Lies, damn lies, statistics, and then studies. Twice in last week’s Daily Planet letters section a deceptive 2002 parking study was cited as proving there is no need for more parking in the downtown area. Why, parking is plentiful, they claim, and an adjacent claim is always on its heels, that parking spaces “cost” $25,000 each, garage parking spaces $50,000 or more.
There would be plenty of parking, they say, if there weren’t so much overtime parking, meaning cars sitting at broken meters which would otherwise be ticketed, or whose meters are being fed by employees parking near their jobs, which is also a ticket offense. If these things weren’t happening, they reason, there would be more parking.
But there’s not. The smart money is on Berkeley residents, who manage to fool or break any new parking machinery that comes their way, because otherwise the parking planners honestly think giving people a meter with only a half an hour of time is fine. The invention of the term overtime parking implies that no one who comes downtown should stay long, perhaps interesting themselves in a new store, or running into a friend for lunch, or seeing a movie. Overtime parking implies that people should get the hell out of the way so that a fresh driver with a fresh load of quarters should have a chance to visit for half an hour.
And, they say, employees shouldn’t drive to work, because if they didn’t there would be more parking.
But employees do drive to work. Even the police and the meter enforcers, who are supposed to ticket meter-feeding employees, are using the neighborhoods around their workplaces to park because they have no parking. Developers and planners applaud themselves for providing less parking than their projects need because they assume people will simply buy a bicycle and sail to work from Oakland, Orinda, and El Cerrito, thanking the parking planners for the opportunity to improve their health and save on gas. Except that they don’t.
Both of these claims assume that the production of more parking tickets would have a positive result, freeing up more parking for happy, satisfied people. Except, of course, those people who got the tickets, who now have quite a different view of the town that only wanted a half an hour of their company and wants them to pay up or come to court, for which they would have to find more parking.
But my favorite deception in the parking “study” is watching the big, bouncing numbers; $25,000, $50,000, representing the “cost” of a parking space. There is no cost, apparently, to a neighborhood that gets a 7:00 am influx of employee cars, or to a business which customers can’t get anywhere near. The real cost of losing real businesses like 49-year strong Tupper and Reed goes way beyond one business, or even the economic health of a downtown. Fewer children get any exposure to certain instruments, fewer children can rent them or play them, and very few parents are going to drive a long way to rent a baritone on the off chance that their child will take to it. It was the loss of parking that finished off Tupper and Reed, unless you want to dismiss the business expertise of 49 years.
You can’t begin to calculate the real cost of consistently discouraging the otherwise willing and interested people of all ages who would love to participate in community events if there were a safe, sane way to get there. Half-empty concert halls and sparsely attended events are an incalculable social loss. Not all of us can ride a bicycle, and those of us who do ought to be honest enough to acknowledge that it is not safe.
Let’s get real about wheels. If you walked up to the average driver and offered to replace their car for free with a no-emission vehicle, they would hand over the keys. If there were a shuttle waiting in front of their house guaranteeing a five-minute ride to work or to the symphony they would be on it. People aren’t driving because they like the idea that the ice is breaking up three weeks earlier in the spring in Manitoba. People, unlike planners, have to be realistic about their options and their lives, or they find themselves stranded across the bridge when Bart shuts down.
It is more than unfashionable to criticize the unrealistic “transit first” policy. My status as a bike commuter won’t save me from being repeatedly run over by the narrow tires of letter writers who insist they can grocery shop for six or attend chemotherapy appointments by bicycle. Just keep in mind that the last time I checked, Berkeley was first in the national sale of hybrids. Some realistic planning, and some realistic alternatives might take us a lot further than deceptive “studies” by development-driver planners admiring the emperor’s new clothes. And a few more kids just might learn to play the trombone.