roughly within 5 miles of Kennedy Plaza, as the bird flies. 5 miles takes you a lot farther than you'd imagine, in Rhode Island:


Providence's population is fairly squeezed together: although the state itself is thought of as being the yardstick for "small", the places that have significant population are even smaller. If we think of Oslo as including a very dense city center, but also many of its suburbs, thinking about how that might play out in a Providence-centric view is helpful. Transport Providence once did a comparison of Portland, Oregon proper and Providence plus Cranston, East Providence, Pawtucket, and Central Falls, and found that the latter combination was only 60% the size of Portland-proper and of a similar combined density. If RIPTA improved the speed and directness of certain routes, like the 54 to Woonsocket or the 60 to Newport/Bristol/Warren, then areas outside of that pale could also be better connected to Providence without cars. Rhode Island has a very low level of state support for transit: Massachusetts spends about 4.5 times as much per capita on transit as Rhode Island does, and as Jarrett Walker pointed out recently at his Providence transit conference keynote, transit spending matters.

Oslo is also not as urban as one might imagine. When you start to tease out the neighborhoods on Streetview that make it into the definition of "Oslo", it's clear that not all of them are as dense as one might think. For instance, look at some of these:


These, too, are part of "Oslo." None of these Streetviews is from out in the hinterland of green on the map. They are all from within the urbanized part of Oslo (albeit nearer to the edges of that urbanized area). So while overall the land use in Norway might be preferable to that in Rhode Island, it's not idyllic: people who live in housing like this are not set up perfectly for car-free lives, and yet the population is working to create car-lite lifestyles.

In Some Ways Land Use Doesn't Matter

Density matters most for transit, and there is no doubt that transit is important to moving people out of cars. But the most easily achieved goals for Providence are not transit-related, but built around walking, biking, and parking.

Providence has an overabundance of parking, and both the city and state have made mistakes to worsen that problem. The Providence Journal reported recently that the $3.1 million dollar parking lot that the state purchased near the Statehouse (while simultaneously building another out of the Statehouse lawn) remains half-empty. Transport Providence has long called for the state to allow Providence to tax parking lots, so that it can use the revenue to lower property taxes and encourage affordable development and infill.

Hembrow explores density, which he posits is irrelevant to biking. See more
Removing street parking is easy, and can be done overnight as the city experiments with biking and walking routes. It's also easily reversed, meaning that the city can see these as experimental opportunities instead of things to be planned and fretted over for years at a time. Since there is no shortage of parking off-street in Providence, city officials should have nothing to fear in this proposal. Biking does not depend on density, as David Hembrow has shown, so it can be encouraged through infrastructure changes even when a city is in the infancy of its readiness for transit.

The Oslo proposal only removes cars from the city center, so taken that way, the land use of the entire region is less important. Providence's downtown blocks around Kennedy Plaza, Thayer Street, and other locations that are heavily frequented by transit and pedestrians should be beginning points for experimentation in car-free zones. The widely-lauded PVD Fest shows that when cars are removed from an even larger area of Downcity than that, the city becomes nicer to be in, and still draws lots of outsiders. In the same way that people living in car-oriented suburbs of Long Island understand that when they visit New York City, they should leave their cars behind, people living in the outer reaches of Rhode Island and Southeastern Mass. should understand that Providence is not a convenient place for driving-- but is a great place to visit without a car.
~~~~

Why Econ. 101 Isn't Enough to Discuss the Car Tax

If you've missed it, Economic Progress RI wrote a very good report explaining the complexities of the Rhode Island car tax. I have hectored them annoyingly for some time by email, and I felt really validated when their report concluded pretty much the same things I've been saying on a number of different fronts. Read it.

I got into a bit of a scuffle online with Sam Bell about this. Sam is a great person for this kind of debate, because 1. We both know we more or less have the same guiding values, and 2. We are both able to be really pedantic and snotty and sarcastic and vicious online and still be friends. So Sam's a good guy. Sam Twitter-summoned Doug Hall, an economist at Economic Progress RI, and Doug had this to say:
BAM!

The argument Sam makes boils down to this: poor people may pay less car tax, but that absolute amount is more of their income than the larger amount that wealthier people pay is of their income. I actually agree with aspects of this statement, if it's bounded only by people who own cars. Poor car owners get more back, should be how it's stated.

And that's a significant exception, in my opinion. It's like saying, "Jacksonian Democracy was a very equalizing force." Well, er, maybe, if you discount the impacts it had on the Cherokee and African-American slaves. Or "Donald Trump is a populist." Oh really? A populist for who?

The demographics of who can and does own a car mean that trying to fit economic redistribution through a car tax funnel ends up producing some really distorted results. And that was one of the major findings that was brought up in the Economic Progress RI report: Yes, it's true! People of color are far more likely to live in places where the car tax is high. But they are also far more likely not to own a car. So the person living in Olneyville who owns no car is not likely to breath a big sigh of relief knowing that an East Sider somewhere got a tax cut on his/her Priuses (Prii?). People of color are left out, and I'm sorry, but that matters:
Sam's chart (Yes, I love Sam so much, because he made a chart!) is also wrong because it ignores the multiple columns of information you need to make a decision about regressiveness:
1. First you need to know what the percentage of a person's income is paid (Sam has this).

2. But you also need to know what the money goes to (Who benefits most from the services?).

The question asked has to not just be who pays a tax and what percentage of their income that tax is, but who benefits from services and percentage that is. If giving a poorer person $100 entails giving a wealthier person $1,000, it may be that the $1,000 is a small part of the wealthier person's income, but that $1,000 also perhaps enabled the poorer person to gain $300 in services (these numbers are hypothetical). If you gain $100 and lose $300, that's not a gain. So then the tax cut looks like this: Poor -$200 tax cut (pay $200 extra) Rich: $1,000 (get a $1,000 tax cut). 

I don't actually know for sure how Rhode Island's benefits are divided, and it's a valid question. But what we're essentially doing is deciding that driving is a benefit, and that we should budget to subsidize it for those who have the capital to buy a car. That's a decision, and we have to weigh that against other decisions, like maybe having free healthcare, or better schools. I worry that this is going to result in a push for fewer services.

3. What alternatives exist to the proposal as a means of giving people tax cuts? That is, the world doesn't exist on a binary within one issue. If lowering the car tax could give some money to poor people, the question also has to be asked if another policy would give more money to poor people, at the same or lesser cost. Look at how much we're spending on the upper 20% versus the lower 40%. Inexcusable:
Sam doesn't think this matters, but it does. Because the 34% of the budgeted $215 million is enough to give a major tax cut to poor people that is instead not being given. Opportunity costs matter, and considering all the varying spectra of possibilities that different policies afford is what makes real life economics different that Econ. 101.

Look at how the absolute numbers play out:
$97 to me is more than $1,849 is to a millionaire, but if we just increased the Earned Income Tax Credit, the policy chart might like more like this:

Bottom 20%  2nd 20%  Middle 20%  Fourth 20% Last 20%

$537               $358         $179                $0                  Pay an extra $179

(I took $215 million, divided it by 6, gave three parts to the lowest 20%, two parts to the second lowest, and one part to the middle, zero to the fourth 20%, and had the top 20% pay an extra $179. We actually don't end up spending our whole $215 million that way, because of the top 20% tax-- maybe we could put that to transit. And remember, I did this by assuming the population of RI includes children, so that means if you lived in a family with kids, my calculation could give you an extra stipend for each of your kids).

The point is, giving (some) poor people $97 from a car tax reduction is better than giving them $50, and somewhat better still than cutting their hands off, but that doesn't mean that we have to view everything through the lens of that policy. The money could be divided up in an infinite number of ways, and there are far more progressive ways to do it than anything that's been proposed. So let's have some imagination!

4. Finally, it's paternalistic to suppose that what poor people really need is a car. Poor people might like a nicer apartment or house, or one that's closer to work so that they don't need that pesky car (or one near their kid's school! Or a better school!). They may want more vacation time, or they may want better food. They may want a couch, or time and money to take an art class, or whatever else. Assuming that we should artificially lower the price of driving isn't just about giving money to poor people. Even if we got past the imperfect metrics by which that is being accomplished-- I would argue this is a piss-poor plan for redistribution-- we could do this without the element of car subsidization.  Driving can be a freeing thing, but when driving is made a necessary thing, it is no longer freeing. Unfortunately, the web of subsidies for cars are part of what enslaves people to them, because it changes every decision that everyone in the web makes: employers move further away, transit systems wither without riders, housing in inner-cities decays in value (or in the case of expensive and gentrifying neighborhoods may seem like a bad deal if policy priorities subsidize car commutes from further away rather than upgrades to housing location). When the recipient of this car tax refund finds themselves living further away from work to afford the rent but (thankfully) having a car so that they can sit in traffic and be stuck away from their family, we can thank bad policy decisions for creating their unhappiness.

All of that creates a situation where the very poor-- those people left out of driving-- get nothing. That's unfair, no matter how you swing it.

5. Climate Change:

I don't have to explain this, do I? If we don't fix climate change, then we're toast. 

So Sam is wrong, mainly because he's taking something that Economic Progress RI admitted is a very complex, multivariable problem, and reducing it to one variable as if it's an Econ. 101 demo. I think this is misleading. Sam should rethink this.

~~~~               

Beyond Binary Thinking

Jarrett Walker's keynote presentation on March 17th brought several hundred participants, and hopefully signals a new beginning for transit in Rhode Island. The full keynote slidehow is here. I'm trying to track down some audio for it-- I think there's a video of the speech somewhere. 

One point that stuck out for me as meaningful is the mistakes that thinking in binaries can produce about class in the U.S.

Walker uses these slides to show that class is actually a spectrum, and that our goal in growing the transit system isn't to appeal to the guy with a BMW in the driveway, but to the people just outside the range of those currently served by the system.

My choice to not drive is one that a lot of people consciously or not view as at one end or the other of this binary. I often feel embarrassed in one group for the perception of being poor only to go to the next group and feel impinged by the notion that I'm an elitist. Thinking outside this binary system is a really important thing if we're going to move ahead. I'm not dirt poor, although there are economic restraints that impact me and make not driving make sense for me. I'm also definitely not an elitist. My politics around driving are motivated by my interest in the best outcomes for people-- ordinary working people.


In my own family growing up, my parents owned two cars, neither of which at any time were ever in good shape. You could alternately describe us as either working class or lower-middle-class, but we were definitely not dirt poor: my dad was an assistant manager at a grocery store, and my mom was sometimes a stay-at-home mom and later a school secretary. Later, my parents got divorced, which knocked us down a rung, but I usually thought of myself growing up as middle class and even privileged. And yet the experiences I saw were the ones other people lecture to me about when they tell me I just don't understand how the policies I advocate impact working class people.

I remember this one set of cars we had: there was the "Flintstonemobile" that was a twenty-plus-year-old car whose floor had rusted out. You could see the ground move past you in the drivers' seat. The "Good Car" was the other car: that one had had the key break off in the ignition, and my parents didn't want and/or probably didn't have the money to get the problem properly fixed. So the "Good Car" had to be hot-wired each morning.

One of the stresses of growing up was that if one of these cars-- or one of the series of other crappy cars we had over my growing up-- died then we had to get up extra early and take my dad to work, and then come back and get ready for school. 

Because I grew up in an inner suburb of Philadelphia, I had a surprising number of relatives who did not drive: my grandmother, two aunts, an uncle, a cousin, two siblings, a great aunt. I had lots of relatives who drove, but only rarely: another grandmother, an uncle, several cousins. I remember on days when one of my family's cars broke down, I would think about how someday I am not going to drive. And that remains one of my motivating forces in not being a driver. Driving sucks, and it's expensive. We can build a society where driving is appropriately rare (if occasionally necessary) instead of having a society where not driving makes one an oddball. That society exists elsewhere, and it existed in the United States until the 1950s or '60s.

When we look to an issue like the car tax, we need to think about what our goals are. We should give money back to ordinary, working class people: everyone from the very poor up to the middle class. But we should do so in a way that includes everyone, builds a more livable and environmentally sound world, and which creates sustained economic growth. Nothing could be more opposite of this than proposals to cut the car tax. We should be expanding tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit at the state level, and lowering the sales tax. But let's keep the car tax and make it one-state-one-rate.

And let's remember that class is not a binary.

~~~~

Floating Bus Stop on Fountain

RIPTA Planning's Greg Nordin and Providence Planning's Martina Haggerty have challenged my claim about the Fountain Street floating bus stop. 

I issued a retraction of my claims on Twitter after Nordin and Haggerty approached me at the Jarrett Walker Transit Conference and stated their case. The summary of their point is that the reserved bus stop in front of the bus island is not for ordinary buses, but for paratransit. Paratransit vehicles (the vans that serve the elderly and disabled specifically) spend a much longer time loading and unloading, said both Nordin and Haggerty, and having a reserved spot in front of the bus island makes sense for that purpose. Day-to-day buses in the RIPTA fleet are supposed to use the bus island itself.
It's taken me a while to address this in the body of the article as I said I would, and part of this is that I have been extraordinarily busy with personal issues in my own life that have popped up, but part of it has also been that I think the issue looks more complicated than a binary up or down. I went to investigate this island more closely after the transit conference. There are just certain things you can do on foot or by bike that you can't do from the window of a Mercedes (Hey, Joe! I'm talking to you! Join us on a bike or by bus!).

Okay, first! Can we all have a round of applause for Nordin and Haggerty? I know Nordin only passingly from public meetings, but he is a dedicated guy, and smart. And Martina Haggerty practically holds the city's fabric together with her bare hands despite many, many interests trying to push Providence Planning to be a spineless version of itself (Here's me praising Haggerty and her colleagues just the other day). I just feel like that needs to be said. And me parsing this out in the next paragraphs is going to feel like sonuvabitch I can't believe he's still arguing about this, get a fucking life, James.  But I think it's important, and not meant to detract from these individuals. An admittedly lazy thing I do sometimes is say "the city" when I'm sure from experience of a certain process (like public processes leading to bad bus stop choices) but not sure of the individuals involved in a particular decision. Yes, lazy! I admit it. When I want to blame a specific person I do, but not here. Haggerty and Nordin do not deserve personal blame.

The Claims

I went to look at the bus island, which on March 16th was covered in ice. My original claims were laid out in a few parts of the article on Joe Paolino's ride with me around Downtown. Here:

An article by People for Bikes highlights the great design that Rhode Island has for floating bus stops, but the Fountain Street floating bus stop doesn't actually follow that design. Instead of letting buses stop in traffic, allowing bus riders to use the island as a place to wait and board, the bus pulls ahead of the bus island, forcing disabled people to use the bike lane to go backward towards the island. The whole arrangement makes no sense and should be fixed. (new emphasis).
Here:
Probably as a concession to dumb traffic concerns by engineers, buses don't stop in traffic where it would be convenient for them to do, but instead have to pull in front of the bus island. Why?  Note that the ramp is kind of pointless if the bus doesn't pull up to this island, as it should. 
And here:
The city has reserved a space in front of the bus stop for the bus to pull in front of it. The bus riders then have to get off the bus, walk in the protected bike lane, and back to the floating island, where the wheelchair ramp is oriented the wrong way. 
Mostly True, but Be Careful on Fine Details
Before I parse this out why I think I'm partly right about what I said, let's focus in on some ways in which I was definitely wrong.

1. Saying "Probably as a concession to dumb traffic concerns by engineers..." did technically put my claim in the context of a conjecture I was admitting was not fully proven, but I probably shouldn't do that, as a rule. I think it might have been nice of me to call the city and ask them to comment on this, and that was wrong. The city does cave to dumb traffic engineers a lot, though. Can we admit that? And I have been privy to public meetings where discussion of buses stopping in traffic has been a discussed item, so I wasn't drawing my claim from the blue.

2. Also, I did think that all buses stopped in front of the island, and that's probably not right. Breaking Rule 1-- Jesus, James, you just made that rule!-- I'm going to refer back to personal experience on the bus where I could swear the buses have stopped in front, not at the bus island. But this is a choice made by individual drivers to some extent and might not reflect what RIPTA or Providence Planning intended, and it's also based on my slightly foggy memory of taking the bus. If I get time, I might follow up and sit to observe the bus stop to see what buses typically do, and report back. 

Here's why I'm largely right. This claim is true except maybe the word "letting" (because I guess the design "lets" buses stop wherever they want, but in practice buses for the disabled stop in front, as Nordin and Haggerty agree):
Instead of letting buses stop in traffic, allowing bus riders to use the island as a place to wait and board, the bus pulls ahead of the bus island, forcing disabled people to use the bike lane to go backward towards the island. <--- Ding! Ding! Ding! True!





And:
Note that the ramp is kind of pointless if the bus doesn't pull up to this island, as it should. <--- True! True! True! 







And:
The Well, maybe not this part--> city has reserved<--- Maybe this is better phrased as, "In practice, the city has reserved. . . " a space in front of the bus stop for the bus to pull in front of it. This part! So fucking true! True! -->The bus riders then have to get off the bus, walk in the protected bike lane, and back to the floating island, where the wheelchair ramp is oriented the wrong way. <---
If you look at the photos I took from March 16th, there is a ramp directly across from the island, so that people who are taking the normal RIPTA buses that Nordin and Haggerty say should be stopping at the island have a way off the island and onto the sidewalk in a wheelchair.






If the paratransit vehicles are supposed to stop in front of the bus island, then why is there no ramp that coordinates with that? The wheelchair ramp at the end of the sidewalk is a diagonal one that forces wheelchairs into traffic on Eddy. Or, the wheelchair could do just what I speculated they had to do-- go backward in the bike lane against traffic to use the ramp.


And since the bus island is full of snow and ice, and since the bike lane is frequently full of cars (!), where the hell are the paratransit folks supposed to go?

A Solution: Protected Bike Lanes that Work
Now, by the way, I've been hitting this drum for a while, but if we had protected bike lanes everywhere, then we wouldn't have to add ramps. We could just make it safer for wheelchairs to access the existing ones, meaning we could use money for ADA improvements for protected bike lanes and satisfy everyone:



So judge for yourself how important the parsing of these details is. I never technically said "all buses stop in front of the bus island" although I'll admit that's exactly what I thought and what I think a normal reader would be expected to interpret. Most of the claims I made about the functioning of the bus island itself were completely true, and need to be addressed.
~~~~






#AskJoePaolino

Not my strongest photo ever: Joe Paolino turns to talk about the
Allens Avenue complex, where he believes more development
should happen.
Update: One of my claims in this article has been challenged by RIPTA and Providence Planning (see Floating Bus Island on Fountain Street section). I am writing up an article to address the specifics of this, as I think the issue is complicated.

Following a discussion over Former Mayor Joe Paolino's comments in the East Side Monthly on the 6/10 Connector and bike lanes, Joe Paolino agreed to show Transport Providence some of his concerns from the vantage point of his Mercedes, cruising downtown. 

Paolino is someone that Transport Providence has been in disagreement with a lot, so it would be fair to say that our opinion of his views is a critical one. However, we found the former mayor cordial and enjoyed talking with him, and to the extent that Paolino was open about his ideas, that helps the public hold him accountable for his views.


Transport Providence has tried to organize this article to give Paolino the opportunity to express his views fully, but where contrasting information exists, especially on objective factual issues, we've tried to provide that as a reality check. In some cases the views that Paolino holds are merely differences of opinion, but there are also some cases in which his views clash with established consensus views among experts, or with objective data.

Buses at Allens Avenue
Paolino interviewed for a Projo article with James Baar in 2014, in which Baar described Kennedy Plaza as a cesspool of criminality and poverty, and quoted Paolino as a supporter of policies that would "fix" Kennedy Plaza. In that article, Paolino said that he wanted the buses at Kennedy Plaza moved to the "fringes" of the city, additional policing of panhandling, and more parking for suburban drivers. Paolino said that he supported turned Kennedy Plaza into an underground garage. Online and during our interview with Paolino in his car, he reasserted that Kennedy Plaza would be better as a garage, saying it should "have at least one level of cars below ground". He also said that he thought that having a garage there was something he preferred but "didn't want to make a big deal about."

Paolino had surprisingly positive things to say about buses during our interview:

"A lot of the people, the middle class from the East Side use the buses to come down. A lot of the people from Broadway, from Elmwood, Cranston use the buses. I think it's definitely a mix."

Paolino described his efforts to get the Kennedy Plaza bus hub to move to Allens Avenue as not about being anti-transit, but about activating Allens Avenue. Asked if he thought people might have trouble getting to downtown if the bus hub was at Allens Avenue, he said that "I don't mean to say that there shouldn't be buses stopping in downtown, just that the hub shouldn't be there." 

Paolino stated support for the panhandling ban that was recently passed by Cranston Republicans and rejected by all the Democratic officials on the Cranston city council. Transport Providence asked Paolino whether it was fair for him to blame Mayor Jorge Elorza for allowing panhandling when the decision had been made by the courts. Paolino said correctly that no official decision had been made by the courts about Providence, but that instead different rulings had been made about neighboring towns and cities. Wasn't it a good decision for Mayor Elorza to cooperate with what seemed like a pattern of rulings against this type of law? asked Transport Providence. Paolino said no.

Although Transport Providence and many liberal-minded people might reject Paolino's view of panhandling ordinances, not all of his comments could be construed as anti-homeless. Paolino spent a lot of time talking about how he wanted to expand services available to homeless people. 

Passing the pedestrian island near the confluence of Bridgham, Elmwood, and Broad Streets, Paolino pointed to a homeless man, saying, "See, this just breaks my heart. Why don't we have services available to this person so that he's not standing here?"

Paolino said that before the buses were moved to Kennedy Plaza, Crossroads (formerly "Travelers Aid") used to offer direct services at the bus depot along Sabin Street. Paolino viewed connecting bus services directly to homelessness services as key.

In an interview with the Providence Journal, Crossroads Rhode Island's executive director expressed some frustration with Paolino's approach:
Karen Santilli, president and CEO of Crossroads Rhode Island, who was invited to speak at the news conference Tuesday, said she hoped to dispel "lots of misinformation and rumors" about the proposal.

Fliers circulated in the neighborhood on Monday saying that the plans involved moving the Crossroads shelter at 160 Broad St. in downtown Providence into the former hospital building on the city's South Side.

"There's no way we would ever move out of the (downtown) building we are in," Santilli said.

Last summer, she said, during community meetings about panhandling in Kennedy Plaza, Paolino, who chairs the Downtown Improvement District, had approached her about moving Crossroads residents out of their current building.

"If I bought this building, would you be interested in turning it into a shelter?" Santilli recalled Paolino saying. "I said, 'No. The solution is housing, not shelter.' And then he agreed and said, 'OK, let's talk about housing... ' "
Paolino also came under criticism from some advocates for meetings he held that appeared to bar some advocates and many members of the press from attending.  

As Paolino showed Transport Providence the hospital complex and parking lots he had bought in South Providence, he said that he hoped to make permanent housing rather than shelters an option. Whether this was just an off-hand comment or a true commitment remains untested.

When it comes to permanent housing, there are a lot of things that city planners have learned over the years, and questions remain about how these lessons would fit into Paolino's plans. The hospital appears to be a location where people would live in a concentrated location, while the most noted successes in public housing have been by following theorist Oscar Newman, who believed in dispersing homeless individuals within otherwise middle class locations, and giving them access into "defensible space" that is clearly private and owned by the individuals being given housing. Newman's successful work in places like Yonkers, New York has become well known to the layman public after the HBO series Show Me a Hero highlighted it.

Describing the relationship between himself and homelessness advocates, Paolino said that he found it "frustrating that I'm not being given any thanks or credit for what I've done. You tell the homelessness groups you're going to give them this new building, and they don't thank you or anything."

Fountain Street Protected Bike Lane
"Now what's this here? Bicycle lanes and people are parking in them." said Paolino, pointing to the Fountain Street protected bike lane. The protected bike lane has been criticized by cyclists for lacking actual separation, and the results of that design choice were clear as Paolino pointed. Cars had parked in the appropriate place against the bike lane, but also had parked in the bike lane. There was virtually nowhere in the bike lane where cars had not been parked.


Not news: somebody parked in the bike lane. News: they got a ticket! pic.twitter.com/3pMS1Rez4w

— Car Free in PVD (@carfreepvd) February 8, 2017


Paolino saw a different problem than cyclists, saying the protected bike lane itself was a bad idea, not people parking in it. "Look, you've got cars parked in the middle. Rhode Islanders aren't used to this. This is the only street I know of in Rhode Island where cars are parked in the middle. So you've got the bike lanes being done, cars parked in the middle, and there's going to be accidents here. 



Paolino pointed to the Dean Hotel, along Fountain, where cars had parked both against the bike lane (where it is allowed) and in the bike lane. "What do you do," asked Paolino, "when you have a hotel and cars can't park right in the front?" 


Transport Providence reached out to the Dean Hotel a number of times for comment, but was not able to get an official response in time for publication (comment will be added if we receive one after publication).

Update: The Dean Hotel reached out by email and provided the following statement:
Regarding the Fountain Street Bike Lane: We are very supportive of improving bike infrastructure in Providence as part of a comprehensive and integrated biking network. The Dean partners with DASH to provide bikes to our guests as a preferred way to explore our compact city. 
That said, we believe there are ways to improve the safety, efficiency and usage of the Fountain Street bike lane as it exists today. We believe that the interaction with our guest valet drop off and lack of signage or barriers to enforce that the bike lane remains a bike lane and not a parking lane, along with lack of connection to other city bike lakes and the construction which will narrow Fountain Street for two years, renders this bike lane not only possibly unsafe but a potentially undermining black eye for the efforts the city is making to support a bike culture as critics of bike lanes generally can point to its less than perfect design or implementation. We would be glad to work with bike advocates and the city to help support and implement an effective city wide system.
The comments that the Dean Hotel provided are consistent with my criticisms: a protected bike lane that cars just park in is not a protected bike lane, but a protected parking lane. A protected bike lane that comes from one busy street with no bike infrastructure (Empire) to another busy street with no infrastructure (Dorrance) is ineffective. We need a full network, and we don't have that right now.  These are of course diametrically opposite complaints of the ones heard from people like Paolino, who say to remove the bike lane entirely.

The Dean Hotel website advertises a guest bike program as a major accommodation of staying at their facilities. 

The Dean seems to actively sell itself on bicycling. In the New York Times review of the hotel has a section called "Amenities" which is taken up primarily by bicycle-related features, small pets and Wi-Fi notwithstanding:
The Dean provides five free refurbished bicycles byRecycle-a-Bike, great for short trips around the city. More ambitious cyclists can access the 13.8-mile East Bay Bike Path along Narragansett Bay between Providence and Bristol, R.I. There’s also free Wi-Fi. Small pets are welcome.
As Transport Providence commented in the East Side Monthly (see page 4), the design of the protected bike lane is frustrating insofar as it allows cars to easily park in it. Paolino said that the bike lane should exist only in the warm months (see seasonal bike lanes).

Floating Bus Stop on Fountain Street (See updated article here)
An article by People for Bikes highlights the great design that Rhode Island has for floating bus stops, but the Fountain Street floating bus stop doesn't actually follow that design. -->Instead of letting buses stop in traffic, allowing bus riders to use the island as a place to wait and board, the bus pulls ahead of the bus island, forcing disabled people to use the bike lane to go backward towards the island. The whole arrangement makes no sense and should be fixed<-- I've gotten pushback on this. This deserves deeper attention, and so I am adding another article.


Paolino pointed to the floating bus stop at the end of the Fountain Street protected bike lane. "And then you've got this stupid thing here. Dumbest thing I've ever seen." 


See update-->Probably as a concession to dumb traffic concerns by engineers, buses don't stop in traffic where it would be convenient for them to do, but instead have to pull in front of the bus island. Why?  Note that the ramp is kind of pointless if the bus doesn't pull up to this island, as it should.<--
Transport Providence has criticized the floating bus stop, which is designed incorrectly (which is sad, since the design guide that Rhode Island uses is great and has gotten deserved national praise). -->The city has reserved a space in front of the bus stop for the bus to pull in front of it. The bus riders then have to get off the bus, walk in the protected bike lane, and back to the floating island, where the wheelchair ramp is oriented the wrong way.<--See my additional article on the controversy surrounding my claim. I originally issued a retraction on Twitter, but now after looking deeper into the issue feel that I was partly right about this. The correct way to create a floating bus stop is shown here:


Floating bus stops sometimes additionally allow bus riders to pay before they get on the bus, allowing the bus to stop only briefly as everyone piles on together. The RIPTA floating bus stop doesn't do anything like this. 

Paolino's concern about the bus stop was not the same as Transport Providence's. Paolino thought the floating bus stop should be removed.


Dorrance, Fountain & Exchange
Today: slipway gone. More pedestrian space, and two-way traffic.
2011: Slipway that disconnects park from pedestrian space.
"This is another dumb thing we do," said Paolino, pointing to the sidewalk extensions near the confluence of Dorrance, Fountain, and Exchange. "Before you could cross right here, said Paolino, pointing to where the sidewalk had been extended, getting rid of a slipway from Exchange to Dorrance.

"I know this is convenient, to have two-way traffic, but I don't know if it's safe," said Paolino. Engineering information is pretty clear on this question. Multi-lane one-way streets tend to encourage speeding, while returning those streets to two-way traffic lowers speeding. One-way streets that are narrower and one-lane in design don't have the same problem.



Today: extended sidewalk and expected development of a garage into condos and apartments.

2011: Lots more space for cars. Disconnected pedestrian space a blank-faced garage.
Slipways are also pretty clearly studied by the engineering profession. Slipways are where corners have been made to have a very big radius, which allows fast turns by drivers without pausing. This increases danger for pedestrians.

As we came past the Biltmore Hotel to Kennedy Plaza, Paolino continued to express his concerns about safety. "Safety should be our number one concern," he said. As he turned left off of Dorrance, Paolino cut off a pedestrian trying to cross at the pedestrian crosswalk. "Ooh, sorry!" said Paolino, sounding genuinely concerned. He waved to the pedestrian as sorry gesture, slowed his car down, and continued down Washington Street.

In August 2016, Michelle Cagnon was killed at that particular crosswalk when a Peter Pan bus turned across the crosswalk and hit her. 

Seasonal Bike Lanes
Paolino said that bike lanes should only be "from April 1 to December 1". 

"We live in a cold place. We need to accept that Rhode Island can't have some of the same things work here that might work in Fort Lauderdale, Florida," said Paolino, of bike lanes. 

Things aren't working so well in Fort Lauderdale, by the way. It was #1 for pedestrian deaths according to a count done by Smart Growth America.

A number of very cold places are successful at biking. Notably, the #1 location for commuter biking in the United States is currently Minneapolis, beating even (not as cold, but rainy) Portland, Oregon.

The Netherlands, though not quite to New England levels of cold, maintains 60% of trips in cities by bike, and about 30% nationwide. Transportation data from the Netherlands shows that there is a dip in biking in the winter: about 80% of the trips usually taken by bike are still take that way, though 20% move to transit, walking, or driving.

Biking in the snow in the Netherlands

There's no doubt that weather impacts biking, but not to the levels expected. In fact, when Danish designer Jan Gehl describes the objections he first heard about making more spaces in the Danish capital of Copenhagen bike- and walking-friendly, he reports that people responded with, "This is not sunny Italy." Yet today Copenhagen is among the most bike-friendly places in the world, where more bikes are on the street than cars.

Transport Providence asked Paolino what he thought the logistics of having seasonal bike lanes would be. Would they be removed? How would the city do that? Paolino did not have an answer to these questions.


"You probably won't print this on your blog," said Paolino, "But we have not seen a single bicycle rider today during our trip." Paolino was correct, and after 45 minutes in his car in many parts of the city, no cyclists had turned up.

Then, on Finance Way, between Waterplace Park and the MBTA train station, the unicorn bicyclist appeared: magical and rare, it was the first cyclist we'd seen that day.

"There you go, Joe. There's your cyclist"

"Well, and look! He's biking right in the middle of the street!" said Paolino. 
"Where would you have him bike?"
"I don't know."

Paolino drove respectfully behind the cyclist at a reasonable speed.

A Junk Yard
I had asked Paolino on the phone whether he would be open to doing a second and third interview by bike and bus respectively, and at the time Paolino's response was, "This is just the first date. We'll see." At the end of our interview in the Paolino's car, I repeated the request: Perhaps Paolino would be open to experiencing the downtown on a bike when it got warmer, as a way of seeing what the issues cyclists might face were? Paolino was unequivocal this time. 

"No, James. I would be a afraid to ride a bike here in Downtown Providence with the way it is currently designed."

Allens Avenue Scrap Yard



Photo of the scrapyard from Go Local Providence's archives.
"This area here is ideal for development. That scrap metal here, over there." Paolino pointed to the large pile of scrap metal on the Providence dockyard off of Allens Avenue. "Have you ever taken a good look at that? Let's take a drive so you can see it."

Paolino pulled around in front of the docks. 


"When I was a kid growing up-- Do you know where India Point Park is?-- India Point Park was a junkyard."


Paolino pointed. "It was a junkyard. It was scrap metal just like that. Just like that but worse."


"If Providence wants to expand its tax base, the gentleman's club isn't going to do it, the adult videos isn't going to do it." Paolino pointed out the window to these things as we passed. "The scrap metal yards aren't going to do it. My belief is all this area is under-utilized. And from Thurbers Avenue which is where that bridge is, going all the way downtown, should be targeted for development. Mixed used development. Commercial. Residential. Hotel."


Transport Providence asked "What are the challenges to that? Are there people who oppose that?"

Paolino said he doesn't think enough is being done by the city. "This should not be this way. If we only had more tax dollars coming into the city-- You get tax dollars so that you can spend money to help people who can't help themselves. So the city should condemn all this, or put together some program like they have for 195. And by doing that we'd have more tax dollars come into the city. This is valuable property. This should be utilized. It's not being utilized now. And to have scrap metal. All those environmental problems? All that pollution? Shame on the city to allow that to happen."


Said Paolino about Allens Avenue: "This is better than I-195 land."



Paolino's Parking Lots
From PBN: red represents parking lots, and orange represents parking
garages in downtown Providence. 
Paolino had stated that he thought the land at Allens Avenue's docks was under-utilized to the point that he had recommended condemning it. So we asked Paolino about a related topic, under-utilized land used as parking lots.

Transport Providence: About the 195 land. How many parking lots did you say you owned there? 

Paolino: I don't own any on 195.

Transport Providence: You don't own any-- not on the official state parcel, but-- you don't own any nearby in the Jewelry District?

Paolino Zero. I only own parking lots near my office buildings. And the only reason I have parking lots is so that I can rent my buildings. Because we're not in the parking business. We don't rent-- we don't operate those parking lots. I rent them out to a parking operator. Only-- It's really a defensive move, just so that we can have a law firm, or an accounting firm, anybody who's looking for space. They say, "Where can we park our car?" And we have parking for them.

In 2015, Paolino commented on Twitter that the parking lots near his office buildings came to eleven in downtown:

See tweet conversation: https://twitter.com/paolinoproperty/status/571042235443228672

Transport Providence Now, what did you think of when the city reduced parking minimums, the requirement that you have parking for a building? Were you supportive of that?

Paolino I didn't have an opinion on it. I don't-- in fact, I don't remember when they did it.

Transport Providence I think it was under Taveras. I don't remember the exact year. 

Paolino I don't even remember. 

Transport Providence: One policy we've looked at a lot at our blog is taxing parking lots and using the revenue to lower general property taxes on buildings, as someone who owns a lot of buildings but who also has parking lots, would you have any opinion on that?

Paolino: I'm not for any increase in taxes.

Transport Providence: Just to be clear about it, though, it would be an increase in parking lot taxes and reciprocally all the money would come back as property taxes. How would you feel about that? 
Paolino: You know, it may sound nice to say it but the parking in Providence-- these parking lots-- The way you can tell a successful parking lot, financially, is if they're-- It's like a restaurant. How many meals can you serve in a restaurant? At that table? Do you have more than one table used at lunch? Or can you sell at two? And then at dinnertime, can you sell more than two times over. That's how you can tell. It's hard to keep those parking lots full.
Boston vs. Providence Parking Prices



The former mayor made a comment during our discussion that parking per square foot was almost as expensive as in Boston, stating that to put a tax on it would make it even more expensive. I wanted to follow up with Paolino on this, so I called him the next day:


Transport Providence You said something about parking cost per square foot in Providence being high, could you give me more detail on that, what you meant?

Paolino Providence is not a growth city. There's not a lot of growth in Providence. There's not a lot of companies moving to Providence. There's not a lot of suburban companies moving to Providence, or out-of-state companies. I mean, the only way that we're getting companies is some of the programs that Governor Raimondo was doing. And I'm sure that's not her first choice, to be giving out dollars, incentives to get companies, but it's the only option she's got right now. So, saying that, the parking lots I have is strictly for the purposes of trying to rent my buildings, because tenants want parking. If you don't have parking-- like one spot, people parking in the daytime so that there's no turnover like a restaurant. Parking, no matter what the cost is, the tenant is always complaining about the cost of parking because people want free parking.

It's kind of a mindset that when you're competing with a suburban location like Warwick, or Cranston, or East Providence, where people can get parking for nothing it's a large cost.

If you have one hundred employees, for example, and the parking is $100 a car, so that's $10,000 a month, and that's $120,000 a year. That's a lot of money. It can add a number of dollars on a per square foot basis, so by putting a parking tax it would be a signal to a lot of companies and a lot of employees saying "Why do we want to go downtown? Not only do they want us to pay for parking, but they want us to pay a parking tax."

Transport Providence Did I understand you right? Did you say that the square foot-- you were comparing the square foot cost to other cities. Was I right that you were comparing it to Boston?

Paolino Well, all I said is parking is probably more. If you want to build a parking garage as an example, to build a garage, it wouldn't be that much different, the cost, between Providence and Boston.  But for the developer building it, the return in Boston-- in Boston, you'd be able to get that higher rate, whereas in Providence you're not going to get that higher rate. When it comes to flat parking, it all depends on where you are. Are you in the Financial District in Boston, are you in Back Bay, South Bay, on the waterfront? So it's not as easily defined in Boston as it is here in Providence.

Transport Providence So, I guess what you're saying that the costs are the similar, but the return on investment is less here in Providence to build parking?
Paolino Oh, much less here in Providence. And there's a mindset here in Rhode Island that people just don't like paying for parking. They just don't like to do it.
Transport Providence Now, if someone is looking at their square-foot cost-- the cost for rentals, right? That's what you're really talking about? Right?
Paolino Right.
Transport Providence Right. But if you're using all the revenue from the parking tax to lower property taxes, wouldn't that, in turn, make their square-foot cost for the office space cheaper-- so that parking goes up, but office space goes down-- so wouldn't it be a wash?
Paolino I don't think it would be-- you'd really need an economist to help you with that-- with how much you're looking to raise. If the bottom-line is the same, why even have it? But you'd have to talk to an economist to look at how much more of a tax you're looking for.
Transport Providence tried reaching out to Donald Shoup of UCLA, who is considered by many to be the premier international expert on parking policy. We were unable to get in touch with him by publication time. 

In 2015, the Providence Business News explored the idea of a parking lot tax (full disclosure, although Transport Providence was not directly quoted in the article, James Kennedy was contacted for the article). In that article, Shoup was interviewed:
In Montreal, Quebec, the city adopted a tax on parking lots based on square footage, according to Donald Shoup, distinguished professor of urban planning at the University of California Los Angeles.

"It worked beautifully," Shoup said, adding it encouraged redevelopment of surface lots. "The profits from surface parking go way down. It isn't that other things became more profitable, it's that surface parking is less profitable."
Paolino's own comments seem to unwittingly reflect this same lesson. He pointed numerous times to the fact that parking was as expensive to build in Providence, but less profitable. 

Given Paolino's concern with creating permanent housing for the homeless, he might also be interested by studies that show that increasing the amount spent to provide parking for buildings added cost to housing, making it less affordable. The Rhode Island state government has allocated a lot of money to parking over the past several years, buying up a parcel of land near the Statehouse, turning part of the Statehouse lawn into a parking lot, coordinating to add a new garage near the nursing complex in the Jewelry District, and planning to build another garage by the Garrahy Courthouse. When will Rhode Island make the same commitment to affordable, attractive housing with good transit and biking for all?

Another Paolino Interview?
Taking to Twitter to stir up questions for Joe Paolino from the public, a number of the #AskJoePaolino questions were about whether the former mayor had ever used a bus, or whether he intended to try to. Other questioners wanted to know if Paolino rode a bike, and whether he was willing to do so.



During the first call confirming the drive around town, Transport Providence asked Paolino if he was open to another version of the tour on bike or bus. "This is only the first date," said Paolino at the time.

During the drive-around interview, Paolino stated that he often takes the train to New York City, and commented that he was a lover of transit. He also stated that he rode a bike "everyday", meaning a stationary bicycle for exercise. Asked if he would commit to another meeting out of his car and on a bike or bus, he declined. 

Paolino said that "I would be afraid to ride a bicycle in Providence as things are currently designed."

~~~~