We expect to pay for our apartments, our clothes, and our transit rides. So why do many people start feeling as though our basic American values are threatened if parking isn’t free?

In Rockville, Benjamin Franklin is playing a central role in the debate over whether the county should subsidize parking in pay garages for anyone using the library. Montgomery is paying $90,000 a year to validate parking in the Rockville Town Center garage, adjacent to its library. The library’s policy is to validate anyone’s parking pass, meaning that people can park at Town Center, go to one of the restaurants, then validate the pass at the library and enjoy free parking on the county’s dime. Meanwhile, library patrons don’t get free bus or Metro rides to the library (though perhaps they should).

According to the Post, county councilmember Anne Robbins is invoking the name of public library founder Ben Franklin, who “understood that the very foundation of a free society depends on the education of its citizens.” That’s true, but a free society doesn’t depend on free parking to get there. Ideally, a free society wouldn’t force people to live far from the library and from transit where driving and parking are their only option.

Parking subsidy opponent George Leventhal did some Franklin research of his own, concluding that neither the library Franklin founded, nor the City of Philadelphia’s public libraries, offer free parking. As for the argument that disabled people need access, Leventhal points out that anyone with a disabled pass gets to park for free at Town Center, whether they are looking for books or buying a cup of coffee (which isn’t free).

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.