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Are city’s parking garages ‘dinosaurs’ in new mobility?

Posted on July 24, 2014 by in Mobility

DinosaurDowntown Charleston has 11 parking garages. In one generation, they’ll be dinosaurs, says Gabe Klein, Charleston’s new mobility guru. “Build it now, and you’ll waste your money,” he said at his recent forum here.

Klein, who headed the transportation systems in Washington, DC, and Chicago, before taking on his new assignment, said the millennial generation is not in love with cars. Since 1995, millennials’ share of total vehicle miles driven has declined by 7.7%. This trend also shows up in another key number — new driver’s licenses, which in the 16-to-24-age group are down to their lowest level in decades. Klein’s trend lines are echoed in other recent reports, like this one.

In his well-attended presentation at the Charleston Museum, Klein said the holy grail of transportation for Americans used to be how to get around faster in their car and be safe doing so. Now, he said — with millennials increasingly shaping trends — Americans still want mobility, but by the best means available. That could mean, depending on the circumstances, a bicycle, mass transit or sharing.

But there’s more, Klein says: Americans — and older generations as well as millennials — also connect mobility with health, equity and other quality-of-life goals.

A half hour of driving does nothing positive for your health, while a half-hour bike ride can burn at least 200 calories, tones muscles and increases cardiovascular endurance. The annual cost of owning a medium-size sedan, as Klein pointed out, has risen to $5,771, most of which the biking commuter will save. Annual operating costs for a car driven 10,000 miles are another $2,000.

Another factor in the shrinking emphasis on mobility by car is the new trend in economic development, with businesses — especially high-tech ones — seeking to locate in urban areas where their employees can walk or bike to work. In Charleston, this is beginning to happen in the Upper King Street area, where PeopleMatter has relocated, and other “knowledge”-based firms are doing the same or planning to make the move.

Klein will be spending the summer looking at the mobility in Charleston. In September, he’ll make his recommendations. Will his proposals be built around multi-modal uses that de-emphasize cars and garages?

A telling clue may be who is co-sponsoring his consultancy: The city’s frequent partner, the Historic Charleston Foundation. In the late 1940s and 1950s, the Foundation promoted a massive increase in downtown offstreet parking as essential to the economic future of the area, including the success of heritage tourism. The strategy, which had been initially advanced by HCF’s predecessor in preservation initiatives, the Civic Services Committee of the Carolina Art Association, was adopted by the city and led to the 11 city-run garages of today.

That’s 180 degrees away from what Klein believes about the future of urban mobility. The Foundation knows that, but it’s still paying for what Klein will recommend for the future of mobility on Charleston’s peninsula.

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