Tuesday April 8, 2008
Last week I wrote an article on what I perceive to be Transit Miami’s anti-car bias, and here is Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal’s thoughtful response. This is a response to the response.
First, let me say where I agree with Gabriel. We are both urbanists, and share the goal of making Miami less car-dependent, more transit and pedestrian centered. So-called “livable” cities everywhere in the world feature public spaces that put the focus on humans (as Gabriel so eloquently calls us), with public plazas, pleasant sidewalks, and convenient mass transit that makes getting around town without a car not just easy, but pleasurable. An important component of this is increased density, and we both support Miami 21, which would put higher density development where it can do the most good, and bring about other pro-pedestrian changes. We would like Miami to be more like that, and less of a car-dominated no-man’s land of suburban sprawl. Where we differ is on how that change ought to be brought about.
What happens when you can’t park?
Gabriel has clarified his position to be that the way to bring change about is to reduce parking on new developments. By decreasing the number of parking spaces, you reduce the number of drivers going there, therefore reducing the number of drivers on the road, therefore increasing the use of public transit. I don’t like this approach for two reasons — because I don’t think it’s very nice, and because I don’t think it will work. Thought-experiment with me here. Let’s say you’re going to the barbershop. You hop in your 2008 GMC Yukon Hybrid and head over to Lou’s Barbershop, in their new location at Lopez-Bernal Centre.
But guess what? LBC has insufficient parking, and there’s no space for you. That sense of frustration you’ve got there — that, to me, is not a way to win converts to the public transportation cause. Moreover, under Gabriel’s logic, you react to this situation next time by either finding a bus route to Lou’s, riding your bike, or car-pooling with a friend. Sorry, but this just does not wash with the reality that I live in. When parking shortages make driving somewhere difficult, the most natural reaction is to drive somewhere else! Lou looses your business, and the environment is the worse off if your new barbershop is farther.
Extending this logic to residences is even easier: will you move somewhere if there’s no place for you to park? Of course not. Friends stop visiting because parking is impossible (we know something about this on South Beach)? Start looking for a place to move to.
I am on board with a lot of the rest of Transit Miami’s solutions to this problem, including increased and improved public transportation. A good example is the streetcar, which, serving a corridor of new high-density developments (US-1 between Downtown, Edgewater, and the Midtown), would be a very good step in the right direction. People in those developments will have a real alternative to driving their cars. But make no mistake — they’ll still need cars, and people from outside the area will need places to park when they come visit.
South Beach is a very bikable city. The rest of the county is not. I don’t think the lack of a degree in urban planning makes me particularly unqualified to make those statements, but the use of Bogota as an example of rapid change is telling. Every Sunday in Bogota many roads are shut down, open only to pedestrians and cyclists. It’s quite something to see, but it does not represent a change in how that city goes about its business. Enrique Penalosa has made some improvements to the public transportation system (which most people there used before), but the urban bike lanes in downtown Bogota are empty.
Odds ‘n ends
For what it’s worth, I think that cycling and public transportation combined can be an effective way of getting around the city, and have said so and done so. I’ve disagreed with TM about the viability of a bike rental program. The very last comment at that link is from Gabriel, who said he was working on a map of how such a program would work in Miami-Dade. Well, there is no map, because outside of a very limited geographical area (say, that covered by MetroMover), the distances are just too great.
Oh, the thing about growing a mountain was a joke. But I don’t think it’s unfair to point out, when you’re talking about “experiences that both illuminate Montreal’s successes and Miami’s potential,” that a vast majority of your article has no relevance to Miami’s “potential” unless you intend to tear the whole city down and start from scratch.
Parking and the law
Technically, the article I was addressing had to do with a legislative issue — the reduction in legally-mandated parking spaces. As a matter of libertarian principle, I actually agree that the government should not be in the business of mandating parking in developments. I think adequate parking is in the interest of the developers and owners, and they ought to be the ones to determine the best definition of “adequate” (e.g. I don’t think Aventura Mall is being legally compelled to build those new garages). While this complicates the disagreement we’re talking about, I don’t think it significantly alters it.
The way forward
There is hope. A commenter on the previous post linked to a density index for various US cities. On a scale that assigns 6.22 to New York, 1.78 to Los Angeles, and 2.1 to San Diego, Miami earned a 1.55 (2000 figures, and note that this applies to the “Metro area,” e.g. for Miami it would include most of Dade and Broward). But as I stated above, parts of Miami are in fact increasing in density, and are good candidates for increased mass transit. As these lines are constructed, anyone who can will use them. The Coral Gables-Downtown commute is a good example, with some people taking the rail despite the fact that it’s more expensive then driving. If we want to change the city, the way to do it is to push for increased transit (which of course TM does) and pricing that makes public transportation an obvious bargain for everyone. Let’s build rail that goes to the airport, Little Havana, and for god’s sakes the Beach. And let’s not get distracted with trying to keep people from parking their cars.