Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
Do you remember that TV show called “When Pets Go Bad”?
Or something like that.
I think it featured videos of hamsters savagely attacking innocent children. Parakeets on the attack. Toy poodles leaping crotch-high to neuter their owners. (Poetic justice there.)
I mention that not just to call to mind the image of a man in a death match with a gerbil – although that is an image that we all might want to ponder.
No, having innocently wandered into downtown Aspen this week, I am thinking about the broader categories of “good things gone bad” – in this case, paid parking.
(How’s that for a wild leap across all rules of logic and continuity?)
Although I will cheerfully admit to being a good liberal – or, as one of my right-wing buddies likes to refer to me, “a museum-quality liberal” – I have to admit that Aspen’s paid parking system is a classic example (a museum-quality example?) of Government Gone Wild.
(And I don’t mean “gone wild” in the “Girls Gone Wild” sense. The thought of government ripping off its bikini top and gyrating wildly in a cheap Florida motel room over Spring Break is deeply disturbing.)
Anyway, just as those gerbils-gone-bad may have been driven mad by the scent of blood (“I got a paper cut on my finger – and the next thing I knew, Gerry the Gerbil leapt through the air and fastened his incisors on my throat”), so government seems to be driven mad by the scent of money.
As you may remember, paid parking in Aspen originally had nothing to do with money. Nothing to do with raising money for the government, anyway.
The idea was to discourage people from driving into town (by making them pay to park once they got here) and to free up parking spaces downtown by forcing people to pay and by limiting how long they could stay in one of those paid spots.
Now, that may or may not have been a good idea. But it was, at least, coherent and focused on admirable goals of civic improvement: reducing traffic and improving access to parking for people who wanted to shop in Aspen.
And, according to the plan, the money that came in – there had to be money, it was paid parking, after all – would mostly just be enough to keep the system running. And if there was a little extra cash to be had, it could be used for some praiseworthy purpose.
But the money wasn’t the point. The money was just the means to an end.
It’s like hunting. Shooting a gun isn’t the point. The bullets aren’t the point. Those are just the means to an end. The real point is to kill something.
Hmmm. Maybe that’s not the best analogy, but you get the idea.
But, to continue with a bad analogy, just as bloodlust can overwhelm a hunter (or a gerbil), so money-lust can drive a government to madness.
And so, with downtown Aspen pretty much empty this offseason, with traffic slow and shoppers nowhere to be seen, the Aspen City Council, in all its wisdom, debated long and hard and managed to offer … free parking on Fridays in May.
Just plain wow.
Or, to put it another way: Really?
Was that really the best they could come up with?
Four whole Fridays of free parking on the deserted streets of downtown Aspen.
Way to go, guys. Way the give locals a break and kick-start the economy.
Sure, I know the arguments.
“We need the money!”
That, of course, is always the argument. The government always needs money. Just like that mosquito buzzing overhead needs your blood.
“Money from paid parking pays for the free buses!”
That’s a pretty good argument, isn’t it? Those free downtown buses are a great thing for Aspen. And it’s only poetic justice (like the toy poodle, see above) that the people who insist on driving into downtown have to help pay for those buses.
Good liberal that I am (again, see above), I can’t really object – but I do anyway.
Because paid parking was not created to give the government money it needed. Or to pay for the free buses. Just as no family buys a hamster because it wants a savage creature tearing at its child’s throat.
Paid parking was created only after a lengthy, bitter debate. And a “honk-in” at City Hall that had a mob of paid-parking opponents circling the block, leaning on their horns as they passed the front door. Creating a massive traffic jam – and some serious headaches.
And all of that was when the system was clearly dedicated to reducing traffic and freeing up parking spaces.
If the city had dared to announce that it was going to charge for parking in order to raise a little more money, there would have been blood in the streets.
So now we are left to wrestle with a Trojan Mosquito – a blood-sucking creature that snuck past our defenses under false pretenses.
And (here goes what remains of my liberal credibility) like any mosquito, once the government gets its blood-siphon lodged in a vein, it will not gladly pull out while there is still blood to suck.
And apparently Aspen is not yet bled dry.
When they granted those four days (wow! four days! I still can’t get over their generosity) of free parking, the city said it would cost $30,000 in revenue. That’s $7,500 a day. Figure five days a week, do a little multiplication and it looks like the city was expecting to collect around $150,000 from parking fees in May.
Not a bad haul for the slowest month of the year – a month when no one’s in town and no one’s shopping.
Of course, maybe a few more people would be in town – and shopping – if it didn’t cost a bunch just to park.
Oh well, so it goes. Now if someone will just help me get this gerbil off my throat.
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