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Debunking Myths: The Truth About Cars, Parking, and Urban Development

The Rise of Misguided Agendas

I have always felt, in life and in business, that you run into misguided people who intentionally follow a misguided path because it makes them stand out from the crowd and they gain attention. I have taken the position that it is just best to ignore this type of person. Most people will figure them out and time will put them on the shelf of history. 


However, things have changed. Today, if you can tie “Climate Change” to any topic you get instant attention and credibility. In this article, the misguided I am referring to are the 15-minute city people, the Parking Reform Network people, who are still using the statement that 30 percent of cars are circling looking for a place to park. They claim that cars add to the carbon footprint. 


They also proclaim to city councils that walking and bicycling are rapidly increasing and reducing our carbon footprint. They present their goal of eliminating the POV (privately owned vehicle) as a noble cause. They suggest eliminating the POV will increase affordable housing, fight climate change, allow us to enjoy safe sidewalks, and help the poor. I doubt that any in this country would say they are against these causes. But I think most of us believe those goals are achievable without changing how we commute.

The Car/Climate Connection 

Cars and surface parking lots do not slow our ability to build affordable housing. Affordable housing is built with a combination of tax dollars and investment dollars in public-private partnerships. Cars and surface lots have nothing to do with building affordable housing. Surface parking lots are always available for sale. 


If you want to reduce carbon emissions from POVs, we need to keep doing what we have been doing since the late 60s and early 70s: mandate and enforce realistically achievable carbon emissions from cars and factories. Auto manufacturers have consistently risen to meet challenges over the years. (You may be old enough to remember that in the 60s, it was determined that women’s hair spray was going to cause global cooling and send us back into an ice age. I checked: we still have hair spray, but the bouffant hairdos of the 60s have gone away. Women changing their hairstyle saved the planet.)


The Reality of Biking and Walking

American cities across the country have fallen for the belief that we have a surge of bike riding and walking (which is not true) and have spent tens of millions of dollars to build bike lanes. Cities across the country are being pushed into supporting bicycle rental racks because they eliminate carbon, provide safer streets and sidewalks, and help the poor. However, despite the millions of dollars in government grants, no one is riding their bikes. 


I have videos of four cities that have spent millions on bike lanes, and I cannot find a single bike in the video. In Houston, we spent millions on separate traffic lights at bike lane intersections. In the last two weeks, we were told that there would no longer be funding for the rental bike stations because they were not being used and providing no income. 


Unfortunately, we also learned that another bike rental group would get a $500,000 grant to put in a small number of bike rental racks. Houston had two things happen that show the true colors of these misguided activists. Unfortunately, we have also had some forward progression of those people who just hate cars. 


Our Industry’s Role in Urban Mobility

It is Our Industry’s job to provide enough parking to make sure we have a place to park when we move to downtowns, shopping areas, restaurants, airports, universities, medical centers, entertainment centers, and other areas where we, as North American communities, live and work. However, it is not Our Industry’s job to make the decision if cars are bad or demand to replace them at all costs. When the 15-minute city people – the Parking Reform People and cars circling people – attack parking as the cause for the lack of affordable housing, walkable sidewalks, and increase in climate-changing cars, I think we do have an obligation to use our resources (people, time, and knowledge) to stand up for Our Industry.


A Cautionary Tale


I live in an incorporated city in Houston. We are about 16 miles northwest of downtown and we bump up against a major highway that runs from Houston to Austin. On that highway’s southwest side is an area of about 225 acres of undeveloped land, which falls within our community’s city limits. Our wonderful city mayor and city council governing this small community were approached by a self-proclaimed major developer. They had plans to build a community on the undeveloped 225 acres. 


The proposed development had apartments, a second group of apartments for residents over 55, senior living facilities, medical office buildings, hospitals, grocery stores, drug stores, restaurants, schools, and entertainment. In this community, you would never need a car. Their website showed four projects currently under construction. I noticed the website had nice drawings of buildings and people riding bicycles and walking, and no cars. The giveaway was the website was only drawings, no pictures of completed buildings or even construction. 


About a year ago, the governors of our little city announced they were moving forward with this ambitious team of developers. I went to a city council meeting to explain the 15-minute city concept: a complete, walkable, car-free city. I asked the mayor and the council if they had heard of the 15-minute city concept, where the whole community is designed around the concept of no cars. 


I also told the city council that I had done at least some level of investigation and determined the developers were not real and could not deliver their proposed community. I read that one city had even voted to block their project if they did not let cars into the new development. I wanted to ensure our council understood who this group represented (the get-rid-of-car types). The council said no, they had never heard of the 15-minute city concept and immediately responded with a resounding laugh, “We live in Texas, that’s not going to happen here.” 


The mayor turned to one of the council members and said, “You investigated these people, right?” and she responded with a decisive “Yes, they are legitimate.” (That council member lives three doors down from me.) The proposed project, like all 15-minute city projects, contains self-supporting apartments, senior living, and hospitals. 


But one thing is missing: the proposal did not have a large entertainment complex for sporting events, concerts, and other community attractions. That meant the residents of the 15-minute city would need a car to leave the community to see a concert. The developers presented to the city that we (our community) had to fund the development of a minor league baseball stadium to use and keep the cars off the roads. 


This week, it was announced that these so-called developers were frauds and could not perform. Our city council members, while nice people and well-intentioned, do not live on the exceptionally large stage of the transportation world like a lot of us in the parking business. The get-rid-of-car types work to persuade small communities because they know their leadership just does not have the experience and exposure to see them coming.


Our Industry’s Responsibility


The purpose of telling the above stories is to inform and inspire those of us in the parking industry to leverage our position and knowledge to counter the activists who are using a platform like eliminating cars as the solution to a range of problems. These activists repeatedly and regularly gather in front of our city councils and tell a totally unverified story that impacts our ability to deliver parking that supports our community’s transient needs. 


Looking Ahead

The Next “Our Industry” article will look at the position of the bicycle groups so we can build a knowledge base to support the other side of the story. Before this next article, I want to be sure everyone knows I am not anti-bike. I am very much a bicycle-riding supporter. I just do not support these activist groups who provide misinformation about bicycles and use bicycling to support their other agendas. 

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