Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Reduced Parking Subsidies Fail to Destroy Arlington

clarendon grillSometimes when a positive change happens, afterwards it seems so self-evidently a good idea, we forget there were people rabidly opposed to the positive change. The most obvious recent local example of the journey from the revolutionary to the mundane: Virginia's smoking ban, which opponents predicted would devastate Virginia bars & restaurants. Instead, smokers stepped outside, everyone enjoyed the cleaner air, and we all quickly moved on with our lives.

Arlington recently stopped subsidizing free parking at the former Department of Human Services garage at Wilson & Highland in Clarendon, where it's now $2 to park on nights & weekends. That rate is among the lowest in the neighborhood. The result? People continue to heavily utilize that garage, Clarendon continues to thrive, and the county is raising revenue while providing a nudge towards Metro/walking/biking.

It's worth remembering that while it was being debated, Arlington Sun Gazette editor Scott McCaffrey basically called the $2 fee an affront to humanity:
This proposal is a nickel-and-dime approach to governance that is beneath Arlington’s leaders to propose, let alone enact. County Board members can make quick work of this wrongheaded proposal by simply refusing to advertise it for a hearing.
Instead, the enacted plan has worked as intended, with side effects like increased parking in neighborhoods quickly addressed with zone changes.

Now the County Board is making plans to address tight parking in busy areas on nights & weekends, approving a long-term parking management plan that could extend meter times, generating much-needed revenue from a scare commodity that's currently subsidized as free. I know, revolutionary, right?

But McCaffrey has dialed up the rhetoric even further with this plan, predicting it will be nothing less than the end of Clarendon as we know it:
[F]orcing those in Clarendon or other commercial areas to pay for meters well into the evening, or on Sundays, is counterproductive and will place those areas at a severe competitive disadvantage. In the long run, it will reduce the county government’s revenue, not increase it.
The argument here is essentially that to avoid paying a couple of bucks in parking fees, people will:
  • Go to DC or Alexandria where they'll have to pay just as much if not more for parking
  • Pay just as much if not more in gas to drive long distances to places where parking is free
  • Tell their spouse, "Sorry honey, I was going to take you to Clarendon for dinner, but they're charging $2 for parking now, so instead I made you this Hot Pocket."
Look, I know people hate paying for something that used to be free. It's annoying. But that's not a good reason to keep policies that worked for 1990s Clarendon with its large surface parking lots but are outdated in 2010s Clarendon with its tall buildings in which people live & work.

All we're talking about is cutting the government subsidy for free & discounted parking and using the money to fund things like repairing roads and educating kids and fighting fires. Is that so controversial?

Update: Thanks to Arlington County for clarifying 2nd paragraph
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