Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Transit v. car?

The discussion of parking maximums at Monday's Zoning and Planning committee took a depressing turn.

Planning Director Mike Kruse and several alderman dismissed parking maximums as appropriate only for cities like Cambridge with an existing transit infrastructure. Mr. Kruse's argument, as I understood it: if we can't provide an alternative to cars, we've got to provide sufficient parking for all cars.

Fortunately, Aldermen Marcia Johnson and Vicki Danberg made the point that, regardless of our current transit infrastructure, we've got to cut down on car travel. As Alderman Johnson put it, "We've got to start somewhere."

Let me put it a different way. While we may not have transit infrastructure on Route 9, we definitely do not have the roadway infrastructure to handle unlimited traffic. And, we don't want to increase our roadway capacity because more capacity => more traffic => global problems like climate change and local problems like a serious degradation of our quality of life.

We have to have structural caps on the amount of traffic that a project can generate. The trip-generation maximums are a starting place, but they are only one means. Parking maximums are a good mechanism that also instills in the developer (and ultimately the landlord) a selfish desire need to promote alternative transportation -- by providing shuttles, by working to exploit the existing neighborhood for customers who can walk to shops, by lobbying for more and better mass transit to the location, &c.

To continue the traffic as pollution metaphor, you don't need to wait for a cleaner way to manufacture a product to limit or ban a polluting method. In this case, the product is customers for a commercial complex, and the polluting way of manufacturing them is to bring them by car. We shouldn't wait for the non-polluting method -- mass transit -- to become more widely available to start curtailing the polluting method.

Of course, somebody's going to bring out the stick that if you don't have adequate parking for all possible traffic, the traffic is going to overflow into the neighborhoods. (And, yes, the stick came out last night.) Yes, overflow parking is a problem, but it's a problem you can address. It shouldn't be a reason for abandoning a responsible transportation provision.

Previously: Traffic as pollution

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