On Parking and Bikeshare: Not all Republicans Think Alike (if at all)

Tom BowdenTom Bowden is a bike commuter from Richmond VA, a "suit" – a corporate lawyer with an MBA, and a conservative "“ You betcha! He is also a board member of BikeWalk Virginia, a pro cycling and pedestrian group in Virginia that raises raises money to promote cycling, walking and active lifestyles. Tom’s lawyerly blogging can be found at http://vabizlawyers.com/author/tbowden/

The Arlington GOP has boldly taken up the defense of Arlington's precious on-street parking spaces against the relentless onslaught of subsidized (read "socialist") Washington's Capital Bikeshare facilities.

Network blog Wash Cycle is reporting that the Arlington County GOP has taken issue with the expansion plans. The party is concerned about the loss of eight parking spaces, claiming it will "inconvenience" visitors, cost businesses customers, and reduce meter revenues.

Here’s what the Arlington GOP had to say:

[D]espite the County's excessive hype (see press release), usage of subsidized rental bikes remains quite low. Even at peak hours, fewer than 20% of the bikes are rented out; and most of the time, usage is under 10%. (See real-time usage map).

The loss of on-street parking in Rosslyn means additional inconvenience for visitors to stores and attractions. It also hurts Rosslyn shops and restaurants, who depend on available parking to attract customers.

Capitol Bikeshare
Photo: Capitol Bikeshare

Now Arlington's County Board, as it happens, is 100% democratic. So it's no surprise the Arlington GOP is up in arms over the installation of new CaBi bikeshare stations at the expense of eight on-street parking spaces–a staggeringly irresponsible sacrifice for the good motorists of Arlington.

Of course, politics being what they are, they would probably be outraged if the Board organized a Ronald Reagan film festival, or held a Mother's Day parade and handed out free apple pie and American flags.

But to put the enormity of the Board's decision in context, consider that those eight lost slots represent a shocking .015 percent reduction of Arlington's on-street parking spaces and .0052 percent of its total parking spaces (on street and off-street, including parking decks).

That's right: Arlington now has only 99.085 percent of the on-street parking spaces it had before this rash and ill-considered act of liberal fiscal folly.

Pointing to a parking revenue loss they estimate at up to $10K per year (!) –out of a budget approaching $1 Billion–and the already tight parking situation in Arlington (more on that here ), and gravely predicting that some drivers might have to walk as much as an entire block from their parking space to their destination, these self-styled fiscal conservatives staked their case on simple economics and good old common sense. But of course, economics are rarely simple, and common sense is anything but common, or when it is, rarely sensible.

By way of proof, consider this: If the GOP's revenue loss estimate is right, then the city's total parking revenue should be something like $153,000,000 (153,000 spaces X $1000/space/year)! If only that were true "“ they could rename the city Parkington! Parking would be to Arlington as slot machines are to Vegas and Atlantic City. With a population of roughly 200,000, that's about $750 per year for every man woman and child in the city. Applied to the entire nation, that would represent over $225 Billion!

On that basis, if we adopted a national parking policy, we could extend the Bush tax cuts indefinitely! Or better yet, we could pay each of roughly one million bike commuters $150,000/year not to ride their bikes to work, thereby making the whole issue effectively moot. Oddly, nothing like this amount appears in the City's budget. As you can see there simply isn't any applicable line item big enough to include a number of that magnitude.

Actually, if we look at only the metered spaces, (of which Arlington has roughly 3000) and estimate roughly 3000 metered hours per year*, each space could in theory produce a maximum of $3000 per year, for a maximum revenue of $9 Million "“ not a solution to the cost of Obamacare, but not trivial either.

But note that the Arlington GOP's estimate of $1000 implies that metered spaces are occupied only 30% of the metered time. Or, put another way, the new CaBi stations caused a net effective loss of 2.4 parking space equivalents. Nonetheless, it seems that the loss of even such a small amount of capacity is not to be overlooked, especially not when it is so unfairly imposed on the motorized citizens of Arlington by democratic tree-huggers.

Subsidized rental bikes displaced three parking spaces. The horror! | Photo: ArlingtonGOP

A true economist, however, would look at even these calculations and scoff. Why? Because the only time that there would be any revenue loss would be those times when all 152,992 remaining spaces, including all 2,992 of the metered spaces, were fully occupied for 10 hours per day, between 8 AM and 6 PM.

Somehow, I don't think that really happens all that often. In other words: revenue loss is probably zero.

So what this really comes down to is an unfortunate overreaction on the part of some otherwise (presumably) clear-thinking Arlington GOP members.

Appearances to the contrary, many conservative Republicans do actually take their economic calculations seriously, even when it comes to parking. Recently, in some articles posted on the Cato Institute's blogs, serious right-wing economists debated what an optimal parking meter pricing scheme might look like, taking into account things like the costs of congestion. You may disagree with their conclusions, but the theory springs from a seminal article by Nobel Laureate William Vickrey, (party affiliation unknown).

So, as you can see, there is little or no meat in the Arlington GOP charges that the democratic Arlington Board is fiscally irresponsible. But by the same token, why couldn't the Board make a stronger case in support of their decision? Could it be that, rather than explain the clear-cut economics in favor of this CaBi expansion, they focused instead on hot button issues (for conservative republicans, anyway) like, environment, global warming and sustainability?

Perhaps if they had emphasized the freedom of choice argument in favor of increasing options for transportation, or if they had touted CaBi not as a green initiative, but as an anti-congestion plan, they might have squelched the naysayers before they could gain any momentum. I really don't know, because I haven't read everything that was said or written on this false issue.

But something tells me that both sides probably came at this from their typical dogmatic and entrenched positions, even though, it seems to me, there was plenty of room for common ground.

Maybe both sides should go back and read my first article again–which after months as the most popular article ever on CbB, was recently bumped from its pedestal by an article on the ever controversial and politically charged topic of fenders. Yes, I said fenders.

I'll tell you everything you need to know about bike fenders in three words "“ Fenders are good. Got it? OK.

*10 hours/day, Monday "“ Saturday, not including Major Holidays – ~300 Days = $3000 max meter revenue per year.

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