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Preferred Parking for Hybrids

September 1, 2009 Environment, Parking 15 Comments

Out of Chicago comes an interesting discussion – preferred parking for hybrid vehicles in the retail environment. Apparently Whole Foods is attempting to receive a LEED rating for their new stores, and one way they’re doing this is by designating parking spots near the front door for the exclusive use of hybrid vehicles.  Chicago Tribune articles here and here.   And yes, the LEED process does give points for providing preferred parking for alternative-fuel vehicles.

Click image for source

Most of the previous applications I’ve seen have been in places of employment, where the goal is to wean commuters away from their single-occupant vehicles. I don’t have much of an issue with providing preferences in this environment, since providing and enforcing them over time seem to be two very different things. Seeing this applied in a retail situation is, to me, a much different dynamic, much like my negative reaction to designated parking for new or expectant moms – any time you designate spaces for specific uses, you both diminish the actual supply (since most “special” spots are rarely fully-utilized) and you force everyone else further out.

We can obviously discuss the larger issues of whether free parking should be limited by the government (to force people to use other modes) and how free parking is making most of us fatter and lazier, but I’d like to focus on the apparent movement away from everyone being considered equal. We already provide special parking for people with documented disabilities, as we should. And I don’t have a problem with any business providing reserved parking for anyone they choose – it’s their land, their money and their business model. But I do take exception with any public program that creates special incentives without a strong basis in reality.

Short term, these spaces may provide a small incentive for some people to consider more-efficient vehicles, much like how “compact” spaces were meant to encourage people to buy smaller vehicles. Longer term, as hybrids become more common, the Law of Unintended Consequences WILL kick in. Much like how many cities have seen increased demand for hybrids when they can be driven by solo drivers in HOV lanes, or how transit agencies in Illinois have had to accommodate the unfunded mandate of allowing all seniors to ride for free, these spaces will soon become oversubscribed.

Where this issue stands now is in sort of a gray area – it’s not the law of the land, yet, but I can see it becoming that fairly quickly. Whole Foods has every right to do this; the real issue comes down the road, where LEED compliance is either mandated by local legislation, or, as is the case in Chicago, going green gets you an expedited permitting process. And I’m not aware of any applications around here (yet), but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it tried fairly soon.

– Jim Zavist


Stimulus Keeps America Motoring

Private cars are not going anywhere anytime soon but I like to see policies designed to take away the massive advantage the car has over say mass transit.

Stimulus funds, as we know, are going toward many road projects.  Yes, the road projects were “shovel ready” but only because that is all we seem to plan for.

The cash for clunkers program (officially the car allowance rebate system) has been well received:

According to a survey of car dealerships and 2,200 consumers by CNW Research, the average fuel economy of vehicles traded in last week was 16.3 miles a gallon, which is not much less than the 18 m.p.g. needed to qualify for a government rebate of $3,500.

The relatively small differential suggests that consumers have not been turning in the oldest, dirtiest and least fuel-efficient cars, but instead have been getting rid of their second and third cars, according to Art Spinella, who ran the survey.

The vehicles that consumers bought with their credits had average fuel efficiency ratings of 24.8 miles a gallon, he said.

Lawmakers hoped the cash for clunkers program, formally known as the Car Allowance Rebate System, would reduce America’s dependency on imported oil. But the early results of the program suggest that may not happen. The vehicles turned in were driven about 6,000 miles a year, he said. If the new vehicles are driven about 12,000 miles a year, the rough annual average, then consumers will actually use more fuel, not less.

“The energy independence argument did not ring true, at least so far,” Mr. Spinella said.  (source)

There is much debate about the program.  True, 2nd & 3rd cars are used as the trade in vehicle.   The new car will become the primary vehicle and the old primary vehicle will become the new secondary car in the household.

Some say the fuel efficiency requirements should have been higher.  I agree.  My guess is if they had been too high many of the new vehicles would have been foreign rather than domestic makes.  Domestic makers simply focused too heavily on trucks & SUVs.

My 2004 Toyota Carolla, built in California, has a combined EPA of 28mpg.  It is worth more than the rebate anyway.  A 1994 Carolla still wouldn’t have qualified due to a combined EPA of 25mpg.

I looked up many other cars at fueleconomy.gov to see if they qualifed based on MPG.  A 1994 Ford Crown Victoria just barely qualifies but a 1994 Ford Taurus does not.  On one hand I’d like to see 20mpg cars be replaced with 30mpg vehicles.  On the other you have to draw a line somewhere.

And clearly there has been no shortage of qualifying trade ins.  You have to wonder if buyers are going to cheap used car lots to purchase a $1,000 clunker so they’d have a vehicle to qualify for the $4,500 rebate?

The clunker program is certainly a fast way to stimulate the economy.  But it also shows how important the auto industry is to our economy.  How will we ever change that fact?

At one time the St. Louis we made streetcars used by many cities.  No reason why the shuttered Chrysler plant in Fenton couldn’t build modern low-floor streetcars for use in the Loop Trolley line and in many others.  Someone has to build the trains for the high-speed rail lines being planned in the US.

Stimulus money needs to make it easier to use our private cars less often.  Where is the rebate for trading in a clunker and buying a 90mpg scooter as a replacement? Or a 10-year transit pass?

– Steve Patterson


Future White Pages Delivery By Request Only

July 31, 2009 Environment 7 Comments

AT&T was recently granted permission by Missouri’s Public Service Commission to cease automatic delivery of the residential white pages:

AT&T customers in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas still will receive paper copies of the yellow business pages, which also will include business white pages and government listings. But to get a residential phone book, customers will need to call a toll-free number and ask for one. The directories will be mailed for free.

AT&T said the move is intended to save money and paper as more people look up phone numbers on the Internet and rely solely on cell phones not listed in directories.

AT&T is Missouri’s largest local phone service provider with about 1 million access lines. It had printed 543,000 residential phone books for the Kansas City and St. Louis areas, said company spokesman Kerry Hibbs.

The PSC decision comes just in time for AT&T to cut back on its paper order for residential phone books that were due out in December for Kansas City and in January for St. Louis, Hibbs said.

Fewer than 2 percent of customers asked for the paper phone books during similar pilot projects last year in Atlanta and Austin, Texas, he said. (source: AP via Business Week)

Business white pages will be a part of future yellow pages.  AT&T makes money selling ads in the Yellow Pages but the white pages were just a big loss of cash and a huge waste of paper. Those not on the internet are likely the only ones still interested in having a white pages.

Now if we can only cease delivery of the  yellow pages.

– Steve Patterson


Mobile Billboards Pollute, Regulation Needed

July 23, 2009 Environment 18 Comments

Most of us have seen them, mobile billboards:

These two weren’t rolling when I passed them twice the Saturday before the All-Star game.  Yet both had their diesel engines running as they sat outside Flamingo Bowl.  I also spotted the Red Bull Mini Cooper a couple of times — it was not parked but cruising around — wasting gas and polluting.

Mobile advertising has become a big industry.  I actually don’t object to the commercial messages but I do have a problem with the environmental impact.  I think the Board of Aldermen should investigate to see how other cities have sought to curb the carbon footprint of this form of advertising.


Annual Farm Aid Concert Coming to St. Louis Region in October 2009

July 22, 2009 Economy, Environment 7 Comments

Last week Farm Aid announced, at Soulard Farmers’ Market, their 2009 concert will be held at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Maryland Heights Missouri (a St. Louis suburb) on Sunday October 4, 2009.

L to R: STL County Exec Charlie Dooley, STL Mayor Francis Slay, Farm Aid Exec Dir Carolyn Mugar, Rhonda Perry of Patchwork Family Farms
L to R: STL County Exec Charlie Dooley, STL Mayor Francis Slay, Farm Aid Exec Dir Carolyn Mugar, Rhonda Perry of Patchwork Family Farms

Farm Aid’s mission:

To build a vibrant, family farm-centered system of agriculture in America. Farm Aid artists and board members Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews host an annual concert to raise funds to support Farm Aid’s work with family farmers and to inspire people to choose family-farmed food. Since 1985, Farm Aid has raised nearly $35 million to support programs that help farmers thrive, expand the reach of the Good Food Movement, take action to change the dominant system of industrial agriculture and promote food from family farms.

Some interesting facts from the press kit:

  • St. Louis County has 276 farms sitting on 32,292 acres or almost 10 percent of the county’s land.
  • The average St. Louis County farm has average gross sales of $86,203, while the average net income per farm is $20,587.
  • With 107,825 farms, Missouri ranks second in the country for the state with the most farms. more than 96% are family-owned.
  • 96% of the 691,235 farms in Missouri and neighbors (Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kentucky, & Tennessee) are family-owned and operated.

Basically we have many family-owned farms around us, more than I thought.

Online many noted that the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater is built on former farm land protected from flooding by levees.  Not exactly a natural choice but I can’t think of another outdoor venue in the region that could host this annual fund raising concert.

The amphitheater is in the bottom right corner, Missouri River in upper left

Once rich farm land is now parking and casino.  The proportion of parking to destination is shocking when viewed from above.

I welcome Farm Aid to the St. Louis region.  Their message of strengthening the family farm and eating good food is needed.

– Steve Patterson