I’d bet the city of Atlanta is tired of being the cautionary tale for other cities, but as long as its leaders embrace bad ideas, they’ll illuminate the path to avoid.
I say that somewhat facetiously. Not everything Atlanta officials have done is bad, and there is some optimism around new Mayor Andre Dickens. But it’s hard to say that the city has been trending in the right direction.
Corruption investigations bedeviled Kasim Reed’s former administration. Atlanta’s crime surged under past mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, and Atlanta’s roads are in disarray, while infrastructure projects are behind schedule and over budget.
These are just a few issues that have nagged the state’s capital. For a while, the city’s administration inspired so little confidence that some advocates made a serious push to allow the Buckhead neighborhood to secede from Atlanta altogether. Now, in the name of a greener environment, the city is marching toward increased regulation and subsidies, which may very well backfire in the end.
Back in July, the Atlanta City Council introduced a measure to limit parking spaces for new development. “The resolution is an attempt to shift Atlanta’s dependence on single-occupancy vehicle trips to transit, walking or biking within the city and to support the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions within the city,” according to 11 Alive News.
Policymakers evidently believe that Atlantans and commuters own and use too many cars. They think they can limit parking as a roundabout way of plucking drivers from their vehicles and improving the environment, but that’s not all. Officials have another misguided trick up their sleeve—using your taxpayer money to help buy Atlantans e-bikes.
“Now, Atlanta City Council is weighing a proposal to follow in the footsteps of places like Denver, Boston and Rhode Island by offering city residents rebates for e-bikes, which can run anywhere between $600 and $6,000,” reads one of the most one-sided, puff pieces you can find in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “Councilman Matt Westmoreland, who sponsored legislation to create an e-bike subsidy study committee, hopes to enact a program by Earth Day on April 22.”
Regardless of whether you believe in global warming or not, I believe most Americans would like a cleaner environment. However, I’d venture to say that reducing parking as has been proposed and subsidizing e-bikes will have a limited impact on the broader environment at best—at least compared to more effective approaches, like relying on more fuel efficient cars and cleaner electricity plants.
Moreover, if you think traffic congestion is bad now, just wait until drivers slow traffic down as they cruise around the city desperately searching for parking and have to dodge increased numbers of e-bikes. I have absolutely nothing against e-bikes. I think they can serve an important role in transportation, and look like they’d be fun to ride on a nice day.
Nevertheless, these aren’t unsupported blatherings. San Francisco has dabbled in this area—greatly limiting the number of allowable parking spaces and adding lanes for bikes and e-bikes. It is still notorious for its terrible traffic—ranking the fifth worst in the world.
Even if these measures encouraged more Atlanta residents to consider using alternative forms of transportation, remember for a moment that Atlanta is a commuter city for many. Myriad Georgians refuse to use public transportation to Atlanta and cannot ride an e-bike from Kennesaw, Newnan or Albany, for that matter.
While I appreciate the Atlanta City Council attempting to think outside the box, they ought to chart a better roadmap. Instead of picking winners and losers, subsidizing a private e-bike industry, or nitpicking the number of parking spots, officials should let the market decide.
Developers and tenants are better positioned to determine the appropriate number of parking spots, and likewise, if e-bikes are the transportation mode of the future, then subsidies shouldn’t be needed to goad the general public to adopt them.
Some folks obviously disagree, but there are more immediate concerns facing Atlantans where funding is desperately needed now, and it’s not handing out sweetheart deals to prop up an industry. Fixing Atlanta’s miserably bad roads, bettering the city’s education system and improving public safety immediately come to mind. If Georgia wants to continue being the best place to do business and be a good place to live, then the state’s economic engine, Atlanta, shouldn’t work to make life more difficult.
While the Atlanta City Council’s proposals may sound innocuous at first blush, they could provide businesses and families a reason to settle elsewhere and make travel in Atlanta even more of a headache. Surrounding cities shouldn’t follow Atlanta’s lead.
Marc Hyden is the director of state government affairs at the R Street Institute. You can follow him on Twitter at @marc_hyden.