Car Storage

A story in today’s Indianapolis Business Journal indicated that the city of Indianapolis is considering building 3 parking garages to accommodate 16,500 more cars near Downtown. This does not include the proposed parking garage being planned for the Broad Ripple area.

Currently, Indianapolis has about 70,000 spaces around downtown, including spaces built to accommodate the oft-stressed IUPUI area, which has 16,781 spaces between lots and garages. All of IUPUI’s spaces are publicly-owned and constructed at a cost to Indiana taxpayers. 8,337 of those spaces are designed just for students, meaning faculty and staff take up almost half of the available spaces at IUPUI. There are over 30,000 students enrolled at IUPUI.

Figures based on the average cost of constructing a new parking garage indicate that in 2008, U.S. garages cost about $15,000 per space, or $44 per square foot. That’s a lot of money just to hold a car. Parking lots cost anywhere from $250 to $500 per space, depending on their location.

All that car storage takes up a lot of valuable real estate, too, causing city centers to be consumed by largely useless, ugly, concrete walls so people can walk a few short feet to their destination.

Considering the cost to the public to build large roads, parking garages either entirely publicly funded or abated with public tax grants, parking fees people pay, meter attendants, and other public infrastructure for car storage like signage and meter maintenance (now partially covered by a private operator in Indianapolis), that’s a huge sum of money. Even one garage that, on average, costs millions to build, is somehow seen as “okay”, despite it costing the average US city just under $6 million to do so.

The average student at IUPUI pays over $250 an academic year to park on campus, or about $25 a month. Similar rates apply to people who work downtown and have to pay their own parking costs. Dennison Parking operates a facility that charges $40 a month for non-guaranteed daily parking at their facility on South Meridian Street.

The entire IndyConnect plan would cost a person earning $50,000 just $10 a month to build and maintain a system. The average household in Marion and Hamilton County would pay about $120 a year for a system that would allow us to stop building ugly blocks for car storage, and instead allow people to get to the business of actually getting around town quickly and efficiently. The cost of three parking garages would roughly cover the cost of operating IndyConnect for one year.

Which means that the amount of money that Indianapolis is going to spend, without much of a peep from the public, is enough to operate an entire transit system that would catapult Indianapolis into the echelon of “cities with great mass transit” for a year. That’s just in public money that the city somehow “doesn’t have”. Outside of the public coffers, the plan would have to be funded largely by tax dollars on a recurring basis in a way that garages presumably don’t (beyond maintenance).

So, for the average schmuck who’s married with a kid or two, where both parents work, they’re willing to spend, on average a third of their income each year based on US Transportation Bureau statistics on cars and “car stuff”, like maintenance, gas, insurance, and parking fees. Or, $25,000 a year for an income of $75,000. As opposed to spending $120 a year in taxes, plus bus/train fees of $60 a month for a total of $1,560 a year (for two people).

Tens of thousands of people willingly pay $25,000 a year when they could just pay $1,560. Talk about an economic opportunity. Wouldn’t you like a third of your income back?

Most people in Indianapolis are one person in a car going to work, then going home. If you’re married, even losing one car to allow mom the use of the transit system while Dad takes the car to run a bunch of errands and then pick up and drop off the kids somewhere would still be a savings of $12,500 a year. If you’re a single parent with a kid or two, you can still enjoy the savings by using the car less in instances where the kids take the bus to school and you take the bus or train to work. Imagine saving just half the money you spend now per year on gas and oil changes. That would also extend the life of your car, or allow you to purchase and maintain a cheaper used car that you use less. For virtually everyone except elderly old quadriplegics in Indianapolis, everyone stands to save thousands of dollars a year.

For all those students going to IUPUI who spend untold amounts of car expense, they could instead invest that money in their education. Even not paying for a parking permit could cover the cost of several textbooks (or one big one if you’re in med school).

Cars are, for most people, a drain. They are not an asset, as an asset should retain or grow in value. They’re generally used for only transporting one person around, they pollute, they’re expensive, very few people like their car or their commute, and they’re an antiquated way of thinking about transit that we’re seemingly stuck with because of years of city building and construction that centered around the highway and the suburbs.

The City of Indianapolis is about to construct big boxes useful for nothing else but cars, while everyone sits around and wonders where all the money went, why they’re out of money themselves, and why they have to sit on the highway for so long every morning and night just to get to work. And not one public figure has drawn the connection that maybe it’s time we start diverting the money we do have to smarter ways of getting around. A reduction in waistlines, pollution, ugly and expensive lots and garages, and the convenience of knowing that even if you kept your car and one morning it doesn’t start, you still have a clean, safe, secure way of getting to work is not a bad thing.

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Justin has been around the Internet long enough to remember when people started saying “content is king”.

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You’ll probably see him around Indianapolis on a bicycle.

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