I have been contemplating ditching our 2nd car for several years but have been reluctant for various reasons. While we have decent bus service near our home, many routes aren’t in service when I need to be at work. Additionally, while the base is only a 25 minute bike ride away, there are hills, a high school with inexperienced teenage drivers, and misty eye-glass obscuring conditions between here and there from time to time. Most days I’m fine riding into work but there are times where a “cumulative disincentive” builds up to the point where I just drive. Lastly, there are the memories of several heavy snow days where only our trusty Subaru could get me into work. Well, maybe a Salsa Mukluk could too. Or I could walk. And then there are those snowshoes gathering dust in the garage.
All that worrying aside, we’ve only driven our Subaru 2,000-3,000 miles per year since we bought our Prius. Additionally, many of those miles were for what I call “pity” drives – Times where I could have used another mode of transportation, or our Prius, but decided to take the Subaru to keep the fluids moving and the battery charged. But all in all, I really don’t need a car to get to work. My wife, on the other hand, does. Thankfully she is able to work from home many days which means I’ll still have access to a car at home from time to time. Additionally, I have 8 Zipcars within a 15 minute bus or bike ride as well. I’ve also been meaning to try out the many taxis I see in Bellevue as well.
I’m sure this decision will require some sacrifices such as getting up a little earlier to ride in every day or figuring out how to ride in sub-freezing temperatures – something I’ve been reluctant to do because of a combination of hills, ice, and knowing a fellow bus driver who broke his hip riding into work in icy conditions. But I’m excited to give it a shot and will keep you all up to date on the highs and lows of being car-lite in the suburbs.
Know your audience. It’s a common phrase but sadly, many fail to heed those wise words. Case in point: A herd of bicycles with helmet-clad riders standing in front of the King County Library in Bellevue listening to a talk delivered by an official from the library system. A statue of Ghandi, commissioned by the Indian government, is pointed out as is the award winning architecture. The library already has very respectable patronage but is underutilized, given it’s size. The solution? A new parking garage. When you learn that these cyclists are touring the city of Bellevue brainstorming ideas for improved bicycle access, you may wonder if there is a bicycle-themed speech being delivered to a group of patrons who arrived by car.
Even after setting aside the “know your audience” issue, the facts presented do not convince us that a garage is truly needed. One example: Many parking spots were freed up after the Library hired a parking management company and asked patrons to register for visits longer than 3 hours. Additionally, 25% of visits to the library are to drop off or pick up reserved materials and yet there
are were only two parking spots reserved for short visits. To top it all off, charging for parking was considered but rejected since the library board has a philosophy of services being available “free to all”.
Let’s dig into the numbers a bit. The parking facility currently being built will house 362 cars, up from 199 before construction started. The cost of the additional 163 parking spots will be, depending on the number you use, anywhere from $7.4 and $11.3 Million. Using the lower cost estimate of $7.4 million, which is more recent and presumably reflects lower current construction costs, that works out to over $45,000 *per additional parking spot*. Read that number again: $45,000 per additional “free” parking space. I’m left wondering how many books or librarian hours that $7.4 Million, not including financing costs, would buy.
I’m not suggesting that the majority of Bellevue library patrons will always be able to take the bus, bike, or walk to the library. But plenty of viable alternatives to the private automobile exist today. The Bellevue Transit Center is a short walk from the library, 4 Metro bus routes have stops within 2 blocks, and the highest ridership route on the eastside, the Sound Transit 550, terminates at the library. Looking out further, SoundTransit’s light rail will serve the Bellevue Transit Center, a bike facility along NE 12th will connect to the mixed development slated for the Bel-Red corridor, and people are already moving into homes in downtown Bellevue just a short walk away.
All of this comes after the Library asked for and voters approved a tax increase in 2010 to continue funding library services at current levels. Given all of this, is it really that difficult to contemplate a library parking lot with reasonable restrictions and fees? If the Seattle central library, with only 143 parking spots and 20 minutes of free parking for patrons picking up materials, can do it, why not the Bellevue library? I have always been an outspoken supporter of the library system and have voted for every library ballot measure that has been put before me. But I’m more interested in books and the online databases the library gives me access to. If I really need to stash my car at the library I don’t expect the taxpayers of King County to pay for my parking, especially since there are so many other ways to get there. For me, the days of reflexively voting for additional library taxes are over: More library services? Yes. More publicly subsidized “free” parking? No.
The Seattle Times has the story on a collision that knocked one of the streetcars off of its tracks. Go read the story and look at the picture and then stop and think: How much is it going to cost to put that Streetcar back on the tracks and repair all the damage? While there were likely no injuries to passengers or the operator, it’s not impossible so add in a couple of trips to the hospital to check people out if they fell during the collision. Now, go check your automobile insurance policy, or if you use ZipCar, go read this. ZipCar’s coverage only provides $300,000 of coverage for any single incident. Many lower cost auto policies do the same. Using today’s streetcar/automobile collision as an example, you can see that it is easy to exhaust a $300,000 policy pretty quickly.
This week would be a good time to call your insurance agent and check up on your policy – Or, if that car of yours hasn’t been getting used as much, maybe consider ditching it. But if you decide to use ZipCar, be sure to check with your insurance agent about an additional liability policy to cover you above ZipCar’s measly limits.