Privatize This!

It’s ironic that motorists so often call up the tired old “tax and spend” argument against the installation of cycling and walking facilities as the US struggles to crawl into the future, well behind every other wealthy country. In fact, the current crop of Republicans (people whom Lincoln, Eisenhower, or even Reagan would hardly recognize as their own) nearly succeeded in diverting all of the pittance currently devoted to non-motorized transport over to yet more highways.

Yet cycling in particular is the most efficient of all transport modes: not just because it uses less energy per passenger-mile than even walking does, but because it takes up so little space, and requires so little capital investment in general, that providing for mobility through cycling is the cheapest of all the ways you can spend tax money on transport. Drivers, on the other hand, never pay their own way. And cyclists, it turns out, spend more in stores, in aggregate, in proportion to the space allocated them for parking, than do motorists. And they tend to patronize local businesses, so that money keeps circulating in the community, building prosperity close to home.

But dare to propose, say, a road diet that would take away subsidized free parking for a pair of bike lanes, and you’ll hear these alleged fiscal conservatives howl! Oooo, they do like their socialism then, don’t they? Considering that a curbside parking spot costs at least four grand to build, and that offstreet spaces can run up to eighty thousand bucks in a parking structure—just to let some tax freeloader plant his SUV for an hour while he chugs down his burger and fries?

That bike lane could bring a lot more customers to those shops, it turns out, than you can fit into the same space when they drive in by horseless carriage—even if they’re hybrids, which still use space inefficiently.

Parking lot in downtown Los AngelesFurthermore, most business districts are oversupplied with parking, in off-street lots and parking structures. Look at the accompanying photo of some of the most expensive real estate in LA, right in the heart of downtown, used for cheap car storage.

Even these offstreet lots and structures are anti-conservative, since they are imposed by government zoning codes and take up huge amounts of precious land area, thereby preventing businesses from establishing themselves in those spaces as they would in a car-lite world! In con-speak, these codes represent a bureaucratic intrusion that distorts the transportation market—which would otherwise favor cycling, walking, and transit—and it inhibits development, as Pigeon Master Josef eloquently explained in a Los Angeles Business Journal article recently.

So really: why the automatic fuss over the loss of a few curbside parking spots, when there’s almost always ample off-street parking? Is it because those poor petrolistas would actually have to pay market rates to store their motorized baby carriages if you took away their asphalt handouts? So:

I challenge all those self-proclaimed fiscal prudes to put their money where their mouth is: When a city proposes removing curbside parking to make room for bike lanes, you ought to be jumping up and down and cheering!

Because it’s the most fiscally responsible, pro-business, tax-gentle intervention your local government can possibly make in the transportation matrix.

To oppose bicycle infrastructure is to be a traitor to your own principles. Privatize parking, and keep the roads free for efficient travel modes that don’t suck up tax dollars the way driving does.

See what happened to Groningen’s economy when that city removed an entire freeway and prioritized cycling, walking, and transit over cars. It’s surprising only if you favor ideological clichés over thinking. Yes, it’s Holland, but so-called “businessmen” opposed the plan there too…at first. Just as they do here, as reflexively as you blink at a sudden bright light.

But that sudden bright light is the coming of the Bicycle Millennium. Why don’t we all, both left and right, just dare to make sense for once?

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