By JAMES KENNEDY
|The Rhode Island State House with less parking.|
The State House is a great place to start reforming Providence’s parking crisis. The great map that Jef Nickerson put up last April shows that the State House contributes considerably to the overwhelming of our downtown space by surface parking.
From the outset, 10% of State House parking lot space should be repurposed as a vegetable and flower garden, which could be run in private-public partnership with the Southside Community Land Trust. Repurposing State House parking will highlight one of the city’s best reasons for optimism, the Land Trust’s Lots for Hope program. Produce from the raised beds could be used to fill food banks around the state, or could be sold at Rhode Island’s farmers’ markets to return a modest revenue boost to the state budget.
The remaining spaces should no longer be free. Legislators and other State House employees should receive a transportation stipend, equal to the amount of money currently being spent on paving a parking spot for them to use. Those who continue to drive to the State House would not lose money, but they will at least be aware that parking is a fiscal choice. But many others will choose to save money by carpooling, taking transit, or biking to the capital. The plan will be revenue neutral to taxpayers, in that it will simply repurpose funds already being spent.
Parking demand will decrease if this plan is put in place, and as it does, the state should gradually remove more spaces to increase the area of the garden. As in Denmark, where cities have committed to remove 2-3% of parking spaces per year to reduce their carbon footprints, the State House could set a per year goal for removal of spots, with the eventual culmination of a parking lot half the size of the current one. The gradual pace of change will allow for other transportation options to be developed.
If having legislators pay for their own parking sounds radical, consider that in California, a model for just this kind of transportation reform has been in place in many private workplaces since 1992, called “the parking cash-out”. A 1997 study evaluating the effects of the law noted a 17 percent drop in solo driving at affected workplaces, which broke down into a 64 percent increase in carpooling, a 50 percent increase in transit use, and a 35 percent increase in walking or biking to work. And it makes sense: Donald Shoup, who helped push the reforms, and who has become the nation’s leading advocate of parking reform, notes that parking figures greater in people’s choices about car use than even gasoline prices.
Legislators who either use RIPTA or know a colleague who does will be more likely to view multimodal transportation as the urgent issue it is. Although there have been modest improvements in funding under the Chafee administration, Rhode Island still ranks far behind comparably dense and populous states in per capita funding for public transportation. Bringing the transportation crisis directly to the commutes of lawmakers would change that quicker than you can say RIPTA appropriations.
Several readers of my last guest post about redesigning Dean Street as a multimodal boulevard added that the gaping cloverleaf next to the State House should be an even bigger target for reform. Perhaps the most compelling reason that the legislators should look at their own workplace as a locus of transportation change is that it would lay the groundwork for such a future reworking of that transportation nightmare. Parking lots are to cars as still water is to mosquitoes. The cloverleaf can be conquered if we see how parking lots around it justify its existence.
Simply writing about this does nothing. I hope that if you find this idea appealing, you’ll actually take the next step and contact your state assemblyperson, tweet to the Providence Journal, or put together a demonstration on the next Park(ing) Day. We can change the map of Providence, one parking lot at a time, starting right at the State House.