Storage or transportation?

If I had so many possessions that I couldn't fit them in my house and I wanted to rent a storage container to put in the middle of the street in front of my home blocking traffic, there would be a public outcry, right? My desire to store my stuff shouldn't trump someone's ability to travel on the street in front of my house. People traveling through would say: Why don't you get rid of your possessions if you can't fit them in your house? or, Why don't you buy a bigger house? or, Why don't you store your stuff in a storage locker on the edge of town instead of in the street? This picture of a storage unit blocking traffic seems ludicrous. And yet, the debate about the right to store something in the street (a car) vs. allow someone to travel down the street (someone on a bike) plays out in towns across the country.

Planned layout for Bloomington Ave in Minneapolis

Planned layout for Bloomington Ave in Minneapolis

Our friends at Streets.MN have expertly examined these arguments in a recent article on bike transportation and the high cost of auto-infrastructure that is so assumed and taken for granted in our towns. (Read about their other recent, related article, "Yes, Bicycle Riders Should Pay Their Fair Share.") Adam Miller, a Streets.MN writer, explains the response to a proposed bike lane in Minneapolis (which is happening in conjunction with a routine chip sealing) when neighbors found out it would eliminate a little on-street parking in order to create a safe buffer space for bike riders:

Personally I’m looking forward to using [the bike lanes] to get my daughter to school at Hale Elementary in a few years (among many other uses).

But not everyone is happy and you’ll never guess why (actually, you’ll totally guess why if you ever pay attention to bike issues). [...] That’s right, the evil bikes are out for our parking again.

As Adam explains, "All of the usual anti-bike lane arguments have come up (biking is seasonal, there are other routes, why can’t they take the back streets, nobody bikes there anyway, don’t we have better uses for this money, etc.)" but, while he address these at the end of his article, that's not his focus. Instead, he dives into the concrete numbers that demonstrate whether there's a real demand or need for parking in this area.

His conclusion? There isn't. Not by a long shot. He counted the number of occupied and unoccupied parking spots on the blocks in question at 8am and 5pm on a Friday to get an idea of the typical on-street parking use. He found lots of open spots. And this is in a neighborhood that is mostly residential where alley and garage parking is available on almost every property. So it's not an issue of there being enough parking at all. Adam writes:

Why is providing that free luxury something the city should value?

What we have here is a parking convenience issue. That is, residents living on one side of Bloomington will have to give up their God-given right to park directly in front of their house. It’s an outrage.

Except, of course, that there is no such right. I mean, it’s a nice luxury, but why is providing that free luxury something the city should value? Each of these homes has alley access, and thus the ability to provide for residents’ own, super-convenient off-street parking. Some of them don’t take advantage of that opportunity (although, as these numbers show, not a very large number of them), but that’s not really the city’s problem. 

Don’t get me wrong, I understand why those who will have to park across the street or around the corner aren’t happy. They’re being asked to give up something they were getting for free (in order to use something else that’s slightly less convenient, also for free).

But the rest of the neighborhood is getting something more valuable: a safer street.

"Why is providing that free luxury something the city should value?" is an excellent question indeed. The answer that we come to at Strong Towns is: It's not. Parking spaces don't add value to our towns. In fact, they usually decrease value. Sure, a town with zero parking would probably experience some problems, but we have grossly exceeded the "necessary" amount of parking and oversupplied it to the point of minuscule marginal returns. As Adam Miller points out, "The rest of the neighborhood is getting something more valuable: a safer street."

So why should someone's ability to hyper-conveniently store their vehicle be more important than someone's ability to safely travel to home, work, shopping, school, etc.? Answer: It shouldn't.

Read the rest of the Streets.MN article, then let us know if you've experienced similar debates in your own town.

(All images from Streets.MN)

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