Discussion on the “Yes on A, No on H” campaign for Transit, not Traffic, continues around the Internet, and so I’ll continue to post links to some of these sites, for interested readers who might not have run into them:
- The Bikescape blog has a posted a podcast about the Transit, Not Traffic campaign, featuring Dave Snyder (of SPUR and Livable City), Susan King of the Green Party, and Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi. The podcast is listed under the October 21, 2007 post.
- John Diaz has an article in the Chronicle describing Prop H as “the most dangerous measure” on the ballot this November. This article also describes the recent scandal in which Prop H supporters mailed out brochures, thus breaching their compromise with Peskin to not advertise against Prop A in favor of Prop H.
A reader comment written in response to the Diaz piece is a reminder of how much work we still need to do (even in “transit-first” San Francisco) to bring about a paradigm shift away from cars and towards public transit. The comment, written by SFgate user “gcotter”, reads:
People MUST have parking where they live. This is not optional. Unless they can park their car safely at home they will not be able to leave their car at home and take public transit to work. People have the right to own and park their own cars at home. We can make public transit a more attractive option through pricing but we shouldn’t think that limiting parking will limit car ownership. […] We CAN have both Cars and Transit if we’re smart about it!
People must have parking? Parking is not optional? Has this poster even been to San Francisco? If so, s/he cannot have helped but to notice hundreds of apartment buildings downtown and beyond that do not contain a shred of off-street parking. Clearly, the over 70% of downtown residents who do not own a car have no problem with a lack of parking. The commenter also remarks “we shouldn’t think that limiting parking will limit car ownership.” Sorry: not only should we be thinking this, but in some sense, this is the whole point. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the easier we make the whole process of driving and parking, the more people will be enticed to drive instead of take transit. Make it more difficult to drive — for instance, by not providing easy and immediately accessible parking in every building — and transit will be the more enticing option. Some people do legitimately need to drive, but many people who could be taking transit choose not to. The goal here is to chip away at this latter group of people and convert them into transit riders. The attitude that a car is somehow a given is exactly the attitude we must strive to correct.
In remarking that “we CAN have both Cars and Transit if we’re smart about it!”, the poster fails to realize that it is contradictory to propose transit improvements while simultaneously building huge parking garages. The garages will facilitate easier parking, thus encouraging more people to drive at the expense of transit, and the additional cars on the road will further degrade transit reliability. Not only that, but the influx of new parking downtown will induce a greater demand for that parking. Some years down the road, there will be another parking crunch, but by then, there will be many more cars on the road than we have now, competing for a much larger supply of parking. Our street network will not be able to support this ever-increasing flow of cars. To prevent this future from coming to pass, we must take action now.
Perhaps the most disheartening line of all is:
People have the right to own and park their own cars at home.
This attitude is prevalent all over the United States but is downright laughable in other countries. The U.S. has subsidized driving and parking to the point that drivers do not even realize that there are serious societal costs associated with their lifestyle choice. Many view driving and parking as a fundamental right and become hostile if they sense infringement on that “right.” This position ignores the pollution and degradation of quality of life brought about by urban traffic congestion, but these undesirables are infringed upon everyone — even those of us who do not drive. In addition, parking lots and garages exist solely for the purpose of storing cars, and thus occupy valuable space that would be better returned to the wholly public realm. For these reasons, driving and having one’s own guaranteed place to park at home should never be considered a “right.”
I would like to believe that this election, progressive San Francisco would blow Prop H clear out of the water, but comments in the vein of the reader comment above indicate how much work we still have to do. When it comes to caring for the environment and taking pride in one’s community, San Franciscans are more than happy to talk the talk, but are they also willing to walk the walk?
I have to say I strike a somewhat middle ground here – I don’t think the purpose of transit should be to chip away at people who could be using public transit but choose not to (Rather it should be to provide an easy and efficent way to get around a metropolitan area). What I do object to is requiring that parking be included with housing and the mentality that a car is a neccesity. You should be able to choose if you want a car, and all the expenses that come with it, or not. If you decide to own a car that will incur extra costs, but you’ve decided to pay them. Requiring parking to be bundled with housing means that either you’re forced to incur a cost you didn’t want to (i.e. paying for a spot – and sure you can’t rent it out, but why should you have to do all that management/extra leg work?) or you just park a car there and rarely use it, which is actually even worse for serious car owners. Now these car users will find former street parking occupied by cars parked in spots by people who barely ever drive those cars.
Actually, maybe this will help MUNI in the end as no one will want to drive around SF since street parking will be even worse…thereby making them use MUNI to get around while parked cars rot in the street.
It’s not that the purpose of transit is to “chip away” at the car-driving population (I don’t think I said that anywhere); the big point is that as the city and regional populations increase, growth patterns should be orchestrated so that they are essentially creating a transit-riding population, rather than a car-driving population — which means building housing that discourages car use/ownership when the resident doesn’t truly need a car — i.e. with easy transit access, and no 1:1 parking. Prop H, however, advocates a style of growth that will have adverse effects on the city and the region, and the pattern it perpetuates is not sustainable. People can choose to have a vehicle and bear the extra cost burdens associated with the purchase, use, and upkeep of that vehicle — but we should not be gearing future development to serve car drivers, as Prop H would instruct us to do.
I realize that this post comes off as staunchly anti-car, but part of the reason for that is because transit share around here is still too low. Driving is still the Bay Area’s default mentality. I’m advocating an “extreme” position knowing that we’ll likely get something in the middle. The key here is to redress the balance between transit and car shares. Part of the strategy needs to be “affirmative”, in the sense that people are encouraged to switch to transit because they see improvements in reliability, travel time, and comfort. But, as a dose of realism, another part of the strategy needs to be “negative” in the sense that driving is made less desirable. The two should be used in combination. We’re not going to get rid of all cars, but we can and should shift the balance.
That’s fine, but we have to be careful with the negative. Think about the extremes of the situation – making driving undesirable without increasing the quality and ability of MUNI (or equivalent transit agency) makes life miserable for everyone – including those who were happily riding MUNI before. I think we have to improve Bay Area public transit significantly before we can say that the main reason people aren’t using it is the car-first mentality. All I’m saying is that if you want to use both affirmative and negative strategies I think there needs to be a sequential order with the affirmative coming before the negative.
We get into circular reasoning there, though. A big part of the reason why buses are so slow is because key transit corridors are choked with traffic. The “negative” strategy is an important component of the “affirmative” strategy.
There is some threshold of transit improvement that needs to be done before drivers will be won over, but ultimately, I think the two strategies would realistically have to be more or less concurrent. I don’t think, for instance, that we should be enforcing 1:1 parking ratios in housing until Muni gets “good enough.”