The C is for Crank

Joel Connelly Is Bad at Math

By Erica C. Barnett August 20, 2012

Joel Connelly, ignoring pesky "facts" and "studies," argues today that Obama had an event in Bellevue because parking was too expensive in Seattle. Or something equally coherent.

Here's Joel:
Unlike Seattle, with its 8 p.m. parking meters, free street and city parking is readily available, Bellevue.  Streets are not gridlocked due to being put on "road diets."  Sidewalks are not enduring months-long closures for construction.  The drive back across Lake Washington on S.R. 520 features a drop-dead panorama of the Olympics. ...

The hassles of Seattle -- downtown, waterfront, First Hill to Capitol Hill -- are adding up almost to the point of harassment.   The tolls on S.R. 520 can come to seem a modest price to get loose.

Got that? In Connelly's world, all of Seattle's streets are "gridlocked" because a few of them have lost a lane in the interest of safety (wrong), Bellevue is a magical place where construction doesn't shut down sidewalks (wrong again) and 520 is pretty (OK, I'll give him that one.) Oh, and driving all the way to Bellevue (ugh) to go to Wild Ginger (double ugh) is free, because Joel Connelly's car runs on rainbows.

OK, back here in the real world, that trip costs actual money and time. That may be one reason why, according to an actual study, using actual data, by the actual researchers at the Sightline Institute concluded that most Seattle diners aren't joining Connelly on his exodus to Bellevue---they're staying right here in Seattle. That's because on balance, driving all the way to Bellevue just doesn't make sense. 

Paying to park in Chinatown (Connelly's example) from 6 to 8 at night costs an additional $5.00. Driving to Bellevue and back during that same period? $5.18. (This is assuming, generously I think, that our hypothetical driver is going for the early-bird special, since parking is free throughout Seattle starting at 8. ) Five dollars and eighteen cents is more money than $5. Not to mention the gas (and time, and wear and tear on the car) it takes to get to Bellevue and back.

Connelly glibly belittles Sightline for "trotting out" "official claims," and "relying on an all-knowing" city transportation department. In contrast, he cites a Seattle Times story that relied on anecdotal evidence from disgruntled business owners. And, dismissing my post on Sightline's report as "haughty," Connelly huffs, "The Times was sternly taken to task for having the nerve, gall and presumption to do shoe leather reporting, rather than relying on official claims and the oracles of Seattle orthodoxy."

Here's what I actually wrote:
Not only did restaurant business in Seattle show strong growth last year (restaurant sales increased 5.7 percent in the city last year, outpacing growth in King County as a whole), but increased 5 percent in the Chinatown/ID area between the fourth quarter of 2010 and the fourth quarter of 2011, when the new parking rates were fully in effect.

I know---haughty, right?

And here's what Sightline actually did: Using aggregated business and occupation tax data for Chinatown restaurants from the city's finance department (not "official claims" or "orthodoxy," nor even the city department to which Connelly sneeringly refers, but actual tax data), Sightline concluded, "in the fourth quarter of 2011—by which time the longer paid parking hours were fully in effect—gross receipts shot up a whopping 5 percent compared to the fourth quarter of 2010, before the parking change. In fact, the end of 2011—the era of extended meter hours—was a period of banner receipts for these establishments."

One reason receipts might have increased? Now that parking isn't free, parking is more widely available---particularly since sports fans can no longer cadge free parking that might be used by restaurant patrons instead.
The lesson here? Data matters. And it matters more than anecdotes from interested parties (like restaurant owners in Chinatown), because numbers, unlike steering-wheel-clutching columnists, don't tend to have an agenda.
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