Columbia doesn't need to park another garage downtown

Saturday, October 11, 2008 | 9:28 a.m. CDT

Our automotive schizophrenia has been even more evident than usual the past couple of weeks.

For one of those weeks, I couldn't walk to work without being offered a prize by the nice people of GetAboutColumbia, the organization promoting walking and biking. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will reveal that I took a T-shirt and a coupon for coffee. Noting the healthy-but-dangerous mix of bikes and cars on Stewart Road, I asked the giver-in-charge about plans for that route. She thought, but didn't seem sure, that bike lanes will be painted.

Then, our City Council met to chew over plans for our next parking garage. As you know, Columbia already has a fair claim to the title of City of Parking Garages. This one should remove any doubts. It'll be twice as tall as the existing structures downtown, rivaling the Tiger Hotel as our skyscraper. It'll even have retail shops on the ground level. And it'll cost upwards of $14 million.

In the national scheme of things, that's small change; but it seems like a lot for all those cars we want with one side of our collective brain to keep out of action. So I took a short stroll to see how overcrowded our existing downtown garages might be. I visited the three garages at Sixth and Locust, Seventh and Walnut and Tenth and Cherry.

A little after 10 a.m. Wednesday, none of them was close to full. The permit-only spaces were a lot more popular than the hourly slots, and the upper levels of the Sixth and Walnut garage were more vacant than occupied. From the top decks of each, I could also see a good many empty spaces streetside.

I concede that this was a classic journalistic survey, too brief and unscientific to prove anything. It did leave me wondering, though, just how desperate is the need for another 660 parking spaces downtown. Could some of those millions be better spent on, just to take one possibility, expanding the hours and the reach of our bus service?

And speaking of millions, here's another querulous question: Isn't it about time GetAboutColumbia actually did something? I mean something like creating those marked bike lanes along Stewart Road. I mean something like replacing the broken and nearly impassible sidewalk along West Broadway, and the dangerously narrow sidewalk along West Boulevard. Those are just some of the pressing needs for bike riders and pedestrians in my neighborhood alone.

Barack Obama told us in last week's presidential debate that we're all going to have to become more energy-efficient and less dependent on foreign oil. Every expert I've read agrees. Here in our little corner of paradise, more bikes and more buses would help. Another parking garage? I'm not so sure.

Council members talked more about the shops and decorating the facade of the structure than about whether it's really an essential investment. If that issue has been thoroughly explored in public, I've missed it.

Can we be pro-downtown without being pro-car?

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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Charles Dudley Jr October 11, 2008 | 8:19 p.m.

Great editorial George and thank you very much. This article is right on the money and right down the line as far as facts presented and a great presentation of the issues.

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