To the editor:
I was stunned when I saw the debate about bicycles in socially progressive Old Town. Let me get to the point: Cars — and the failed city parking policies — are the problem, not bicycles.
Free parking attracts visiting cars, and these drivers have a habit of going through stop signs without stopping and cruising for parking spaces when they should be looking where they’re going. Case in point: A car hit my wife one evening while she was crossing Fairfax Street in the crosswalk next to City Hall. The culprit was a driver who was looking for parking instead of looking at the crosswalk. Fortunately, it was a low-speed collision that knocked her and her groceries onto the pavement, there seem to be no long-term injuries.
Our family has had many close calls while walking our kids to school or other places. We have had close encounters with cars while in the crosswalk or just seeing cars — including police cruisers — go by stop signs without stopping.
Given that a car is 2,000 to 4,000 pounds and able to travel quite fast in Old Town — up to 40 mph in a block — and a bike with a rider is about 200 pounds and travels around 6 to 12 mph, it takes very little thought to conclude which presents more of a safety problem running stop signs.
Cars are a threat to our health, safety and welfare. They produce: toxins; traffic congestion; injuries and deaths; stress for pedestrians and cyclists; social isolation (people are not socially negotiable while driving); expensive and unattractive infrastructure; increased cost of living (owning/leasing cars, gas, insurance, parking, maintenance, etc.); loss of time commuting; and they use up energy in a pedestrian-friendly environment.
We live where one can — and should — walk or ride a bike to shops, workplaces, community facilities and transit. For example, because it’s a long walk, I occasionally ride my bike to get groceries for my family at Whole Foods and my kids ride their bikes to school fairly often.
Old Town should be managing cars, not bicycles, and should be charging visitors — not residents — for street parking at a rate greater than the garages. If this is done, people will tend to park in the garages and not cruise for parking, thus creating congestion and pedestrian conflicts.
Parking, like roadway capacity, is what economists refer to as a free good. Most people who use it do not pay its full cost. As a result, it’s overused and subject to shortages. When parking is provided — especially on the street — it should vary in price according to demand. Accurately monitored valuation will ensure that a number of spaces are always available.
Donald Shoup, writing in his book, “The High Cost of Free Parking,” recommends that “pricing be managed by centralized meters to maintain 15-percent vacancy at all times. But above all, municipalities must acknowledge that investments in parking often undermine investments in transit.”
– Chris Hubbard