Strong Towns member and friend, Jesse Bailey, wrote this piece last year on his blog, Walkable West Palm Beach, after hearing about a city-sponsored transportation event that offered free parking to attendees, and made no mention of any other transportation modes. After posting the piece on his blog, the city actually responded by changing the event webpage to include information about other transportation options. We're sharing the original post and the follow up today.
The City of Fort Lauderdale recently announced the 2015 Transportation Summit, and it sounds like a very worthwhile event with a great lineup of speakers. Here’s the event description:
Wednesday, May 20, 2015 | 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Broward Center for the Performing Arts | Huizenga Pavilion
201 SW 5th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale 33312
The StreetSmarts 2015 Transportation Summit is a regional event focused
on creating safe, livable, connected, sustainable streets for people of all
ages and abilities. Join us and collaborate with elected officials, regional
experts, and industry leaders to exchange best practices, share innovative
ideas, and achieve our common vision of transforming Fort Lauderdale
into the city you never want to leave.
Looking on the City website, though, I was disappointed to see the lack of consideration given to other modes of transportation to the conference. It’s a Transportation Summit, after all, not a Driving Summit. Free parking is included with every attendee registration. There is also a nice link on the website to “Parking” but nothing about alternate modes such as Tri-Rail.
You might be thinking this post is much ado about nothing. “Big deal; this is South Florida! Everyone drives everywhere here!”
And that’s exactly the point. We are so dependent on our cars to get around in South Florida that even an event called “Transportation Summit” presumes that all attendees will arrive in an automobile. And we make arriving in a car the obvious, rational choice because it’s free! Sounds like the first item on the agenda of this meeting should be to have all attendees review Professor Shoup’s book, The High Cost of Free Parking.
Now suppose someone overcame the subsidized free parking arrangement and wanted to take Tri-Rail to the meeting, at their own expense, even though free parking is included in their registration. It’s doable. The Broward Center is only 1.8 miles away from the nearest Tri-Rail station, and there are a few decent bus options (#22, 60, 81 on Google Maps). Unfortunately and inexplicably, Broward B-Cycle does not have a bikeshare station at one of the most heavily trafficked Tri-Rail stations. From downtown West Palm Beach, I absolutely loathe driving south and this would be an easy choice for Tri-Rail, even if it meant getting an Uber for the last 1.8 mile of the journey rather than the bus.
Google Maps calculates the total trip, one way, at a little over $7 if the bus is used. So you’re looking at a total cost in the range of $15 – 25 depending on whether you take Uber or a bus for the final 1.8 miles. Driving costs $51 using the IRS cost to operate a vehicle for 2015 (gas + wear and tear on a car) which the IRS estimates at 57.5 cents per mile.. Let’s be conservative and assume a more efficient car is driven; the cost is likely to be in the $35 range. On top of that, you must pay for parking. Easy win for Tri-Rail.
Unless, of course, parking has been paid for you. Then it makes you that much more likely to choose to drive instead of take transit.
For all the talk of safety and getting people out of their cars, we are still operating under the assumption that everyone will drive, and this mentality leads to disconnects in our policy such as this. If you’re like most municipal employees commuting into the city, getting free parking at a taxpayer funded municipal parking structure, you’re likely to assume everyone else does the same. And if you are tasked with setting up a Transportation Summit, that means Driving Summit. If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
This issue may sound trivial, but it’s indicative of a broader driver entitlement culture that needs to change.
So what’s the answer?
We can start to change at the government level through leading by example. Get out of your car and actually experience transit for yourself so you can understand it. The MPO is to be commended for having board members actually ride transit throughout the County last year:
The answer is not to expand subsidies to transit and car parking, because it would have the perverse effect of penalizing the person who bikes or walks to the final destination. The simplest and best policy shift is to remove parking and transportation subsidies altogether from events such as this, and more broadly, to decouple transportation subsidies from employment and living arrangements.
The sooner it happens, the quicker we can realize safer streets and more livable communities for all.
After Jesse shared this post on Walkable West Palm Beach, the meeting organizers noticed the critique and the actually added a section to the transportation instructions about "Alternate Options":
Still, free parking is included and no benefits are offered for other modes. Our city governments have a long way to go before they are truly promoting equal access to transportation modes.
(Top photo from StockMonkeys.com)
About the Author
Jesse Bailey is a founding member of Strong Towns and a dedicated volunteer with the organization. He lives in West Palm Beach, FL where he works as an analyst for Greystar Real Estate Partners and writes his blog, Walkable West Palm Beach.