opinion

COLUMN: Rebuilding 4th Street Garage is a bad idea



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Bloomington’s City Council made a mistake April 4 when it voted to rebuild Fourth Street Garage.

Decisions like these will quickly be proven unreasonable as the effects of climate change worsen. A transportation system based on personal automobiles will not be viable in the near future. The parking infrastructure built to support such a system is becoming increasingly irrelevant.

The vote was five to three in favor of rebuilding the garage, with council member Allison Chopra absent. President Dave Rollo, at-large candidates Susan Sandberg and Jim Sims, and council members Dorothy Granger and Chris Sturbaum all voting for the rebuild. Isabel Piedmont-Smith, Andy Ruff and Steve Volan voted against it.

The alternative to the rebuild was to repair the existing garage, which the city estimated would give it another five years of use if the cheapest repair plan were used. That plan was estimated to cost $1.1 million at the time.

A later estimate put the cost at $1.6 million, which led city council to reconsider. Ultimately it opted for the far more expensive option of demolishing and rebuilding the garage for $18.5 million — more than 10 times the cost of the repairs.

Of course, the rebuilt garage will last much longer than a repaired garage would have. But the personal automobile transportation system is absolutely not the right area for long-term investment. It’s hard to overstate how seriously we need to take scientists’ warnings about the threat of climate change.

In 2010, a NASA study found motor vehicles are the largest net contributor to climate change. It is impossible to tackle climate change without beating our addiction to cars. Parking garages are a crutch that allows that addiction to continue.

It’s true that electric cars and other low-emission or zero-emission vehicles can be part of the solution. But with our current technology, simply replacing everyone’s car with a more environmentally friendly car is neither affordable nor effective enough.

Mass transit is what now appears to be the most feasible option. We need to get people to use our existing mass transit systems more, but we also need to improve them. The allocation of $18.5 million for this rebuild proves the city has the funds to do so.

The total 2017 budget of Bloomington mass transit was $10.3 million. Remember: the rebuild of Fourth Street Garage will cost $18.5 million. Those funds could buy electric buses, expand routes and lengthen operating hours to make buses an option for more Bloomington residents.

It’s true that downtown business owners are concerned about customers being unable to park downtown. However, the city is already building a garage in the Trades District with up to 300 new spaces. On top of that, rebuilding the Fourth Street Garage would close it down for 18 to 24 months, while repairs could be completed in well under a year.

There will be some negative impacts on businesses, but sacrifices like that and ones far greater are an absolute necessity for preventing the most catastrophic effects of climate change.

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