We get what we pay for

I admit I was happy to see the dreadful City Market Parking garage demolished. It sat like a giant concrete machine gun battery right in the middle of one of Savannah’s busiest commercial and entertainment areas. And I’m excited about the plans for Ellis Square.

Still, I can’t help but note the figures reported by local media about the cost of the project. The price of the underground garage? $30 million. The price of the square that sits atop it? $1 million. From these figures, I think we can infer something about our priorities as a community. Namely, storage of private automobiles is somewhere around 30 times more important to us than public space that could serve as a place for social gatherings, a venue for recreational activities, a stage for cultural events, or simply a shady refuge on a hot day.

Yes, I know the project has generated around $100 million in nearby investments. Yes, I know parking spaces were lost when the old garage was leveled. Yes, I know downtown merchants demand more parking.

Still, 30X. I’m just saying.

This local project to stimulate car trips in and out of the Historic District is in keeping with national trends, as noted yesterday on Slate in an article by Daniel Gross called “Highways Paved with Gold” (Subtitle: “You think the government is wasting a few billion a year on mass transit subsidies. But what about those huge subsidies for cars and trucks?”):

What hasn’t been acknowledged is that the automobile is supported by a government subsidy that dwarfs anything provided to mass transit. How big is the subsidy? By my (admittedly extremely crude) calculations, it could total nearly $100 billion per year. Americans can drive so much because there is an extremely extensive system of (largely free) roads for us to use.

I wonder how Gross’ figures would change if he added public parking garages into his admittedly extremely crude calculations.

This entry was posted in Government, Public Space, Transportation on by .

About John Bennett

Transportation, land use, local farming and green building are all potential topics for Sustainable Savannah. The goal is to aggregate content about local events and projects, so there will be a central place to review everything that’s happening. The site is aimed at encouraging collaboration and information sharing between groups and individuals currently engaged in sustainability efforts. The site can also provide a snapshot of Savannah for green-minded people who are considering visiting or moving to the area.

5 thoughts on “We get what we pay for

  1. Nate

    Most of the money we spend on auto infrastructure is essentially invisible to the average person.

    But in this case, the parking garage part costs 30 times as much because there’s a lot more work to put into excavating the rock, and then building levels of parking, than there is to the park. Much of the work for the park will be landscaping. And waiting for the trees to grow.

  2. Bill Dawers

    Hey John et al,
    Take a look at “Gas Prices Apply Brakes to Suburban Migration” in the Wash Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2008/08/04/ST2008080402649.html

    This is more about roads than parking garages, but the same general idea applies, I think.

    An excerpt:
    “”There is a whole confluence of government policies — tax, spending, regulatory and administrative — that have subsidized sprawl,” said Bruce Katz, director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. A gallon of gasoline costs more than $8 in Britain, Germany, France and Belgium, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Much of the price difference is due to higher taxes.

    Federal spending is about 4 to 1 in favor of highways over transit. Today, more than 99 percent of the trips taken by U.S. residents are in cars or some other non-transit vehicle, largely as a result of decades of such unbalanced spending.

    The policies — building so many highways and building so many houses near those highways — have had a direct bearing on how and where people live and work. More Americans, 52 percent, live in the suburbs than anywhere else. The suburban growth rate exceeded 90 percent in the past decade.

    But there’s been a radical shift in recent months. Americans drove 9.6 billion fewer highway miles in May than a year earlier. In the Washington area and elsewhere, mass transit ridership is setting records. Last year, transit trips nationwide topped 10.3 billion, a 50-year high.”

  3. John McMasters

    Good points there Bill, especially the surge (sorry about that word choice) in mass transit ridership nationwide. Kinda tells us we are way overdue in addressing our own CAT system: not enough routes, and running on diesel. Even the new ‘white tourist only’ DOT buses are diesel and they are brand new off the showroom models! Who made that choice anyway?

    CAT could be re-tooled into a world class transit model but it will require spending more on the system and a strong CAT board. Unfortunately, both are in short supply.

    John McMasters
    County Commission Chairman Candidate

  4. Drew Wade

    Not sure if the Governator will sign it, but much attention is going to California SB 375, which aims to tie air quality planning to land use.

    We should look locally at developing land use policy to encourage smart growth. This need set up an adversarial condition with developers, but when they include measures that promote multi-modal connectivity like transit and bike and pedestrian facilities, they could be given incentives in the form of increased allowable density or expedited review and approval.

  5. Pingback: Sustainable Savannah | Tracking sustainability news and events in Savannah, Georgia (and beyond) » The return of Ellis Square, Savannah’s next great public space

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