Letter: Parking is overrated

To the editor:
Interested in the discussion regarding the sale of 44-64 River Street, I tuned in to watch the Board of Aldermen meeting on a recent Monday night. Transit-oriented development is something I wholeheartedly support as both a transportation engineer and a new urbanist, as its underlying function is to encourage the integration of sustainable modes of transportation with the surrounding community.
However, listening to the conversations, it became apparent that both the board and residents were mainly focused on one topic — parking. I don’t blame them. In today’s society, the personal vehicle and the infrastructure created for it are held in such high regard, to the point where threatening to take away a few parking spaces for a bike lane ensures you’ll be confronted with an angry mob at the next P&Z meeting. Car culture has created a terrible sense of entitlement among drivers. But the personal car is arguably the worst mode of transportation and highly unsustainable. As the parking lots grow and the streets get wider, traffic gets worse and the communities suffer.
I was motivated to write this after hearing an outburst by one of the aldermen, who insisted on the city owning the parking garage in perpetuity instead of a 97-year lease. Mayor Blake brought up an excellent point: In 97 years, when the lease is up, we probably won’t even need the full capacity of the garage for car storage, as more people will utilize public transit and other sustainable modes.
The future residents of this development may not even need to own a car, as taking a train, bus, bike, scooter, or walking are all attractive options from that area. We should not be thinking so car-centric that we have to ensure we retain 120 spaces on this one parcel of land for a time well past the year 2100, to the point where it may jeopardize the project’s feasibility.
If parking is both the main point of contention as well as the top selling point about a transit-oriented development, a principle that seeks to decrease car usage, then our priorities are out of line.
Adam Weber