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Attention! Community Forum!

This is the most up-to-date information I have on the upcoming public forum(s) the City of Providence will be having on the 6/10 Connector boulevard conversion. We have every intention to make the process open, so please have a gander. 

No dates have been set for this yet, but we expect early March. A number of specific Olneyville locations are being considered, but I'm keeping that information to us for now.

Please note that we are also looking for sponsor organizations to help defer the cost of this event. If you would like to donate, please contact transportprovidence at gmail dot com.

If you have questions for the city, contact Allen Penniman apenniman at providenceri dot com at Providence Planning Department.

Forum Organization
*Community benefits, equity and advocacy. We will explore best practices for addressing concerns about equity, facilitating grass-roots efforts, and engaging a representative audience of stakeholders. Speakers will also discuss quality of life and public health impacts such as air quality, walkability, and access to alternative transportation options.
*Traffic management and alternative transportation options. We will explore recent research on the traffic impacts of real-life urban highway transformations and opportunities to improve alternative transportation options for pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users, by discussing these projects with the traffic engineers and transportation planners who facilitated them.
*Economic development and place-making potential. We will explore the opportunity to invest in 6/10 in a way that maximizes the economic development and place-making potential of the land surrounding the project.

City of Providence Goals
*Community members and public officials engage in a meaningful dialogue about the project and are informed and inspired by the panel of experts.
* RIDOT works with the City of Providence and community partners to consider alternatives for the future of the 6/10, including a boulevard option
*The City of Providence considers becoming a Campaign City under CNU’s Highways to Boulevards program
*Press coverage that considers neighborhood and civic issues related to the project

Draft Agenda

DAY ONE (Dates not set yet)
6:00PM – 6:15 ( :15) Gathering and networking
6:15 – 6:20 ( :05) Welcome and introduction of Mayor Elorza by Bonnie Nickerson
6:20 – 6:25 ( :05) Opening remarks from Mayor Elorza
6:25 – 6:35 ( :10) Project history, overview, and panel introduction by Bonnie Nickerson
6:35 – 6:45 ( :10) Panelist presentation 1
6:45 – 6:55 ( :10) Panelist presentation 2
6:55 – 7:05 ( :10) Panelist presentation 3
7:05 – 7:15 ( :10) RIDOT presentation
7:15 – 7:35 ( :20) Moderated panel discussion
7:35 – 7:55 ( :20) Moderated audience Q&A – including questions submitted via Twitter
7:55 – 8:00 ( :05) Closing Remarks by Bonnie Nickerson
8:30PM – 10:00 ( 1:30) Networking reception with panelists

DAY TWO (Dates not set yet)
8:00AM – 9:30AM ( 1:30) Next steps strategy meeting with panelists (invitation only)

Potential Speakers

Veronica Vanterpool 
Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Bronx River Alliance 
Sheridan Expressway, Bronx, New York
Route 34/Downton Crossing, New Haven

Joe Cotrufo 
Tri-State Transportation Campaign 

Jeff Tumlin 
Central Freeway, San Francisco

Peter Park 
Harvard GSD 
Park East Freeway, Milwaukee

John Norquist 
Congress for New Urbanism 
Park East Freeway, Milwaukee

Steven Nutter 
Livable Streets 
McGrath Highway, Somerville

Chuck Marohn 
Strong Towns 

Norm Marshall 
Smart Mobility 

Dan Burden 
Walkable and Livable Communities Institute 

Potential Dates & Venues
We are targeting Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday evenings between March 9 and March 31. We would like to hold the forum in the West End, Valley, or Olneyville neighborhoods 

Donor Structure
Donation of $2,000 to $4,999 
*Acknowledgement in all press releases
*Primary logo placement on promotional materials and event program
*Verbal acknowledgement in event introduction
*Invitation to Day 2 Breakfast Discussion

Donation of $500 to $1,999
*Secondary logo placement on promotional materials and event program
*Verbal acknowledgement in event introduction

Donation of up to $499 or in-kind donation
*Flyering and community outreach
*Interpretation services
*Poster and program design
*Name listing on promotional materials and event program (no logo)


Case in Point

What if we used parking meter revenue like a revolving fund? This year Providence received more than $4 million from parking meters. From EcoRI News:
Brown University was cited with a code violation shortly after taking ownership of the [to-be-demolished] properties, because of the conditions of the houses’ exteriors. 
Restoring the exteriors of the homes would cost the college $200,000, while interior and exterior restorations would cost $5 million, according to Stephen Maiorisi, the university’s vice president for facilities management. The school was aware of the buildings’ conditions prior to purchase, and invested in the properties with the intent to demolish the houses and construct something else in their place, he said.
In the case of Brown, which isn't taxed on its property, there would be legitimate questions to ask about whether it's even fair to add another subsidy on top of the ones that exist. But if a private owner that paid taxes held these properties, would anyone revolt at the idea of using parking meter revenue to maintain historic structures in a district that is metered? Keeping seven multi-family houses along Brook Street would add customers to the base of shoppers for the district, and would maintain the area as a place to go.

Would Providence residents object in Olneyville to parking meters, if it helped congestion, and helped restore this building?

Would they object if we helped parking turnover on Broadway, and used the revolving fund to restore this gem?

Or on Cranston Street?

It's not beyond my imagination that there could be wrangling to be done about where the endpoint of public benefit is and the beginning point of private use, and there's a worthy discussion to be had as to whether this is the particular priority we would put our parking meter revenue to, but it's a starting point for discussion about what we're choosing-not-to-choose when we choose cheap and readily available parking. We could choose to make all or part of these buildings open to some kind of public use once they've been restored, but at present they're endanger of being lost entirely.

For more "Most Endangered Properties" on the Providence Preservation Society's 2015 list, see this link.


Return Parking Revenue to Businesses & Residents for Better Results

East Side Monthly covered Mayor Elorza's efforts to add parking meters to business districts, including the Wayland business district (see page 7, February edition). The article is balanced in a journalistic sense. Wayland merchants do not like parking meters, which they are afraid will scare away customers. The city believes that parking meters will help customer turnover, and notes that the meters bring important revenue. 

As with many Providence policymaking experiments, NIMBY complaints have been accommodated, but in a way that results in a less effective system. The article ominously notes that Hope Street may have its meters "reevaluated" after they've supposedly had a negative impact on residents. Mayoral spokesperson Evan England states that on Atwells Avenue, meters were "strategically" placed away from valet areas, to accommodate the custom of offering free valet service to restaurant customers on that street. 

Learn from the expert! Stop doing things wrong, Providence!

Donald Shoup calls for meter rates that leave one to two spots open per block at any given time. That means that if a price of zero would lead to one or two spots open, then for that time period the meter rate should be zero. If the price is $6.00 an hour, then that is the price. It rolls up and down according to parking demand. This helps with turnover, which the city cites.

But key information is missing. Shoup calls for 100% of the revenue to go into the hands of local merchants and residents as either tax cuts or increased services. The money is not meant to go into general funds for the city. Mayor Elorza's office needs to fix this now. I am going to be seriously pissed as an urbanist voter if the mayor's office fails to implement good parking policy because of greediness. The Wayland merchants are wrong to block parking meters, but are right to be annoyed that they're losing money. Citywide, the article in ESM cites $4.2 million in additional revenue. That revenue should be earmarked according to which meters it comes from, and merchants should be able to decide how to use it. Do they want to put the money into lower prices for customers? Do they want to give bonuses to employees? Do they want to improve the buildings they operate? That's for them to decide.

Parking meters belong wherever parking demand is high--that means that the city should not be leaving open spots for valets, or exempting residential areas. But again, that also means that the people who have businesses, houses, or apartments adjacent to those meters should be receiving the money that is collected locally. For residents that could literally be represented as a check each year: in return for living next to a high-demand parking area, the city should thank residents for dealing with parking overflow by lowering their taxes. 

Two-hour limits have problems. It means that the city needs to employ just as much enforcement as before, but without any revenue. It means that parking uses have to be planned in a Politburo style, instead of allowing for flexibility. I've heard people describe Shoup's parking policies as only about turnover. That's not necessarily correct. Parking is needed for a variety of needs, some of which are long-term, and others short-term. If someone is willing to pay to be in a spot for eight hours, as a commuter, then they should be able to be there. If a food truck wants to pay a commercial rate to be operating in the real estate that is a parking spot, then that should be allowed, so long as they pay. Short-term parking is important, but is manageable if we treat parking as a commodity, which is what it is. The two-hour limits just don't make sense and result in a lot of conflicts over the varied uses that people need.

I'm not well-traveled. I've never been to Canada, much less Europe or anywhere truly "exotic". But I do read, and I do look at plans for other cities. Do you know what strikes me most about the European cities I look at? They don't have their teeth knocked out of them by parking. Look at this birds-eye view of Barcelona:

Or Amsterdam:

I wrote a piece using Joe Minicozzi's analysis of per-acre value back when Councilwoman Sabina Matos foolishly advocated against pedestrian safety in order to bring a Family Dollar and McDonalds drive-thru to Olneyville. The brick-and-mortar storefronts that we least pay attention to in Providence are pulling in far more revenue with far less public investment, because they're not parking-heavy. This relationship is obscured by our city's continual efforts (with state and federal help) to subsidize parking and driving. Per-acre value is undermined every time when avoid dealing with parking, because ultimately it leads us to knock down more buildings for more parking lots. It's buildings, not parking lots, that drive our city's value.

Our city needs to deal with its parking problem, and it needs to make sure that when it does so, the effort doesn't look like an attempt to punish business. Let's give businesses and residents the revenue that comes from the parking meters, like Donald Shoup called for.


East Side Monthly February Edition: Fix Blackstone Blvd.

The February edition of East Side Monthly is out in print and online. Since I kvetched them out pretty hard last month for their ridiculously lazy editorial against traffic calming, I'd like to turn around this time and remind you to read the much better piece that came out this month. Matt Moritz, myself, Alex Krogh-Grabbe, and Hugo Bruggemann all make it into the piece (page 9).

I want to draw one itsy bitsy point of difference between myself and RI Bike (called RIBC in the article). Matt Moritz was pushed by ESM on whether there were any negatives to protected bike lanes:
"It's unusual," admits Moritz. "Anything unusual is dangerous, but the relative risks are lower."
This is really just a rhetorical difference--Matt is just more modest in speech than I am, and the buried lede is that "the relative risks are lower"--but it's bad salesmanship at the very least. And it's also not true. First off, protected bike lanes are safer, period. They are safer. They are safer. They are safer. They draw more people, which some experts say adds to awareness of bicycles on the road. They reduce crashes in between intersections. Old-style protected bike lanes had design flaws that caused an increase in crashes at intersections, because the original design had poor sight-lines and turning radii that were too wide for cars, allowing drivers to swing wildly across protected bike lanes when making turns (for that matter, although there have not been any actual crashes, the latter problem does exist for painted bike lanes on Blackstone Blvd., since turning radii at certain intersections look more like the off-ramps of highways than like neighborhood streets). 

But no one builds protected bike lanes like that. Protected bike lanes have had 40-plus years to be perfected elsewhere, and we should build them according to modern design principles instead of trying to reinvent the wheel like we're in the 1970s. This is a good report on badly designed protected bike lanes. It's very simple: we're not going to build them like that. We're going to build them like this:

Councilman Sam Zurier was interviewed, and he said we should wait and see what the experts say. Sam Zurier is an earnest man, but this is translated in SamZurierspeak as "I'm not sure we should do anything because there are a bunch of grouchy neighbors breathing down my neck the other way, so let's see if this story will disappear". So Sam, here's what the expert information shows: the Netherlands started out in the 1970s with a higher death rate on its roads than the U.S., and after the oil crisis, steadily added protected bike lanes everywhere. It is now a much safer place to be than the United States (it's not #1, but the countries that is, Sweden, also heavily pushes protected bike lanes through Vision Zero). So the debate is over. It's time to act. Protected bike lanes need to come to the neighborhood--and to all other Providence neighborhoods--now.

I used to canvass. Speaking with down-tone, keep your message simple, and don't give ground when there's no ground to give!

By the way, things that are unusual make traffic safer. It's well known that five-point intersections that feel unsafe actually have fewer (and more importantly, less severe) crashes, because people who approach these uncontrolled intersections feel insecure, and thus slow down. When countries change the norms around "keep right" or "keep left", there is often an adjustment period in which drivers feel out-of-place on the side of the road they're on, and data shows that traffic crashes go down. Sweden originally had a keep left norm, and then changed to keep right. The crashes went down, but then over time adjusted back to the baseline norm as drivers became accustomed to the new direction. So, if anything, perhaps we should throw a monkey wrench in things every so often so as to reduce fatalities.
Anyway, that's all I wanted to add. People who don't bathe themselves in data about transportation try to pick up the gestalt of a speaker's theme from a short comment they make, and I would like the other bike advocates in Providence to stop blocking progress with unnecessary equivocation (I know you don't mean to do that, but it matters!).


Thayer Street Does Not Need More Parking

I'm backing off considerably from the blog and the Twitter--which, I guess in my case means writing something about once a week. So let's have at it!
UPDATE: Commissioner Choyon of the CPC wrote back to me by email today to say that the CPC voted unanimously to approve the demolition of these seven buildings. To be honest, I'm not shocked that this was approved, but I am completely floored by the margin of the vote. The discussion by the commissioners was very skeptical, on its face, and lent the impression that Brown might not get its way. Please contact your city councilor to ask that Providence enact better parking policies.

UPDATE: Here is the audio of the meeting.

The final decision on these buildings lies in the hands of the Zoning Board of Review. Contact them.

The City Plan Commission met last night. That is the board that is tasked with overseeing compliance to zoning regulations in Providence. There were several issues before the Commission, but the one that drew comment was a proposal by Brown University to demolish seven houses for a surface parking lot. I'm proud to report that an anonymous Brown source came to us and reported this plan, and we broke the story through Twitter, later seeing it covered by The Projo.

I did not stay for the entire meeting. I saw all of the testimony and public comment, and it felt like the vote might have gone either way when I left. Eco RI News was present, and will almost certainly write a better blow-by-blow than I can, so I want to focus on a key argument that came up last night: many present felt that Thayer Street needs more parking.

Thayer Street does not need more parking. And that needs to be said, because even many of the people who don't want surface parking still seem to think the solution is a garage.

Really enjoyable cities are keeping their parking from growing:

Zurich is, by the way, a little bigger (390,000), and a little denser (11k per square mile, to our 9k per square mile) than Providence, but in the same ballpark. And, of course, we'd be a little bigger and a little denser if we didn't knock down housing for parking. They've had this policy since the 1990s.

Really enjoyable cities don't put parking meters in a few places, but charge demand-based parking for all the on-street parking (that is, the on-street parking that is left after they've implemented what Zurich does):

Providence has only implemented paid parking in a fits-and-starts kind of way.

Really great cities recognize their pedestrians. Did you know that Providence is in the top ten for the number of people who walk to work? This is what Thayer Street looked like closed to cars:

And here's what Thayer Street looked like when there was a legal ban on travel even during a blizzard (some businesses were open--I actually walked to get myself some pizza on Thayer):

Really enjoyable cities (though, in this case, the state is at fault) don't subsidize parking garages to the tune of tens of millions of dollars at a time when unemployment is high and school buildings are falling apart. They find better things to do with their money:

Really enjoyable cities encourage housing development to keep housing prices affordable, and to bring more customers within walking distance of shops. They charge a land tax or parking tax so that they can lower property taxes on buildings. See Pittsburgh (top) which has a 40% parking tax, and Detroit (middle) which has filled its downtown with parking. And then there's Providence (bottom):

Providence is like a corpulent man who wants to lose weight, but won't take any steps to do so. He's sitting next to a box of cookies called parking, and he keeps saying to himself "Maybe I'll increase transit frequencies. . . ". 

"Nah, I'll have another cookie!"

"Maybe I'll add protected bike lanes since all those bike racks on Brown and RISD's campus are already full. . . "

"Nah, I'll have another cookie!"

"Maybe I'll implement a tax system that rewards home owners, renters, and business owners, and gradually makes parking lots more unwieldy to own. . . "


"My left arm feels numb. . . " 

Thayer does not need more parking. What Thayer needs is a city with some self control.


Important Meeting Today (Monday) About the Fogarty Building

What's the Fogarty Building, you say? It's this gem of a building on Fountain Street (sarcasm).

There's a proposal to tear this building down and build a hotel. A lot of this has been covered already at Greater City Providence. This hotel could look like this:

To be totally honest with you, I think this looks really ugly, and I'm not looking forward to this building. But that's not really my issue, here.

A bigger issue that exists is that the Procaccianti Group, which is behind this plan, has a fabled history of knocking buildings down, supposedly for new development, and then not building the new development. Instead what we get is surface parking lots.

Why Join Forces with UNITE-HERE?
Our friends at UNITE-HERE 217 are concerned about this. I think we should cut past the bullshit and be direct: UNITE-HERE is also concerned that Procaccianti runs its hotels in a way that causes high rates of worker injury, and does not generally parlay its high returns into high wages. UNITE-HERE's interest in urban design is probably at least partway about putting pressure on Procaccianti about these goals. That's a conflict of interest that is worth reporting, but in my opinion urbanists should be both pro-development and pro-labor, and I feel no compromise of my ethics to stand with UNITE-HERE (Full disclosure: UNITE-HERE also supports our proposal for a 6/10 Boulevard, which it describes as the best option to get its low income workers into and out of downtown without being dependent on an expensive car). I grew up in a union family, had a history of union activism before I got interested in urban design issues, and I hope people will see this as a logical continuation of my values.

City Council Should Require an NLRB Election
As an aside, I would like a hotel (maybe a nicer looking one, and one, I hope, that doesn't add parking to downtown). I would like to see something built, and I think City Council should make it clear through legislation that any hotel built has to allow an immediate union election, to allow workers the choice of representation if they should want a union (and, for that matter, though UNITE-HERE might not like this, I think options besides UNITE-HERE should be on the table, to give full choice a chance). I think that stance would solve the labor issues upfront. Workers are protected by federal law in their right to choose a union if they wish, but in practice employers use scare tactics and firings to make workers afraid to take that option. City Council should stand by these workers in a way that still allows new development.

This Was a Building, Now It's a Surface Lot

RISD grad David Byrne has the hopeful song Nothing But Flowers about a future society that abandons a paved paradise for one that's more beautiful and human. Procaccianti has done the opposite. It has bought many a building--some of them ugly like Fogarty, but some of them quite handsome and functional--and knocked them down, supposedly for new development. Then, after the buildings have been knocked to the ground, what does Providence actually get? Parking lots!

Fool me once, shame on you:

Fool me twice, shame on me:

But fool me three times?

What We Should Do
Today, the Design Review Committee will decide if Procaccianti can demolish Fogarty. We should have no attachment to the Fogarty Building, but we should require that a demolition come with added requirements:

Providence City Government should require Procaccianti to address the two parking lots it already owns and operates (on the former Safety Complex, and at the former Gulf Station). Procaccianti should be required to make temporary green spaces on these sites before allowing the group to develop anything in the city. The group lied to city officials twice about its intentions, and now it is land-banking parcels that used to be city landmarks, until such time as it can get a big win and develop exactly what it wants. It is, in the meantime, adding to our surface parking crisis.

The Providence City Government should require that the new hotel come with a bond for any future upkeep of the site as a green space should it fail to become a hotel. This is not an unfair request: Salt Lake City requires this of any building torn down for new development. Consider it a deposit, and one that is obviously returned to the developer if it keeps its promise to build a building.

If Procaccianti develops a hotel, it should be with the requirement of a union election, with a range of choices for representation that workers can choose from, or reject outright, to satisfy the rights granted under the NLRA.

If Procaccianti knocks down a building and puts a surface lot in its place, it should be taxed at the full rate that the highest development of that land would be taxed. Developers should not be rewarded for land-banking through surface parking lots. Providence should likewise work as cooperatively as possible with developers like Procaccianti for actual development.

Providence should pass a parking lot tax, like Pittsburgh's, and should guarantee within the same legislation that 100% of proceeds from such a tax should go to lowering property taxes on adjacent properties. The city suffers from high taxes and a climate that makes development difficult, but it also fails to tax surface lots enough, and it has a serious issue in providing for needed services like public schooling. A parking lot tax with a full dividend is the way out of this mess.

Make sure you participate in the Meeting Today: 444 Westminster Street, 4:45 PM. Of course, as per usual, city meetings are set to such convenient times! So, if you cannot participate in the meeting directly, please email me with a statement at transportprovidence@gmail.com. I will be more than happy to forward your statement to the commission, and to UNITE-HERE.


Katz Got Your Tongue on Parking

Greater City Providence's "Parking Crisis Illustrated". Downtown Providence
Justin Katz wrote a piece questioning the need for parking meters. I responded on Twitter:

.@JustinKatzRI This is what PVD is implementing. https://t.co/6Q9NPdcXd5 It's a good idea.

— James @transportpvd (@TransportPVD) December 29, 2015

@TransportPVD When did it become the point of government to make a profit?

— Justin Katz (@JustinKatzRI) December 29, 2015

The conversation continued for a tweet or two more, and then there was what I perceived to be radio silence.

It came to my attention today that Katz actually wrote a response essay on his website, and so mixed amidst whatever else might be true, it's worth giving him a hat-tip for his earnest reply. Whatever else I might disagree with Katz on--and I disagree with him a lot--I've made it a goal to try my best to see people who disagree with me as in earnest unless evidence presents itself otherwise. And for that matter, not just in earnest, but at least occasionally able to teach us something. Everyone has some idea to commit to the conversation.

Katz brings up a lot of genuinely important questions about good governance. Government can use fines on parking to play "gotchya", so we should watch out for that. But I think Katz's essay misses the point in that he's harpooning Providence city government for implementing a parking plan that should help decrease the problems he's concerned with.

Gotchya Government
Katz's essay is relatively nuanced, but I think still wrong. The core argument is that demand-management of parking* can't work because it sets up government as the agency to carry it out. Government, Katz says, is in it for the immediate gain, and won't carry out parking management fairly:
As a first and overriding purpose, why does a city charge for parking? Whatever the answer may once have been, it certainly seems as if it has become the raising revenue, and that may be an inevitable problem. If that’s the purpose, then the incentive can become to produce fines, not regular fees, because they are each so much more valuable.
The idea that government might avoid an ideal management of a problem in order to collect on fines is not a totally out-of-hand suggestion. Strong Towns, the libertarian-leaning blog which I--Bernie Sanders pin and all--enjoy reading for its grasp of municipal finance, made this about speeding:

In several articles on the matter, Chuck Marohn has pointed out that many of our municipal streets are designed for speed (wide lanes, etc.) and that the most efficient way to fix that problem would be to fix the design. The classic image of the driver who is caught, "gotchya" style, by a shady policeman hanging out in a dark corner on the side of a fast-moving speed-trap is  at least partly true. If we designed our streets to function at the speeds we want them at, then only a small percentage of deviant drivers would go outside the norms, and would get a ticket (proof is in the pudding: engineers build streets wider to allow for error, then measure speeds. If drivers go over the expected speed, instead of changing the design, engineers use the bell curve of actual speeds to justify a higher speed limit). When we design streets for higher speeds, but control speeds through ticketing, government is truly using the ticket more as a revenue scheme than for behavior modification. Really extreme instances of this phenomenon have happened in places like Ferguson, MO. Governments are capable of abusing fines for speeding, parking, or virtually any offense. This is a valid and worthy observation, but not a trump card against any and all other policy options that might exist. For good parking management in action, you could look to many cities that have adopted Shoup's policies (see, for instance, Pasadena, California).

The best modern demand-responsive parking systems have the kind of parking meters Katz was complaining about to begin with. See this video, with former DC and Chicago transportation planner Gabe Klein, from Streetfilms:

Here, you can see that one of the advantages of the new systems over the older ones is that they try to optimize the drivers' ability to be informed about when his or her meter is about to expire, and re-up remotely to avoid fines. This is fundamentally about removing an information asymmetry (I know something, you don't, I benefit unfairly) from the parking market. So government should be much less able to abuse parking fines as a gotchya with the new meters, and much better able to use the basic fees to actually manage parking supply.

The Means of Production (Um, Parking). Rise, Proletarians!

This passage really struck me from Katz's essay:
For instance, parking is a disadvantage that stores and other businesses located in cities have against those in the suburbs.  One could say that the city government has to manage the parking as a means of assisting the local economy for the good of all, thus providing the rationale for government ownership of the means of parking, but this is simply a subsidy to the businesses.  If it’s advisable, it isn’t clear why shoppers should bear the brunt of the cost. Additionally, government introduces new problems.  If parking becomes a fine trap, that amplifies the incentive to stay away, not merely for the cost, but also for the sense of injustice. (my emphases)
Government already owns the means of parking--it's the street! The distinction is not between having on-street parking being owned by the government or not, but between having government own the parking and give it away for free, or having government charge a market-based price for it.

Having demand-management of parking isn't a subsidy to business, and nor is having free parking a subsidy of business per se. Free parking subsidizes parking one's car and all other beneficiaries are incidental. The Providence city government, in its infinite wisdom, continues to give away "free" parking at holiday time, on the basis that that will encourage customers to its downtown. For certain, drivers hate paying for parking, and so there's a logic to this, but the downside is that parking becomes harder to find, as turnover becomes less effective. Government also then tries to manage parking through additional stilted layers of rules, like time limits. Instead of creating a marketplace, this creates bureaucracy. It causes problems with dealing with food trucks, and it punishes people who might walk, bike, or bus their way to buy something. And, in the end, the parking still ain't free: the government is choosing to raise local property or business taxes in order to cover the buffet-style provision of parking spaces, instead of having people pay a la carte each time they use it.

The Trojan Horse
To Katz's credit, I haven't seen him throw this argument, but I have heard it elsewhere, and so I want to address it: If Donald Shoup's ideas are so damned market-based, why do you liberals like them so much?

My response to that pointed question is this: I want government to interfere in the market when there's a public need at stake. I want good public services. I want a cushion or safety net. I want government to regulate externalities in the economy, like pollution, to make sure that the environment is sustained. But in order for government to succeed at those goals, it also has to be a slim fighting machine. It needs to employ the smarts of the market in every possible case where that works, because markets are very efficient at a lot of things. 

The Shoup method of dealing with parking uses markets to create an optimum for parking usage. That optimum helps our city to be leaner, helps our businesses to succeed, and ultimately means that when we have an actual public need to provide for, we'll probably be able to afford it. It's the conservative motto of thrift in action, though admittedly with the caveat that what I'd like to buy is a social-democracy. But you can support parking reform, and have what you'd like to "buy" be lower taxes. That's the point: making government leaner in one place just frees us up to have debates about the things that matter in other parts of our society. Let's put our heads together, left and right, and solve the parking crisis.

*Forget what "demand-management of parking" is (kind of wonky, can't blame you)? Here are the basics (or watch the video, complete with matchbox cars!):

Stop requiring parking lots or garages through zoning (so, zoning deregulation).
Stop putting government money into parking garages (a la Garrahy Garage).
Place a price (as low as zero, but as high as necessary) so that parking availability balances out at one or two spaces per block. More spaces than that, and your price is too high (no one wants to park). Fewer spaces than that, and your price is too low (you're not getting turnover).
Turn over the money from parking meters to communities, at a neighborhood level, to fund services or to lower taxes.

Demand-based parking could be managed by a municipality--and in conservative style, the more local that management, the better. But it could also, in theory at least, be managed by a private entity. I personally favor the former, but either can work.

Check out The High Cost of Free Parking by Donald Shoup for more. The full book is a tome even in paperback, but is witty and funny, and easy to read. The first chapter is available online for free, right here, and summarizes things pretty well.

Philly to Redefine Its Relationship to I-95

UPDATE: Bribing people with music was such a successful idea that I decided to double down on the strategy. Below are even more Philly-based artists that I've queued up to express my joyous paroxysm of Philly pride at the news that I-95 might get a different treatment. Keep reading for more!

It's nice to belong to a city that "loves you back." 

(Let's twist again, like we did before a highway took away our 'wooderfront')

If you asked me to remove the highway, I would, sings Patti LaBelle.

The Philadelphia Orchestra recording Fantasia: The 1950s and 60s "sorcerers" of urban design didn't know what the effect or urban highways would be, did they (Disney only allows this to be viewed from their website)?

Oh man, I did not know that the Soul Survivors were a Philly group. This takes the cake for symbolic "remove 95" songs. Much too crowded!

Oops, Pittsburgh snuck in there somehow. 

I owe my Delco mom a hat-tip for bringing several (video, CBS) news (video, NBC) reports to my attention on just-recently-Fmr. Mayor Nutter's proposed burying of I-95 from Chestnut to Walnut Streets near Penn's Landing. Although Philadelphia is actually on the top ten list of fewest highways per capita for American cities (Providence is the only East Coast city to be on the top ten for most urban highway lane-miles per capita), Philly's relationship to its waterfront (or 'wooderfront', if you will) has been shattered significantly by I-95. It's a problem in Center City, where Olde City is blocked from the Delaware River, but it's an even worse problem in South Philly and Northeast Philly.

Is burying the right solution? I'm not so sure, but I do want to say how happy I feel about the notion of direct access to the Delaware. I figure I'm about to make some wonky, boring points that no one really wants to read, right? So the least I can do is provide a fun soundtrack for those thoughts. I prepared a montage, because words don't get to what I want to say:


Awww, sheee-ut. Dat's ma' JAWN.

Sing it, Mayor Nutter, sing it!

An "'Ill" State of Mind.

Philly rules! (Sorry New England--Also, yeah Upper Darby!).

Could dreams really come true?

A love supreme.

Your loss, Curtis School, but I'm throwing down with some Nina.

You make-a my dreams come true! (Geow Als!)

Let's get back to our Roots! And John Legend went to Penn!

And we'll round it out with a bit more Rocky Balboa.

Okay, so wonky thoughts:

Anything that restores access to the river is great. You can see my musical choices reflect that. But. . . and as any New Englander can tell you. . . burying highways is an expensive way to do that (Um, Big Dig?). The portion of the highway we're talking about burying in Philly is a lot smaller than the Big Dig, so it's probably not going to come to that kind of cost. Nonetheless, why not consider something better?

Why not remove I-95?

Not all of I-95. Just the part on the river. Here's my plan:
I-95 comes into Chester, PA, and if you want to continue on you can either take the Blue Route, which would then be redesignated as I-95, or you could continue through Southeast Delco to the Walt Whitman Bridge, to go to Joysy. A lot of Philadelphians don't know this, but there is no I-95 in New Jersey (I mean, who goes to Jersey, except to geow down da shore?). Princeton, New Jersey stood out as one place (Boston's Jamaica Plain being another) that fought back plans to put I-95 in. And who can argue with the idea that Princeton and Jamaica Plain are lovely beyond all belief? It's sort of weird to have a highway come through the densest part of an urban area, where few people drive, and where a lot of private investment along the river could make things so much nicer. (Noyce!)
The Jamaica Plain Historical Society remembers fighting I-95.
Nonetheless, there is a need for a highway of some kind. Having I-95 as its currently configured from Chester to the Walt Whitman Bridge would allow access to the city, but reorient travel within the city to transit and local roads. On the other branch, the I-476/Blue Route connection would carry non-Philly traffic from Delaware up to the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which then goes onward wherever one might want to go in the Northeast.

Think of the opportunities, Philly! And think of the chance to open up your waterfront for real! Think of the added housing! Think of the opportunity to set aside land to deal with potential flooding from climate change! Think about the park space! Think about the money saved not burying a highway! And, for all that, you'd still have what you need from a highway system, which is connections to the city for deliveries, and for people coming to the city as visitors. This is the right thing to do!

If you live in Philadelphia, tell newly-elected Mayor Jim Kenney that he's gotta' check this out. If Providence can consider making a highway into a boulevard, then Philadelphia can be more ambitious too. I owe it to my home city to push it to go the distance.


Elastic with the Facts

Rubber bands--also called "elastics" in New England.
Elasticity is an important concept in economics, and one that is often ignored in political conversations. It's not ignored by one side or the other. Both liberal and conservative thinkers can overlook elasticity, when it's in their interests to do so.

Elasticity means that the price of something--expressed through supply, demand, or both--is not static. If you think about it, this follows common sense, and also can be shown empirically in a lot of instances in our lives.

The reason elasticity is central is that it helps us to make sense of how costs are passed through a chain of economic actors. To not have elasticity would make both liberals and conservatives equally wrong, because one person's tax-and-spend would be another person's Reaganomics. Anything could be excused in economics, because the basic truth that spending somewhere doesn't go away would cover all bases. To put it another way, if there was no elasticity, why fight for lower taxes for the rich? Why fight for better public services for the poor? All spending would just go around and around. 

Economics is a flat circle, man. It doesn't matter if you're a Republican or a Democrat, man. (Or not. . .)

In actual practice, spending does go around and around, but depending upon who has more bargaining power, the effect of any given policy may be better for one actor than another. This isn't a liberal point, or a conservative point, as I said. It's just a reality. Sometimes this reality might actually undermine something I like. Sometimes not.

Why is it false--liar, liar, pants on fire false--to say that tolls on trucks will ultimately be passed onto consumers?

1. The anti-toll forces are ignoring a counterfactual. The money expected to be used from general funds to fix bridges and roads is still money that you, the taxpayer, pay. It's "existing money". But the argument being made by the GOP is that the programs being cut are wasteful. As a taxpayer, do you wish for waste to go into another hole, and pay for another thing? Or do you want a tax cut? I'd choose the latter.

2. Getting back to elasticity: the way that people use a resources changes based on its price. Let me give you three examples: 

a. I give you all the ham-and-cheese sandwiches you ever wanted. Unlimited.
b. I give you $500 a month, and you may buy whatever food you wish.
c. I give you $500 a month, and you may buy anything you wish--anything, not just food.
d. I give you nothing. Use your own damn money and buy things.

Do you think your spending habits would vary across this spectrum? They would, of course. In the first case, you'd find a great desire for ham and cheese. In the second, you might vary your food choices, but still buy the maximum food that $500 would allow. In the third, you'd buy food, but maybe other goods, or maybe even save your money. In the fourth, you might not buy anything, or you might work really hard to get your own money.

Trucking is subsidized heavily. I don't say this because truckers are bad. I don't say this because trucking should disappear. Trucking is a useful industry. But because we underprice the damage that trucks do to roads, we make trucking more competitive than other freight services. We also make it so that other road users pay in their stead (that is, the price of the road damage doesn't just go away--you pay it instead of a trucker paying it). Furthermore, truck or car, users of roads only pay about 50% of end costs for infrastructure. That's not fancy liberal math. I'm not including asthma, or climate change, or habitats for city pigeons. I'm counting asphalt, concrete, engineering. You the driver do not pay the full cost of driving.

Now, we get into the heat of things. There's two separate claims made about tolls:

1. Ew. You're trying to attack driving. First trucks, then cars. Ew. Ew. EW! War on cars, war on cars! 

Well, no. Driving is fine. But did you ever stop and think that maybe being caught in traffic, or having your job move farther and farther away from your house, might have something to do with the large scale subsidy to driving? And, on top of that, let's agree: drivers and truckers alike may feel strapped, but that's in large part because we put more money to road expansion than road maintenance. We also put a lot of money into things like the 6/10 Connector, that cost a lot but give us little utility. So all of the above may be true: drivers may have a reason to be frustrated, government may be too large, and driving may be subsidized.

2. The price of my consumer goods are going to go up.

Let's examine this. Yes, when you tax a particular item (and a toll is a type of tax, though it's a tax on use of a commodity, which anyone ought to agree is fair) it's possible for the taxed party to pass that cost. If I am a trucker, and the market allows me, I am going to pass costs to customers. If the market allows me. Truckers have to compete with other truckers, and also with boat freight and rail freight. Did you know that a single track of rail can carry a hundred times as much capacity as a single lane of highway, but only costs a bit more than the lane of highway? Did you know that containerization has made boat shipments much more cost-effective on the labor side, and that boats are some of the most fuel efficient ways of getting things to market? Did you know that Providence is very rail connected and has a huge port? If I were a truck driver, I would want to consider these.

And again, the counterfactual. If your general taxes are paying for roads, where do you suppose that money comes from? The tax fairy? You paid that money. So you may be much more aware of the taxation that happens to you when you pass through a toll gantry, but the taxation is already occurring.

Don't be fooled by an industry group. They want to teat of government to keep flowing. They want you to pay. They're full of shit. Call your representative and state senator and tell them so.