Cheap, Excessive Parking Causes Costly, Congestive Driving

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The bus back from Orono was standing room only Wednesday afternoon, a sure sign that public transportation in the Bangor area is working and ought to be expanded. The route could easily support more frequent buses that run later into the evening.

The bus was full because the University of Maine charges for a limited number of parking spaces. In addition, the University provides free bus transportation for its students, faculty and staff. This makes sense, because not only are parking spaces more expensive than bus passes, but the availability of easy parking actually causes traffic congestion.

One of the pleasures of writing a blog is that readers send you links to interesting items related to your topic. This latest bit comes from my friend Tim Morris, of the University of Texas at Arlington: statistical proof that the widespread availability of cheap or free parking encourages people to drive. According to a comprehensive study by a trio of University Connecticut scholars, as reported by urban planning reporter Eric Jaffe, the link between parking availability and increased traffic is as conclusive as the link between smoking and lung cancer.

Tim is a baseball geek, like me – long before we met through our membership in the Sport Literature Association, he wrote a nice review of my novel, Tartabull’s Throw, which is set during the 1967 baseball season. Baseball geeks like numbers, and the UConn study provides plenty of numbers to show the correlation between parking availability and traffic congestion.

The piece is full of graphs and analyses that may seem esoteric to the general reader, but the mathematical inference is clear. For those fond of statistics and statistical analysis, I’ve provided a link to the entire article.

Tim tells me that Arlington, where the Texas Rangers play their home games, has the distinction of being the largest city in the United States without a bus system. There are bare-bones transportation services for disabled people, and an infrequent bus to the Dallas-Forth Worth airport. But the city has no transit authority and no intracity public lines of any kind – for 380,000 people, more than ten times the population of Bangor.

Not surprisingly, Arlington also has some of the nation’s worst traffic. The simple truth that public transportation benefits everyone seems to have been lost on Texan city planners.

I’ll never run out of things to write about in this blog as long as my faithful readers keep calling my attention to this kind of stuff.

Here’s another piece, from Vancouver writer Chris Bruntlett in HUSH magazine, titled “Driving is the New Smoking,” from 2013. In the article, Bruntlett, only partially tongue-in-cheek, calls for printed warnings on the sides of cars, similar to those on cigarette packages, alerting consumers to the health hazards of driving.

“As with smoking in the late 20th century,” he writes, “our society’s challenge for the early 21st century is to address the cancerous act of driving, and stigmatize it into obscurity.”

Few car owners are aware of the true cost of their driving, and the automobile industry wants to keep it that way. From hidden government subsidies, to all-time low gas taxes, to zoning and parking regulations that favor the car over every other form of transportation, the automobile industry assures itself a continuing stream of customers by creating more car addicts.

But things are, slowly, changing.

“Millennials,” Bruntlett notes, “are already opting out of car ownership in droves, realizing it no longer represents the status and freedom it once did.”

On the same day that I stood on the bus most of the way back to Bangor, an above-the-fold headline on the front page of USA Today shouted a similar message: “No drive to drive: Millennials spurn licenses.”

You can’t get away from the subject. The very next day, a Bangor Daily News editorial admonished downtown business owners and their employees about using parking spaces that might otherwise be available for customers. “The solution to this conundrum is simple,” the unsigned editorial pleaded. “Business owners should leave the prime spots for their customers and ensure their employees do the same.”

Well, a better solution might be to expand bus routes and schedules. If a significant number of those owners and employees can get to and from work without a car, the problem becomes a whole lot less severe. A downtown shuttle, similar to the Black Bear Express in Orono, would alleviate the need for additional parking even more.

Public transportation is the future, and smart cities are investing in it.

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