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Projo Piece by James Baar Shouldn't Have Run

The Projo ran an opinion piece by James Baar which, to say the least, is wrong about what needs to happen in downtown Providence. A lot could be said about this, but I'll be brief. The thing that irritated me most about this piece running was that one of its central claims--Providence supposedly not having enough parking--is just stated as a priori fact without any supporting evidence. I think it's perfectly fine for the Projo to run pieces with a wide variety of views, including those that I think are idiotic, but it should have some kind of journalistic standard of factual accuracy to uphold its opinion section. This of course has been the Projo's problem in covering climate change as well. I guess it won't be funny when the many parking lots and garages surrounding the Projo are under water.

Here's some of the "unavailable parking" in downtown Providence, this Monday at midday through 2 PM:

The Biltmore garage had 116 spots available at 2 PM on a Monday.
Just below that.

The effect was such that when the first couple cars sprung up, it felt like going below the tree line in the Alps. Life! 
The lot behind the Biltmore garage wasn't full either.
Illegal parking on the sidewalk behind City Hall. There were 116 parking spots available in the Biltmore garage alone at this time.
This lot is actually a garage, and the lower level had vacancies too. (Weybosset & Empire)
I also visited the Central garage, and found empty spots (that was the first one, so I hadn't started counting, but I would estimate about 25), the garage at Weybosset & Richmond (20--with much of the street parking on Richmond empty), and the Arcade garage (more than 60 spots available).  Of course, that doesn't begin to cover the many lots and garages we didn't visit. I wouldn't be surprised if there were spots there too.

All in all, there were more spots open on Monday during a peak parking period than would be added by the Garrahy garage.

Gee, I wonder why the market can't afford to build a new garage without help?

UConn found that for every spot that a city adds to its downtown for parked cars, it loses $1,200 in net tax revenue. And there's that curious problem of giving the population asthma too to deal with.

The editor of the Projo, Ed Achorn, should feel free, as I say, to publish reports claiming that there's not enough parking in Providence. But those claims should have to be backed up. When I write an opinion piece for The Phoenix--I have one coming out soon--I have to fact check every claim I make, and show sources, and then that in turn goes back and forth with Phil Eil asking me question after question about how I phrase something, or whether there's another explanation for what I'm talking about besides the one I offer. I just can't see that having happened for this piece. You would expect The Projo to be much less loosey-goosey with what it prints, but in my experience it's the opposite.

Some of the other claims by the Baar piece are ridiculous, but at least fall into the realm of stupid opinion. The expectation that we would build a garage underground below Kennedy Plaza (underground spots are at least $100,000 per space, two to three times the cost of even expensive garage parking) goes hand in hand with the equally ridiculous claim that we would somehow find a way to repave our potholed streets while a) increasing car traffic (which destroys streets), and b) reducing fees on cars for curb parking (which itself is a large portion of the street and costs money to pave). The complaint that downtown Providence should have more interesting and diverse businesses is one that anyone can relate to, but certainly the tax burden expected for this would be astronomical, and certainly unfair on top of that. And astronomical is the fair term--since the average parking spot in the U.S. costs $15,000, and the spots being proposed for all these garages are considerably more expensive.

I expect the only time--if even then--that these garages are ever at capacity is Waterfire. And while I love Waterfire, I think anyone can look around at the streets and agree that bringing more capacity for cars would be a bad idea. The executive director of Waterfire, who ought to have more clout than Baar or his oft-quoted ex-mayor Paolino, has asked several times for the city to make dedicated bike lanes and provide transit service for his events, but as yet I haven't seen anyone lift a finger to make it happen--even though providing both of those things in spades would be cheaper than all this parking mishegas that's being bandied about in the op-ed section of the Projo.


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