Making auto use easier increases auto use here

While I was disturbed by the news in the Nov. 30 JP Gazette of extensive tree-clearing at 33 South St., I was horrified by the suggestion that the space cleared will be made into a parking lot. With all we know about global warming and the increase in asthma hospitalization rates among JP children under 5 years, why do we continue to trade trees for autos?

For sure, we trade trees for autos when unscrupulous developers disregard the public interest in order to promote their own private interests. We also, however, trade trees and a cleaner environment for autos when public policy encourages more auto use in the neighborhood.

For example, while a number of other cities cap the number of parking spaces allowed for each unit of new condo construction at just one space, public policy in Boston does the opposite; it encourages more, rather than less, off-street parking per unit of condo construction. For example, a June, 2007 presentation in Roslindale by the Boston Redevelopment Authority recommended two parking spaces per unit of construction with apparently no cap. Because such a policy makes it easier to park and use a vehicle in city neighborhoods, the result of such a policy is, as one should expect, more autos in city neighborhoods and more amenities to accommodate them.

We also trade trees and a cleaner environment for autos when public policy fails to promote quality public transit as an alternative to the auto. Without good public transit, communities and the people who live and work in them are more likely to rely on automobiles than on transit.

This is clearly a concern in central JP where #39 bus service has promoted automobile use rather than curtailing it. According to the MBTA, the #39 carried 19,000 daily riders in 1997; in 2007, the #39 carried only 14,000, a loss of 24 percent. And again, according to the MBTA, there is no corresponding increase in Orange Line ridership to offset the loss. As one who has long advocated restoring clean, electric Green Line service to JP, I am angered but not surprised by these numbers.

So why do we continue to trade trees for autos? There is no single answer, but public policy failure is one. While advocating for good public policy, we have to hold elected officials accountable for promoting bad public policy. We also have to understand the link between bad public policy and environmental degradation. When individuals say we need to have more parking to alleviate congestion, don’t be taken in. When they say we cannot restore Green Line service because it will increase congestion, don’t believe them.

The only thing that you can believe is that if you make it easier for autos to maneuver and park in JP, you’ll get more autos. Public policy is failing us. Let’s hear it for the trees!

Franklyn P. Salimbene
Jamaica Plain

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