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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15 thoughts on “On Parking and Bikeshare: Not all Republicans Think Alike (if at all)”

  1. darren says:

    You mistakenly confuse the GOP with the theoretical free marketeers of Cato (who BTW doggedly resisted Dr. Shoup’s arguments until they apparently didn’t). Note the Arlington GOP also railed against the County not imposing parking minimum regulations on private developers. A measure that is part of the County’s anti-congestion TDM program.

    But what both the GOP and the Cato crowd argue against isn’t bicycling (most of the time anyway), or the freedom for anybody to do as they please (but especially when it’s driving for free). It’s the expenditure of money on bicycling. Your rejoinder to the Arlington board to argue in stronger terms about the benefits that accrue to the citizenry from that expenditure is likely irrelevant to most of the GOP. Witness how novel it is when a Republican speaks out in favor of transit.

    This division isn’t about bicycling, or political theory, or freedom. It’s about spending money to encourage bicycling. And the triple-bottom-line sustainable ROI of bicycling does not hit home with today’s GOP.

  2. Marty Mathis says:

    Outstanding as usual.

  3. MRB says:

    Love the math. Take in to further account that if these bike stations (4 stations, probably around 32 bicycles) are utilized at even the low 10% figure claimed, that’s 3.2 users at any given time – compared to the (as estimated by you) 2.4 effective parking spaces lost. The typical Average Vehicle Occupancy of 1.59 indicates that you’re losing 3.82 vehicle users in exchange for 3.2 bicycle users. That’s .62 users. Factor in that these bike stations are only present say, 9 months a year, and you’re losing effectively .46 metered parking spaces. Furthermore, if you also factor in that the 10% number is the “minimum” taken from March/Early April and we assume usage goes up as weather improves, you’re probably actually coming out ahead.

    The revenue cost of losing those .46 spaces is 0.0154% of the current revenue – IF AND ONLY IF 100% of parkers who intend to park in those exact spots decide to return home.

    Basically, the math works out that the bike share program should mean more visitors to the area. Businesses who do the math as I have should come to the conclusion that this program is good for business

  4. BluesCat says:

    Look … folks … even though I appreciate the common sense that Tom has expressed in his post, and couldn’t agree more with darren and MRB, the fact is that from the GOP perspective the whole argument can be described — and settled — using two, basic formulaic statements:

    Bicycles = liberal, hippie and Communist
    V8 SUV’s = conservative, yuppie and American

    There will NEVER be anything but a miniscule number of Republicans who will “get” bicycles. We should celebrate Tom’s good sense and, if we NEED to somehow “understand” all the other Reps, we need only read Ted Snyder’s comment to CbB’s Ted Johnson’s article When Cycling Becomes a Threat (to the Auto Industry).

    See? Two Teds! One has a humorous, informative way of viewing bicycles, and the other has a spectacularly partisan and unhinged way of looking a EVERYTHING!

  5. Bob P. says:

    They say that 5 out of 4 Americans have a hard time with math. This is why economics is called “the dismal science”, and so few people enter this field. But I digress…

    Conservation is conservative. I don’t understand the mental blockage that occurs when people apply labels to others based on what they choose to do with their liberty (ride a bike), or how many irrationally argue against something cheap and good.

  6. Colin says:

    “If only that were true – they could rename the city Parkington!”

    Funny, that was the original name of the mall that is now Ballston Commons back in the 70’s. But, I don’t know if bringing back acres of free parking will help the GOP – the county council was all-Democrat then, too.

  7. Matthew McWilliams says:

    100 – .015 = 99.985

  8. Alai says:

    99.085 percent should be 99.985 percent, if I understand you correctly.

  9. Cheryl Y. says:

    I have to agree that it is unnecessary to take up valuable parking space. It is much easier to move bikes around and therefore the space needed for them does not have to eat up vehicle parking space. Why not move them to a grassy area or some area off the street?

  10. Amy says:

    I too am a daily bike commuter and I also attended last month’s Arlington Republican Committee meeting where they ranted and raved about the Rosslyn location of Capital Bike Share.
    I agree with you Tom the facts about the loss of eight parking spaces and its effects on revenue and local businesses make little economic sense. In addition they failed to take into account the boost to local businesses by Capital Bike Share users.

    First let me say I am a supporter of the Capital Bike Share program and I have noted many Bike Share users on the trails and checking out and returning the bikes at the Rosslyn location. However I do believe the the GOP had a point on the cost of the program to the county, apparently the solar check-out stations and the purchase cost and maintenance on the bikes are expensive. At the Arlington GOP meeting they threw out some numbers but I do not post them here as I could not easily verify them.
    I know the county has signed up business sponsors and it is seeking federal transportation grants but the bottom line is Arlington County is subsidizing the Bike Share program, and they have publicly stated they don’t anticipate the program to support itself for 5 years. The GOP has a point that valuable Arlington County tax dollars are supporting the program and they did not think it was a worthwhile effort. Of course that is a matter of opinion. The Arlington GOP also made the point if Capital Bike Share is such a good idea, why doesn’t the private sector take it on, much like Zipcars. All issues open to much debate.
    Tom, keep up the positive words for Republican bike commuters!

  11. Thanks to Matthew and Alai who have pointed out my math and typing errors! I’ll ask Ted to post a corrected version. I think in most cases I erred in favor of the AGOP – but that was not intentional. I would also like to correct my estimate of the amount of the potential bike commuter payoff. If there are 1 Million bike commuters, $225 Billion should equate to $225K for each of us. I think I’ll call someone from the agricultural lobby to see how one goes about setting up that kind of a system.

    As to the Cato blog and Arlington traffic controversy – I was into taking sides or endorsing Shoup, Vickrey or O’Toole, etc. – My point is that there is a level of discussion above the typical name calling that bloggers from both sides resort to out of intellectual laziness or whatever.

  12. correction – I was “not taking sides”

  13. Marty says:

    I am conservative (But not necessarily a Republican). I bike to work and I drive a Prius … While a liberal friend drives a huge pickup and pulls around a 5th wheel, and keeps his house so cold in the summer, its like walking into a meat locker. So… being liberal or conservative really isn’t what this is about. Understanding the argument of your opponent gives you the stronger foot hold in an argument, but riduculing their side is NOT the way to garner support for your idea.

    This “us and them” mentality is the biggest issue in this and other issues (and BOTH sides have a share of blame in our issues, but I digress)

    The message that got you on the bike may not be the message that will get everyone on the bike.

    We need to think outside our own little box and come up with ways to show those with a fiscal mind set how it will benefit the bottom line. Its not going to happen overnight… but then if its really a good idea, isn’t it worth working for?

  14. Mark Kaepplein says:

    Give cyclists all the parking they want AS LONG AS THEY PAY FOR IT. If the bike stations generate more revenue for the city than car or motorcycle parking spots fine. If not, then its an inefficient use of space.

    The funding model for bicycling is to lobby government for handouts. User fees get paid for parking, tolls, public/private transit, and even road construction and maintenance with gas taxes and tolls. Bicyclists need to come up with a funding model to pay for what they want. Railroads were built with private money. Gas taxes, prior to increasing inflation, funded much road building. Cyclists need to stop whining and pay tolls, or use credits from health care savings to construct bike lanes and paths.

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      In reply, allow me to quote myself:

      If you take into account subsidies for car makers, tax breaks for oil companies, the military budget that secures the flow of oil, and all that socialized asphalt, the automobile–the kind powered by fossil fuels–is the most heavily subsidized form of transportation. (For today, I’ll even leave out the environmental costs not paid by motorists.)

      When you aim your [commenting keyboard] at that boondoggle, maybe I’ll take you seriously…

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