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Libertarians and urbanists - a surprising alignment

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This week’s issue of the “Midway Como Monitor” reads like a giant advertisement for the Green Line light rail train, which is slated to open this Saturday, June 14. Most of the articles tell readers how to ride, to which destinations to ride, and the amount of development that has already taken place along the corridor.

With Metro Transit changing service on almost 50 different bus routes to accommodate the Green Line, it is no doubt that the new light rail will have an impact on ridership. As the city of Saint Paul continues to work with Metro Transit to build new transit services, planning and design will be important determining factors to the success of the area.

In conjunction with plans for building transit in the area, the City of Saint Paul adopted a zoning change that reduces the off-street parking requirements for multi-family residential buildings of seven or more units. The new zoning lowers the requirements and those buildings must provide three parking spaces for every four units. For residents and visitors who may need parking at these new units, street parking may be available, provided there is no snow emergency or day time restrictions.

The city is also studying a proposal to convert one lane of traffic into bike lanes and parking along University Avenue. A recent property listing for a University Avenue business estimated traffic along the avenue to be about 22,500 cars per day. Reducing the avenue to one lane of traffic each way could probably benefit the state’s highway funds by congesting traffic and making cars less fuel efficient. Drivers will buy more gasoline, increasing the revenue from the gasoline tax. The likelihood of congestion increases even If cars reroute into neighborhood streets.

According to the “Midway Como Monitor,” business owners, like Mary Leonard of Chocolat Celeste, would prefer parking ramps to address parking problems.

Why is parking important?

Rolf Pendall, director of the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center at the Urban Institute co-authored a study with Casey Dawkins of the University of Maryland and Evelyn Blumenberg of UCLA. The study, called “Driving to Opportunity,” examined the role of transportation opportunities and successful employment.

The study concludes that "Families with access to cars found housing in neighborhoods where environmental and social quality consistently and significantly exceeded that of the neighborhoods of households without cars." They "moved to areas with lower concentrations of poverty, higher concentrations of employed adults, higher median rents, more owner-occupied housing, lower vacancy rates, greater access to open space and lower levels of cancer risk." One group of voucher recipients were two times more likely to find a job than those without cars and four times more likely to be stable in employment.

So, it would make sense that the neighborhoods along the corridor would support true multi-modal transportation with options for people to drive, bike, walk, and take transit. With choices, economic opportunity grows and adds to the vibrancy of the communities along the corridor. Make sure businesses along the corridor have opportunities to attract not just those on the train, bicycles or those who are walking, but also ensure opportunities for people to visit via the automobile. Allow residents not just the opportunity to walk, bike, or take transit within the immediate neighborhood, but also the opportunity to travel beyond the neighborhood in the most efficient methods possible to advance careers and education.

Hamline Midway Coalition Transportation Committee member Stephen Mitrioni isn’t as enthusiastic about accessibility.

“The city should just make a declaration: parking your car is your own problem, not ours,” he tells the “Midway Como Monitor.”

He continues, “The best remedy, in my opinion, is for people to stop relying so heavily on personal vehicles to get around town.”

His opinion is validated by many around the country who believe government isn’t the solution, but the problem. Education, for example, is often praised for the economic opportunities that it provides. Yet, as the Cato Institute points out, the US Constitution does not provide for education. Both the Libertarian and Republican Party platforms declare education should be on the free market and up to the parents, not administered by the government.

Likewise, the Cato Institute declares that social security is unsustainable and needs reform and that a person’s security in retirement is not the role of the government. Again, the Libertarian and Republican party platforms concur, stating that saving for retirement is an individual responsibility and people should stop relying on the government.

The debates about personal responsibility versus government responsibility can go on. Yet, there are those who may support the Republican party who have attended public schools, sent their kids to public schools, and even those who have collected social security. Those fortunate enough to afford private school or not need social security have likely invested in companies started by public school graduates or hired public school graduates. While reform is needed in those areas and more, there is no question of the public benefits achieved from these government assisted programs. In fact, a majority of the US citizens participate in and benefit from these programs, which is why eliminating them is never as popular as reform.

Are urbanists actually expressing the libertarian viewpoint? While the Cato Institute admits the benefits of owning a car, they also see the benefits of increasing the cost of car ownership. They support market pricing of on-street parking and the elimination of minimum parking regulations. In an ideal world, the Cato Institute believes that using the market in such a way would enhance freedom and mobility. Well, just like in an ideal world, the privatization of schools and social security would enhance the freedom of the majority to fend for themselves.

Like people who oppose other government assisted programs, those who voice anti-car sentiments have likely benefited from the automobile. As pointed out in the “Driving to Opportunity” study, cars allow a more unrestrained opportunity for economic advancement. Drivable roads and streets also allow for the transportation of affordable goods. Independent businesses are more likely to risk setting-up shop where the widest range of customers can access the business.

If we don’t invest in the necessary infrastructure to help the majority, we run the risk of increasing poverty. With reduced economic development, we will likely see additional subsidies at the expense of us, the taxpayers, which will do nothing to move us beyond the risk of poverty. If Saint Paul is to see economic development and economic security amongst its residents, it will further develop efficient roads and parking.

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