By JAMES KENNEDY
With Thanksgivika coming soon, we thought we would celebrate some extravagant chicken-in-a-duck-in-a-turkey style examples of what Rhode Island could have instead of surface parking all over the state, by focusing on a victory. Hey, slap some latkes on that puppy and schlepp it over here. We're ready for some transportation mishegas.
Let's get the giblets out on the table. . .
In July of this year, the state government ironically began a project to increase the amount of parking in the state’s capital, when it spent $3.1 million in state funds to buy a one acre parcel of land suitable for one hundred surface parking spots. That project was recently defeated according to a tweet from Providence Business News' Patrick Anderson. This presents advocates with a momentary victory, but it is still vital that citizens be made more aware of how expensive a commodity parking actually is, and that the opportunity isn’t lost to talk about what better things could be done with the money.
September 20, 2013 was the first time Providence orchestrated a citywide Park(ing) Day, which allowed for temporary reuse of parking spots for virtually any other public use residents could imagine. Providence proudly hosted thirty-five such parklets—nearly ten times as many per capita as more experienced Park(ing) Day participants like Philadelphia.
Park(ing) Day demonstrates the many aesthetic alternatives our cities could install in place of ample car parking—everything from small parks, to outdoor seating, art installations, and farmers’ markets.
Coming up with alternatives to parking has been an especially important task for Providence, and city whose downtown is already more than fifty percent taken up by surface or garage parking, before accounting for any of the additional on-street spots available.
We did a twitter survey of Rhode Islanders, and came up with some interesting answers:
*Paul Grimaldi of the Providence Journal, the writer who first broke the parking lot story, suggested that perhaps a budget for street trees might be nice to have instead of parking. By our calculations, $3.1 million is enough to plant 15,000 street trees as part of the match resident match program Providence currently has, in which the city pays $200 and residents supply the other $200 for a planting. That would be a 60% increase in tree cover from the levels measured during the last arborists’ survey under the Cicilline administration.*440 students could leave the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) with two year degrees and no debt for the parking lot sum. Even at the much pricier Brown University, the state could have funded seventeen students’ four year degrees without any other financial aid sources.
*In Providence, eighty starting salary teachers could be employed at public schools for the same amount as the state allotted for the parking lot’s base land value.
*Local business Like No Udder, which participated in Park(ing) Day at Rep. Art Handy’s (D-Cranston) Statehouse parklet, said it could have bought twenty-six fully functional ice cream trucks for the sum.
*One Providence Journal article from 2005 surfaced detailing the auction of a Newport Mansion, fully furnished, for exactly the same cost as the parking lot. Interestingly, this was before the housing meltdown, which only makes one wonder if our $3.1 million could now fund a gaudy addition to the mansion, or perhaps a live-in maid.
*On the whimsical side, in a state as small as Rhode Island, $3.1 million is enough to buy a double espresso for every single resident, and still leave a modest tip for the barista.
*At 3.8 cents per kilowatt-hour, wind energy from local supplier People’s Power & Light/Mass Energy could light up a standard 100 Watt lightbulb for 815,300 hours—about ninety-three years. Wind energy remains the most expensive but most sustainable form of electricity in the state.*Other transportation projects come to mind. One resident facetiously suggested we buy one mile of one lane of highway, to give us more places to drive. One thing that can be said decisively is that the $3.1 million becomes less impressive in an urban context: freeway infrastructure is typically twice as expensive in cities, leaving us a single half-mile-to-nowhere lane.
*An advanced bicycling project—no puny painted bike lane, but a physically separated, two-way cycletrack like those that have been built in Chicago—would set the state back $170,000 a mile. At that price, citizens could afford eighteen miles of facilities, nothing small in a state that is only forty-eight miles north to south at its longest point. That calculation doesn’t even take into account the great savings in future road maintenance costs that the state could count on from such a project.*Over 4,000 RIPTA riders could ride for free for one full year, for the land price of the one acre proposed square of asphalt.
Of course, these projects require planning, orchestration, budgeting. The most impressive thing about Park(ing) Day is that its temporary reuse of parking spaces allows citizens to spontaneously play with much less ambitious scenarios than these. It’s often been noted by economists that people’s “loss aversion”—their fear of potential loss—is much higher than their “reward seeking”—the urge seek potential reward. We can write about how many things the state could have bought with $3.1 million until the cows come home. Sipping coffee in a temporary parklet shows people the alternative, without spending much money at all.
And we’ve still got next year.