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11/14/2011: "What Profiteth It a City...?"
Yesterday being Sunday, I took off on a gratuitous ride, pedaling the little Bottecchia fixie up Benedict Canyon to Mulholland, then over to Sepulveda for the descent to Brentwood and a stop at Caffe Luxxe for a tasty dollop of caffeine.

Then, to mix business and fellowship with the pure pleasure of a long ride, I wandered over to Santa Monica, where I knew my friend and fellow bicycle advocate Eric Weinstein would be holding court at the Farmers Market.

During our conversation we touched on the soon-to-open Bike Center that will occupy one small corner of the gigantic parking structure by Santa Monica Place, and Eric mentioned that bikestations never turn a profit, and so always need a subsidy.

Whether this is true or not as an absolute statement, I don't know, but I do know that this is a non-issue in this culture. Because public parking structures--and in fact roads themselves--never turn a profit either.

It's all subsidized! Just listen for the outcry when cities propose to sell off parking structures to for-profit private entities without including a subsidy to keep rates low. Market rate parking is expensive!

Roads and streets generally cover only 16% to 40% of their costs through "user fees" such as gas taxes. The rest is subsidy. Parking structures ditto. And in both cases providing excessive acreage of lanespace and parking carries an opportunity cost, as the land thus sequestered for private driving could be occupied by homes, businesses, or other more necessary public amenities such as schools.

So who cares if a bikestation requires a subsidy? If it induces more people to ride bikes instead of drive or take transit, it reduces what the city or county must spend to accommodate motoring!

Study after study now shows that skewing roads and parking towards cyclists results in more economic activity per dollar than pandering to motorists. (Let's not forget that motorists can become cyclists very easily.) Cars require big wide roads; cyclists don't. And you can park ten to fourteen bicycles in the space of one car. (Most cars run 3/4 empty, carrying only the driver and a few small items.)

The experiences of Portland, San Francisco, Minneapolis, and now even Austin show that accommodating cyclists is great for local businesses.

Alternatively, we can ask that if bikestations "need to be profitable," then so do public parking structures.

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