No, this is not about somebody lurking in the City’s parking lots. This is about why we feel the need to turn over more space in the city to put our cars while they’re not going anywhere.
As reported here a while back, last year’s capital budget for the city set aside about a million dollars for more parking somewhere on the east end of town. The city has been in negotiations with a developer to buy a lot on the Fishkill Creek between Churchill and East Main Street that could accommodate over 100 cars (though now there is talk of doing fewer spots). Compared to the $1 million dollar price tag on a parking space in New York City, that would seem to be a relative bargain.
Of course, with just over 15,000 souls, Beacon is not New York City. But many planners ignore this fact when they use one of the favorite buzzwords in the urban planning dictionary, “density.” To make your city more walkable and bikeable, something shown to increase both liveability and the local economic health, you need density.
But density, like any other factor, needs to be taken in context. The main issue with creating density in a small city like Beacon is the transportation systems. No matter how many 5-story buildings we build on Main Street, Beacon will never have a subway system. (And alas, there will never be enough money to re-institute the trolley system, although there is another viable alternative if we push for it.) For that matter, adding all those residents to all those 5-story structures will probably not increase the Loop bus ridership by a measureable amount.
That’s because our transportation system is a monoculture–the automobile. And when you increase density in a place that has only the automobile to offer mobility, you get more cars. And cars need somewhere to sit most of the day and all of the night. And because Beacon does not have a robust public transportation system or the vertical density of Manhattan, Beacon real estate can’t quite justify charging $136,052, the average cost of an off-street space on that little island. So we use our tax money to buy some land and pave it over and let people park on it for free.
Which would seem to make sense, or at least be a necessary requirement to keep growing as a city and help our Main Street economy.
But we need to ask several questions: First, why do we need to keep growing? And when will we know we have grown enough (when parking spaces cost a million a piece? When we increase our tax base so that we all pay $100 a year in taxes?) Second, do we really not have enough accommodations for cars, even on the east end? Third, does creating conditions for more traffic in and of itself actually help grow our local economy?
As we wait for a Beacon parking study conducted this summer by the Dutchess County planning office, we’ll examine these questions in the next post, Beacon’s Spot Parking, which will also feature a look at the rather Orwellian discussion at the August planning board meeting concerning what does or does not constitute spot zoning.
Feature photo: Land east of Churchill Street being considered as the site of a municipal parking lot.