Friday, February 03, 2006

Breeding more bicycles

Earlier this month, Bill Dawers wrote about the demolition of the City Market Parking Garage in his Savannah Morning News "City Talk" column. It was the destruction of City Market, for which the garage was named, that helped to spark Savannah's preservation movement in the mid 1950s. Lots of folks were happy to see the garage bite the dust. Commenting on a shuttle system deployed to soothe motorists until the new underground parking facility is built in its place, he wrote:

In many cities, commuters would think nothing of walking from Liberty and Jefferson streets, rather than taking a shuttle, but Savannahians are simply not accustomed to walking that far.

This is a puzzling, but very real phenomenon. Visitors travel from all over the globe to stroll the streets of the National Historic Landmark District, but to many locals, the idea of walking several blocks, through one of the most beautiful cities in the world, is intolerable.

And even if the city continues to add to its structured parking inventory, will it ever be able to keep pace with demand? If you believe Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Cynthia Tucker (and I do) the answer is no. If fact, she suggests that more parking breeds more cars. Writing last year about parking garages proposed for Atlanta's Piedmont Park, she observed:

Atlanta and every other Sun Belt city from Los Angeles to Orlando give the lie to the theory that it's possible to solve the issue of traffic and parking congestion by building more roads and more parking spaces. New roads and garages are the opposite of clothes dryers, where your socks are frequently kidnapped by forces unknown. Instead, cars self-multiply when you build more highways and garages. Park 10 in a garage overnight, and you'll have 15 in the morning.

Could the city of Savannah use this equation to it's advantage? If it provided free, secure, convenient, covered parking for bicycles, would more people consider riding bicycles around the National Landmark Historic District and thus reduce pressure on automobile parking resources? It's true that bicycles can be easily locked to parking meters, signposts and fences. But as a person who rode to work this morning on a saddle still soaked by yesterday's rain, I can tell you the idea of covered parking is appealing.

Take a look at this photo of what I believe to be the only covered bicycle storage facility in downtown Savannah. Like virtually all bicycle racks in town, it is provided by the Savannah College of Art and Design and is free to use by students and non-students alike. It's safe to assume that most of these bicycles belong to students visiting the Jen Library, where the racks are located. But not all of them are.

Would Tucker's equation work for bikes? If you parked 10 at night, would you find 15 in the morning? Of course you'd have to figure a certain number would be lost to bicyle theivery, a thriving local cottage industry. Still, if parking decks attract more cars, then properly located and configured facilities should attract more bikes.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Former dealer warns users about addiction

I didn't watch President Bush's fifth State of the Union Address last night. But I read it on his Web site this morning. This is my favorite part:

A single chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen generates energy, which can be used to power a car -- producing only water, not exhaust fumes. With a new national commitment, our scientists and engineers will overcome obstacles to taking these cars from laboratory to showroom, so that the first car driven by a child born today could be powered by hydrogen, and pollution-free.

Sounds pretty darn simple to me. A single chemical reaction? How hard could it be? Sort of difficult, it turns out.

This morning, the Savannah Morning News printed a story by Associated Press reporter Jennifer Loven. Here's a snip:

"America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world," Bush said.

Our president has crafted a very instructive analogy: We are addicted to a drug called oil. And he should know. He's a former dealer. His observation about the oil coming from unstable parts of the world is also very keen. To feed our addiction, our Uncle Sam is constantly looking to score and that takes him into some of the sketchiest neighborhoods on the globe. He's obligated to do business with some pretty unsavory characters, all to make sure we don't go into withdrawal.

It seems to me, however, that even if we do manage engineer our nation's fleet of private automobiles to burn hydrogen, ethanol or Jesus Juice, we are essentially swapping one addiction for another. Instead of the street drug (oil) we'll be hooked on the pharmaceutical-grade stuff that Bush says his proposed 22 percent increase in clean energy research will deliver. And we will still have many of the same problems, at least in my town.

Hydrogen-powered vehicles will be lined up for miles in the eastbound lanes of Interstate 16 every workday morning. Neighborhoods will be bulldozed and all kinds of other expensive schemes floated to maximize ethanol-fueled vehicle volume and speed on Derenne Avenue. Owners of alternative fuel vehicles will still be clamoring for more structured parking in the National Historic Landmark District.

What if you can't afford to purchase or lease one of these new "clean" cars? What if a medical condition prevents you from operating one of these advanced vehicles? I'm sorry, friend, but in the future you'll be treated like a second class citizen, just as you are now.