Outside of China, only two cities of more than a million people are known to
have a bicycling mode-share over 30 percent: Amsterdam
and Copenhagen. As Rutgers
urban expert John
documented, cycling's vibrantly high percentage of urban trips throughout Denmark,
and Germany was
not the product of amorphous cultural factors. Rather, it came about through public
policies that not only made cycling safe and convenient but also made driving costly
Free parking for electric cars would go against the grain of longstanding policies, like the decision to pedestrianize the Strøget, shown here in 1935, when private cars were still allowed. Photo: Copenhagenet.
So it was disconcerting to learn that one of these measures -- limiting the supply and raising the price of central-city car parking -- is
about to be compromised in Copenhagen. And the announcement could not be more
ill-timed, with the Danish capital set to host the U.N.
Climate Change Conference
The government of Denmark
this week unveiled a package of incentives to jump-start the sale and use of
electric cars. As the New
York Times reported on Wednesday, each new electric car comes not just with
a per-purchase subsidy of $40,000, but with this stunning perk: free parking in downtown Copenhagen.
Free parking, as UCLA Professor Don Shoup has taught us, comes with a high cost:
greater car use. The more valuable and pricey the parking space, the greater the
inducement to drive when it is given away. In the case of downtown Copenhagen,
where parking probably goes for the U.S.
equivalent of $25 a day, the inducement will be powerful indeed.
Consider a resident of metropolitan Copenhagen
headed downtown from, say, 10 miles away. Even with petrol taxed to a price of $8
a gallon, the fuel cost of the 20-mile round-trip in a 32 mpg car is just five
bucks. That's pocket change next to the $25 parking cost. But make parking
free, and the $30 car trip can now be made for $5. Econometric models using
price-elasticity suggest that the number of trips will roughly triple as a result -- at least until the
resulting traffic chokes off some of the increase.
Granted, the parking subsidy applies only to electric cars,
so for a while the surge might remain a trickle. But once put in place,
subsidies are hard to withdraw. Eventually, the increase in use of electric cars
for commuting and other trips into the heart of Copenhagen will take mode share
from cycling, walking and transit -- not just directly due to the subsidy for
driving, but indirectly because those "green modes" will have become less
efficient, less safe, and less valued by society.
But perhaps the most jarring aspect of the new policy is the
way the national government is cloaking it in green. Read more...