Update: Looks like Publicola’s Erica Barnett beat me to the punch prior to the publication of this post, tackling issues not addressed in this piece. See her rebuttal for more.
The Seattle Times took yet another crack at Mayor McGinn’s parking and transportation policies today, arguing against proposed elimination of parking minimums near transit and furthering the “war on cars” myth so beloved by transit opponents. The piece builds a rather misleading case with irrelevant data, essentially arguing that Seattle’s car ownership rate doesn’t support eliminating parking minimums.
There’s a fundamental misunderstanding of parking and land use at work in this piece– elimination of parking minimums has very little to do with how many households own cars citywide, and much more to do with the effects on real estate pricing that such requirements have. Lynn Thompson, the piece’s author, doesn’t mention anything about the connection with housing, which was one of the Mayor’s primary arguments, nor does she address the issue that housing costs are artificially inflated when parking costs are bundled in.
Thompson’s frame, instead, is very misleading: “If Seattle has more apartment buildings without parking, is that better or worse for the working class?” She backs this up by citing the 84% of Seattle households that do own a car and presupposing that parking supply has much to do with the betterment of the working class, when we know that car ownership rates decline as household incomes drop.
The most striking absence from the piece is any discussion about the nature of the Mayor’s proposed parking policy– that minimums be eradicated for projects within a quarter-mile of transit. That’s a big difference from eradicating minimums citywide. Instead, Thompson applies a very misleading figure encompassing all of Seattle to neighborhoods that would be specifically targeted in the proposal. When looking at the areas the Mayor has in mind, the Census data paints a very different picture: 29.5% in Capitol Hill, 41.6% in South Lake Union/Denny Triangle, 60.8% in the University District.
While transit opponents will still try to make the majority-car ownership statistic sound as loud as possible, I think a major distinction has to be made between car use and car ownership. When looking at car use in the form of daily commuting, only 61.9% of Seattleites drive (either alone or in a carpool), and that number shrinks remarkably in the neighborhoods that would qualify for an exemption of parking minimums. Using car ownership to dictate parking supply, on the other hand, turns housing projects into long-term storage units for cars, adding a rather cumbersome expense to a project, costs which are passed onto the “working class.”
When the mainstream media puts an editorial spin on a supposed fact-checking piece, it distorts the value of arguments on both sides and misinforms public opinion, which we know sways public policy. Housing, parking, land use, and transportation are intricate issues, and I doubt that even us bloggers fully understand the interrelationships between each. For a mainstream news editorial writer to go on the record about these issues with that level of misinformation, however, only reflects pandering to the readers and no genuine desire to understand the truth.