Why are environmentalists asking cities to ban water bottles while remaining silent on the issue of free parking - something they have control over.
A recent report debated at Vancouver Council regarding parking around the new Canada Line rapid transit stations got me thinking about what message cities are sending out when they provide “free” street parking. As everyone knows, the personal automobile is one of the main reasons why we’ve been debating the issue of climate change over the last decade. More cars and trucks means more CO2 emissions and a declining environment.
I’ve written here about the Symbolic Environmentalist Movement and their penchant to glom onto very sexy issues that grab media headlines and help to generate lucrative donations. The SEM has recently been pushing for a ban of plastic bags and water bottles as well as the planting of vegetable gardens in public spaces. Just imagine what might happen if the SEM worked with cities to actually make a difference regarding the use of the personal automobile in our big cities?
What if they asked cities to phase out “free” parking over the next five years? Today, there are millions of free parking spots across all of Canada’s major cities. This long-standing policy decision has encouraged automobile use over other more environmentally clean options.
Is it possible that Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson would be open as part of his Greenest City Action Team to phase out all free public parking by 2012? Here is how such a scheme might work.
First, remove all free parking from all major high traffic corridors and within one kilometre of any rapid transit stations by 2010. Replace this free street parking with a new cellular phone based parking system which is monitored by the city. Other than new signage, you would not require any costly infrastructure.
Secondly, on residential streets and less busy areas, implement a permit parking system. All homeowners would be granted one pass as part of paying their property taxes. If they want more passes, they would have to pay for the privilege. If they don’t want their pass, they can refuse it and get a credit of $30 per annum which will be applied to their annual property tax bill.
For Vancouver residents living in apartments, they too can apply for one free single permit and pay for any additional permits.
Any visitors or tourists visiting the city could simply register their plates through a new e-parking system already in use in cities like Vancouver. If you want to buy a week of parking at a non-metered site, simply use your cel phone and charge the week of parking on your credit card.
All hybrid and electric vehicles, bicycles and environmentally friendly forms of transportation would be entitled to free parking, anywhere in the city. That would included metered parking spots where they currently have to pay like all other gas guzzling SUVs.
The advantages are as follows:
- Recognize and encourage enviro-friendly forms of transit
- Reduced carbon emissions
- Additional revenue for the city to build more bike lanes and provide free parking for enviro-friendly forms of transportation
- Help to brand Vancouver as the first “no free parking” zone in the world
- Generate income for city coffers from regional events taking place in Vancouver ie Fireworks
- Limit the number of people parking in neighbourhoods that aren’t from the area
The disadvantages are:
- Very politically risky for any Mayor and Council
- An expanded bureaucracy may be needed to enforce non-compliance
- More inconvenient for motorists
- No more free parking
If the SEM were truly committed to making a difference and reducing our carbon footprint, these are the kinds of initiatives they would be advocating for rather than pushing for a ban on bottled water. Land use and public parking policy is something cities do have jurisdiction over, and perhaps the time has finally come for us to reverse the trend toward facilitating vehicle use.
While I am sure the engineering departments across Canada will find some fault in this concept, I think it one that is worth more discussion and debate. After all, there is no such thing as a free lunch, so why do we still offer up free parking?
Why don’t you weigh in on the issue and let us know what you think? Is this doable? Is it more politically risky than banning water bottles?