A friend called me this afternoon, to ask if I'd come down to City Hall to talk about parking. Evidently, our City Council is considering - seriously considering - spending $13m to build a new parking garage in our already car-choked downtown. When I told Elliot's dad about why I'd be at City Hall this evening, he gave me a great idea. "Why don't you tell them you actually want them to build FOUR new parking garages? Just to show them how ridiculous this is," he suggested.
And so, my Modest Proposal was born. After re-reading Jonathan Swift's brilliant 1729 pamphlet on solving Ireland's poverty problem, I spent some time crafting a similarly-structured argument for solving Palo Alto's parking problem. You can watch my performance (and its confused reception in the council chambers) in the video my friend filmed with my phone - but she stopped filming when the mayor told me my time was up. (I ignored her and kept on talking, so I could make my last and most important point.) The funniest thing (or maybe the saddest thing) was that quite a few people seemed to think I was serious - including a reporter, who asked me as we were leaving if she could contact me for more details about my 'double decker road idea'.
The entire text is below. Read, and enjoy.
A Modest Proposal
Good evening dear council members. My name is Vanessa Warheit - I’m a Palo Alto resident, mother of a child in the Palo Alto Unified School District, and the owner of a car registered here in Palo Alto. In light of tonight’s discussion on parking in our downtown, I wanted to make a modest proposal.
Clearly, the streets of Palo Alto are too congested. It takes way too long to find parking. This is bad for local businesses - which is clear from the number of local establishments that I remember from my childhood, which have long since gone out of business. Our region is growing, and we need to better support the long-term growth of our downtown. We also need to keep all these cars from spilling over into the residential neighborhoods that surround it.
But I believe the proposal to build a new parking garage downtown isn’t the answer to these problems. For one thing, it only adds 214 additional parking spaces to our downtown - not near enough for the projected growth in this area. With 17,000 more jobs and 13,000 additional residents projected in the next 20 years, we can expect even more cars on our streets. The proposed garage is also all the way over on Hamilton Street - requiring people patronizing businesses on University, or Lytton, or any of downtown’s side streets, to walk one - or more - blocks to their destination.
What I am proposing is a project to bring free parking right in front of every single business, double our existing capacity, and maximize the use of our existing facilities.
I have been assured by a well-known transportation official in Los Angeles that creating a double-decker road system provides the kind of free, convenient access to local businesses that we need here in Palo Alto. I would like to therefore submit for consideration a common-sense idea that is in alignment with policies T-45 (provide sufficient parking to address long-range needs) and T-47 (protect residential areas from parking impacts of nearby business districts).
I propose to make University Avenue, Hamilton Avenue, and Lytton Street double decker streets - with diagonal parking along each side at both the ground floor and the second floor - allowing easy access to establishments regardless of their vertical location within a building. Building the second story of roadways would also require eliminating the trees from our downtown, and narrowing our sidewalks - which would make walking from car to business even easier, reduce tree maintenance costs, and add an additional 50% to the number of available parking spaces.
My proposal would put our city on the map - and not only as the city with the most convenient parking in the Bay Area. Cities like Beijing and New Delhi, which have seen a significant rise in their parking, have shown 7.3% and 7.4% levels of GDP growth - compared to a paltry 3.8% here in the US. Not only has this growth increased per capita income in these cities, but the record-setting levels of air pollution generated by this growth over the past few years has also gained them significant media attention. Imagine what Palo Alto could do with that added revenue, and all that press coverage!
I can’t think of any objection that could be raised against this proposal - unless it might be that constructing such a system of freely-accessible parking might cost more than the city has in its budget. But to that I would simply suggest that increasing the speed limit to 35 mph could put this project squarely into the realm of CalTrans, and thereby qualify it for available State highway improvement funds.
So let’s stop considering these other suggestions - ideas about analyzing different transportation demand strategies, or providing meaningful transit options, or exploring emerging technologies like self-driving cars and transportation as a service. Things like looking at expanding our bike share options, or expanding mode shift, or looking at what kinds of pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure $13m might buy the city. Let’s not have any more talk of these ideas until we have at least the faintest glimmer of hope that there might some day be a hearty and sincere attempt to put them into practice.
For me, after so many years of offering up vain, idle, visionary ideas like these, and really despairing of any success in addressing our parking woes, I felt incredibly lucky to come upon this proposal - which I hope you will join me in embracing. It is so in line with the American way, with Palo Alto’s vision for growth, with our need for car-based mobility and complete and total independence - and, I might add, with the auto industry’s need to sell cars to each and every one of us - that I feel confident this is the best way forward for our city.
But if someone has a better idea, I’d like to hear it. Just keep in mind, it will need to deal with 13,000 more people, and 17,000 more jobs, within the next 20 years.