Minimum Soda Requirements

The Walking Bostonian:

Recently the Boston Restaurant Authority has indicated a desire to reduce their minimum soda requirements in new restaurants.

These requirements have been in place since the founding of the BRA in the 1950s, in order to assure that every patron has access to at least one free soda with every meal. In some cases, the BRA had been requiring two sodas per customer.

This measure had been intended to reduce demand for the depleting supplies of on-street soda machines.

Over the years, minimum soda requirements have been blamed for causing over-consumption of sugary drinks. The obesity epidemic, some say, is directly related to the excessive number of soda drinks being forced upon restaurant patrons, whether they order it or not.

"We don't need to push a soda with every meal," Peter Mead, head of the Boston Restaurant Authority, said in a recent interview. He cited US census data showing that one in three Boston residents is between 20 and 35, and most drink water, juice, or beer primarily.

Critics of the new policy claim that elimination of minimum soda requirements will cause a terrible soda shortage, as restaurants may choose to devote resources to other products, such as food. They say this will put a strain on already-short supplies in on-street soda machines.

A local woman complained, "If the BRA gets their way then families will leave Boston and move to the suburbs where they can get soda for free."

Another explained, "While I appreciate the idea of promoting public health, the city's public water transporter, MWRA, is not good enough to replace soda for everyday needs."

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51 Responses:

  1. bunny42 says:

    Is this from The Onion?

  2. Tom Lord says:

    That seems like a pretty bad analogy to me.

    "Parking" will continue to have utility regardless of how transportation modes evolve.

    Lack of parking forecloses on future transportation modes before we even know what they will be.

    The "green" argument for parking-free housing is sketchy: we don't have models that good and we don't have a political economy that clearly can achieve the level and quality of public transit that parking-free density would rely on.

    The "threat" of spreading population into less urban environments doesn't frighten me because jobs can also move in that direction and with the greater space of suburbs comes greater opportunity for hyper-local production. I'm not sure what will work out in the future but I think it's premature to assume cramming everyone into cities is a good idea.

    Meanwhile I can't help but notice that the absolutely certain short-term winners of relaxing parking requirements are developers and real estate financiers / speculators: two groups that also tend to have inordinate levels of clout in establishing municipal public policies. They have no incentive at all to care about the long-term implications of the public policy they lobby for which I find interesting when considered in light of the shakiness of the long-term arguments they put forward.

    I have difficulty imaging what all these densely packed people who rely exclusively on public transit, walking, and biking are supposed to do with their lives. No matter how much new urbanism spin you put on it, to me it smells like a repeat of the disastrous urban renewal movement but this time less racist and more classist. Are we going to, a second time in less than a century, going to enrich a few wheelers and dealers by building a bunch of complete junk housing stock on the basis of a bogus social engineering story?

    • nooj says:

      A swing and a miss!

    • Andres says:

      "I have difficulty imaging what all these densely packed people who rely exclusively on public transit, walking, and biking are supposed to do with their lives."

      Heavens to Betsy, yes, what will those poor souls DO? How they will suffer without the freedom to motor around in their single-occupancy automobiles!

      When I lived in Davis Sq, I got rid of my car because I only used it every few weeks, and the parking tickets were getting outrageous. When I needed a car (about once or twice a month), Zipcar was perfectly sufficient. Very few of my friends had cars, because, well, they weren't all that useful in Cambridge/Somerville/Boston. We got around just fine using public transportation, walking, and biking. We didn't suffer at all for it. Quite the opposite, really - not having a car meant exercise, interactions with the local community, etc.

      Time to get out of your car-centric mindset, Tom. The friends I had in Boston who had cars used them to commute out to the suburbs for jobs. Those people were miserable.

      • Tom Lord says:

        Riiiggghht. Universalizing a few years of your youthful and privileged personal experience in a very different built environment is certainly a sound basis for zoning policies aimed at radically altering housing density and supported modes of transportation.

        Much as how you immaturely and arrogantly universalize your personal experience, you also projected onto me a "car-centric" mindset. As it so happens I own no car and I bike, walk, or public transit to where I need to go.

        You might also have paused to notice that I said "parking" -- not "today's style of car fleet" -- will continue to have utility. You might also have noticed that when I said spreading out population might not be so bad I referenced that assertion to the possibility of also spreading out jobs and production.

        Please stop regurgitating half-digested new urbanist crap in response to keywords.

        • Andres says:

          Uh-huh. "In a very different built environment". We're talking about the downtown/metro Boston area. That's where I lived for 4 years. That's where friends of mine still live. They rely exclusively on public transit, walking, and biking, and they get along just fine. While I no longer live on the east coast, I (and my family) still rely exclusively on public transit, walking, and biking. Privileged? Yes. Youthful? No.

          As to the rest of your claims - they're too far out there to make sense of. I picked on a few specific phrases because I have plenty of examples to refute those. The rest of your claims seem to be about some future transportation that will require hordes of off-street parking spots. I don't know where to begin even arguing that. Let's waste valuable resources because of some vague future needs? I'd rather not.

          • Tom Lord says:

            It's not worth an extended back and forth but you evidence not understanding what is meant by the phrase "very different built environment". Relaxed parking requirements for new development are in pursuit of a physically very different set of man made structures than you lived among back east. There is no simple way to compare how the architectural choices back there compare to the architectural choices currently under debate vis a vis big claims about the effect those choices will have on how people live.

    • C says:

      I have difficulty imaging what all these densely packed people
      who rely exclusively on public transit, walking, and biking are
      supposed to do with their lives.

      You have difficulty...

      • hurfdurferson says:

        Yeah you found the crux. It's an argument from personal incredulity. Weak sauce.

        • sabr says:

          ... what all these densely packed people who rely exclusively on public transit, walking, and biking are supposed to do with their lives.

          Yeah, without parking we might as well just end our pointless lives.

    • James says:

      Aren't we at the point where the Zipcar model is proven enough to start at least a few experiments with policy and subsidy shifts? In terms of quality of life, transportation economics, and personal health due to activity, when I had Zipcar I was in a far better situation than any prior or since. I feel like it's okay to universalize that because in every respect my transportation patterns were completely median, dominated by commuting, shopping, recreation, and occasional longer road trips.

    • phessler says:

      Contrary to most other cities, Zurich actually has a maximum amount of parking spaces per commercial location. Zurich is also actively taking back car traffic lanes, and turning them into public transit and/or bike lanes. The city's basic position on "traffic sucks!" is "then take the bus, jerk". ;)

      Of course, Switzerland does have the political will to have such a program, and does have the transit infrastructure to make it reasonable solution.

    • phuzz says:

      If you want to see parking free housing, come to most any city in Europe. And don't think that just because cars are impractical in a city with medieval streets, that we have good public transport, buses have even more problems with narrow, windy streets.

      Still, somehow we get by. Mainly by walking.

      • Tom Lord says:

        Here in the US, utopian comparisons to some European cities are often used to promote New Urbanist claptrap in zoning debates. The comparisons are too superficial. The projects that are being pushed through do not recreate European cities on US soil. Many more resemble the failed housing project architectures of urban renewal but with tacky facade's glued on and cheap granite counters in the poorly designed micro-kitchens.

        It is a false dichotomy to think the choice is between relaxing parking standards for new projects and getting to a future where car use is reduced. There is no a priori reason to believe that relaxing parking requirements will make a dent in carbon emissions.

        • Andres says:

          You've got it backwards. The point isn't to reduce car use. The point is to stop wasting space in places where car use has already been reduced. Ie, Boston.

          Or you could leave the zoning requirements, and just have lots of empty spaces. Vancouver:

          Or you can remove the minimum parking requirements, and the city will get along just fine in places where there's already a healthy percentage of residents using public transit. Seattle, Portland:

          And for the record, I lived in a tiny condo with one of those "micro-kitchens". It had one parking space per unit. 30 spaces for 30 units. About half of the building had cars, so a large portion of those spaces went unused. I rented my space out when I could find someone interested. What a waste of space...

          • Tom Lord says:

            Why didn't people bother to make some non-car use of that space, if they didn't have cars? The space may have been "wasted", as you say, but I don't think that that was a feature of the architecture.

            • Nick Lamb says:

              You're right again Tom, small rectangles of open but paved ground some distance from the rest of the property with step free access to the road are so inherently useful that anyone who leaves theirs empty must have a severe lack of imagination. In fact it's a wonder that such useful spaces weren't being provided with housing centuries ago, since the practice of parking an automobile in them is by no means the most obvious reason to need one.

              You could um... that is to say you'd er... well, I just know Tom will follow up with a dozen practical uses for this space. Because otherwise he might kinda look like a hypocritical asshole...

              • Tom Lord says:

                Gee Nick, you sure pick some funny issues about which to work yourself up into an angry lather.

                You can think of 12 yourself but to get you started, some actual uses in my experience:

                Where the parking is or can be secured it can be good for storage. One group of folks I know use there's as a shared warehouse for their bulk purchasing club. Another had ancillary refrigeration until recently (they're moving). It's also a good option for community emergency supply caches. Outdoor spaces around here are used flexibly: for commerce at times, as a play area for kids, as event parking for big annual parties, as an area for doing spray-paint art, as patio space.... Down the street some of the outdoor spaces get used for raised beds -- not sure if they ever got around to setting up an aquaponics rig.

                Those are existing uses and possibilities. When you are contemplating a sustainable future with far fewer cars and neighborhoods that are more walkable, think of the possibilities of (flexibly and reversibly, even) adapting that space for workshops, shared tool collections, and commerce areas. Stuck with a cavernous, under-used, indoor parking area? How about a bike repair station? Weights room? Private basement-style lounge for the building? Welding area? Machine shop / fab? Jazz/BBQ club?

                • But in an area with mandatory parking minimums, won't the landlord get cited for code violations if any of those alternative uses obstruct their parking areas?

                  And in the absence of parking minimums, aren't developers free to design their projects with for other uses, even if they don't label it "re-used parking spaces"?

                  Just because parking spaces can (at some expense) be repurposed for other uses doesn't mean that's the optimal way of providing for those other uses.

                  "Refrigeration"? Seriously?

                  • Tom Lord says:

                    "But in an area with mandatory parking minimums, won't the landlord get cited for code violations if any of those alternative uses obstruct their parking areas?"

                    In some situations, sure, but that can be fixed politically. In contrast, if you fill up all available space with cramped living quarters you take on problems you can't fix with a few votes.

                    aren't developers free to design their projects

                    Their incentives are not aligned with those of residents or with what you might think of as sane approach to public policy. Remember that developers most often make their money on the front end.

                    In places like San Francisco or Berkeley they like breaks on parking requirements because they can cram in more units.

                    In the financial models the financiers use, the increased number of units raises the expected amount of rent extraction from the city (which, already, directly, is at least a cautionary sign for public policy).

                    Because of perverse incentives from the state and some municipalities, relaxed parking requirements can pay off in other ways. California's "density bonus" law is an example.

                    Just because parking spaces can (at some expense) be repurposed for other uses doesn't mean that's the optimal way of providing for those other uses.

                    I agree but at the same time, parking requirements in these contexts are not improved by their elimination.


                    I can't image why that would that puzzle you. Freezers and "beer fridges" used to be very popular (maybe still are, I don't know). Depending on how they are used they can make a lot of economic sense.

            • Andres says:

              Because parking spaces are for cars, everyone knows that. Especially condo boards/HOAs.

              I actually tried to get bike parking installed at the building. I offered to host it in my space, although there were plenty of space options available. A single unit owner wigged out because she was afraid a bike might scratch her tenant's car (she didn't even live there) as bikes were walked around the building past her tenant's spot. The tenant was actually in favor of the bike parking, but she was worried about future tenants' cars. The project got nixed. I shrugged and continued to watch that massive parking lot be a waste of space.

              • jwz says:

                Oh, HOAs. My HOA took years before they would allow owners to put cabinets on the walls behind their parking spaces. And even then they have to be approved cabinets. I can't even imagine the comedy that would result if someone wanted to put and object on the ground that was not a car.

    • Owen W. says:

      thank you for your concern.

  3. Barry Kelly says:

    Requiring that businesses provide parking by law is an offense against the livability, walkability and cyclability of American towns and cities. There's no excuse for it.

    I'm a fan of scooters for getting around cities. A lot faster than public transport, arguably cheaper when used for commuting, flexible enough to go medium-range distances, can transport a surprisingly large range of objects, and takes up way less space when parked than a car.

    And not only faster than public transport; as a member of the motorcycle family, and presuming lane splitting, they're the fastest form of transport in cities short of a police escort. Bicycles can only compete when they run red lights and stop signs.

    • MattyJ says:

      I agree with most of what you said except the lane splitting thing. That's what we need, a bunch of new scooter riders splitting lanes all over the city. You ever try to drive or walk in Hong Kong? No thanks.

      Lane splitting, in theory, is supposed to be done when it is reasonably safe to do so because of congested traffic, not because of normal traffic control (red lights.) If you want me to get all historical on you, the reasoning behind lane splitting is that motorcycles are generally air cooled and overheat when stopped, so you have to keep them moving. Never mind that most modern motorcycles have thermostats which will cut your engine before it gets damaged. In any case, scooters don't really overheat.

      Anyway, I'm a life long motorcyclist that lives in the city and I can't say I've been in many areas (perhaps the onramp to the 101 off Octavia) where lane splitting was really necessary, except to try to game the system and drive in an unsafe manner when it's not necessary to do so. If we had a bunch of scooter riders that act like that average bike rider, God help us.

      PS, get a motorcycle. If you weigh over 200 pounds and find yourself needing to go up a hill or two on a scooter, you may as well be walking in the street. In lots of cases it's more dangerous to be going too slow than too fast.

      • val_lixembeau says:

        There is no crush of scooters in Hong Kong making the lives of drivers and pedestrians difficult. Not only that, Hong Kong doesn't have lane splitting, whether for bicycles or scooters.

        Are you thinking of another city? Maybe somewhere in Taiwan or Vietnam?

        In HK you don't really ever need a car. For regular commuting the MTR (underground rail) works great for urban areas. You might take a double-decker bus if you live a bit farther from an MTR station. For more flexibility you can also take a maxi-cab or mini-bus (same vehicle, but one is fixed route and the other can vary slightly). And taxis are incredibly cheap.

        I'd be scared shitless to commute by bike on the roads in rush hour traffic though... even with HK drivers being some of the more polite ones in Asia.

        • James says:

          Shanghai certainly has at least three times as many scooters as most pedestrians would probably consider safe, but if they legislate them off the sidewalk, which is possible but not a sure thing, I doubt they'd bother the automobile drivers.

      • Barry Kelly says:

        I live in London. Lane splitting on my SH300 is the difference between my commute taking 15 minutes vs 40 minutes.

        My VFR800 is too fat and heavy to be agile in the city. The turning circle is too big and it's too wide. Also, I have a hard time staying under 60 on it, never mind the 30mph speed limit, and I'd like to keep my license.

        FWIW, the SH300 has no difficulty uphill; 27hp is more than enough for the urban environment, even two-up.

        • MattyJ says:

          Didn't mean to insinuate that splitting lanes does not speed things up, just saying that if 10% of commuters in San Francisco switched to scooters and lane split, it would be chaos and a lot of dead bodies would by lying around.

          27hp might haul my wife up the hills of San Francisco, but put me on the back and we'd surely be going backward. :)

          • Barry Kelly says:

            If 10% switched, there would be substantially less traffic[1]; and you'd be surprised at how well chaotic flow works in practice.

            27hp is 20kW, or 20kJ per second. I'll assume that the two of you together weigh 500lb, or 226kg. The SH weighs 160kg; together you'd weigh about 390. The potential energy increase in lifting 390kg one metre vertically is 3.8kJ. So 27hp can lift that combined weight 20kw/3.8kJ, or 5.26 metres per second. The steepest street gradient in San Francisco is 17.5 degrees at its steepest, and that's downhill only; in any case, if it were uphill, 5.26 metres per second of lift would correspond to 5.26m / sin(17.5) = 17.5m/s up the hill. 17.5m/s is about 40mph. More than enough for the city, in a fairly extreme scenario.

            Of course that doesn't take into account transmission inefficiencies or wind resistance. But I'd guess I'm also overestimating your combined weight, and wind resistance isn't massive at 40mph in any case. The SH300 has a better power to weight ratio than most small city cars in Europe, even when laden with 300kg[2]. Meanwhile, I weigh 60kg ;)


            [2] 50hp Peugeot 107 might be a typical example, or a VW Polo, or any of a dozen similar cars. They weigh about 820kg. 50/(820+300) is still less than 27/(160+300).

            Sorry to get all autistic about this, but scooters simply shouldn't be dismissed lightly in the urban context. They're far better than motorcycles in the city; I haven't even touched on the actual conveniences.

            • MattyJ says:

              I appreciate the insightful math, but in 'murica, our scooters don't have that much power. The 150cc jobber I had barely took me up some of the steeper hills here. And while they might get 25-30mph (sorry, again, 'murica, no metric conversion for you) going up a long hill, everyone else is going 40-45. Not safe. I imagine a swarm of fatties like myself on scooters would cause some mayhem.

              Which is why I bought a motorcycle, so I can gun it up hills and keep up with traffic.

              Also, hilariously, 'muricans are generally pretty averse to traffic circles. They put a tiny one in a residential neighborhood in San Francisco last year and it was absolute bedlam. I drive through a medium sized one on my way to work and it's surprising how many people don't know what the hell to do.

              • Adolf Osborne says:

                Of course they don't know what to do.

                When I took driver's training, traffic circles ("roundabouts) were covered just briefly, and only as classroom theory. There were none to actually drive through: They didn't exist in my area.

                Same for the test: No roundabouts.

                Indeed, my state just recently has installed the first roundabout on a state highway, ever.

                Many years passed between being granted a driver's license and experiencing my first roundabout. And I fucked it up badly, but it was late at night and nobody noticed.

                If other 'merkins suffer the same disability, I suppose I can blame "lack of exposure."

                • Growing up in NJ in the 60s and 70s, I got to see several roundabouts (including a big one on US 1) ripped up and replaced with cloverleafs (cloverleaves?) and traffic lights. Here in Southern California, they've recently installed a few tiny roundabouts on residential streets as part of "traffic calming" measures.

                  Everything comes back around again eventually, even roundabouts!

                  • Captain18 says:

                    I grew up in northern Illinois where the only roundabout was at the entrance to an unfinished subdivision, so while you drove through it you never encountered any traffic so the experience was worthless.

                    Then I moved to Binghamton, New York which had a proper traffic circle, plus travel to in-laws in New Jersey that required driving through two malformed circles in Flemington and Pennington.

                    The traffic circle in Bing had a horrible reputation because it choked on the amount of through traffic on NY-201. So they built a flyover ramp for through traffic and now the circle works fine for the local traffic.

                    The Flemington circle however, remains an exercise in Russian roulette, as the number of lanes in the circle varies from segment to segment and they prioritize traffic flow for certain routes by forcing other traffic within the circle to yield to US-202 traffic. I've been passing through that monster for 10 years now and it still confuses the crap out of me.

                    So, as someone who didn't grow up with them, circles seem like they work for situations with low to medium traffic density when no one input overwhelms the others.

  4. Joe says:

    I like their acronym.

  5. Rob McCool says:

    "and most drink water, juice, or beer primarily."

  6. As soon as self-driving cars become common, on-street parking will be seen as obsolete and a poor use of public space. Owning your own car will also taper off, in favor of the Zipcar model.

    • Ru says:

      I look forward to a future where we'll get congested roads filled with empty self-driving cars orbiting some popular venue or shopping district where parking is expensive, inconvenient or nonexistent.

      • No, the way it will work is there will be automated parking garages where the cars go when not in use.

        • "There will be..."? By what mechanism will they appear, and who will fund them? If you're counting on the free market, are you certain that they can be built cheaply enough that the parking fee will be less than the gas and maintenance cost of just telling your car to orbit nearby? Or do you somehow tax orbiting autocars to discourage the practice, or just ban it outright? How do you enforce that?

          I don't think it's an insurmountable problem, but the details that make it work aren't obvious to me yet.

    • Tom Lord says:

      There's no way angry disenfranchised people will figure out how to fuck with self-driving cars enough to prevent their mass-scale adaption, right?

  7. Lloyd says:

    How did a post about soda in restaurants turn into a discussion about parking? Is this like how every discussion in the US about freedom turns into a discussion about guns?