Portlanders for Parking Reform – Better Parking Policy For The City of Roses
Professor Donald Shoup is a retired Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning from UCLA. For almost 40 years he has been promoting parking policy that leads to less automobile cruising, more affordable housing, a better allocation of the right of way, and safer streets and sidewalks. His seminal publication The High Cost of Free Parking has influenced thousands of urban planners and politicians.
For the last 7 years, the NW Parking Stakeholder Advisory Committee (SAC) has been trying to manage 5,264 of the most desired parking spots in the city for the greatest good. But, despite their efforts, 7,600 permits were sold in 2018 for those 5,264 spaces, a 614 permit increase over 2017.
The permit program is still one of the most advanced in the nation. The permits, while still 1/10 the cost of off-street parking, are sold for $180 a year. Progressive pricing of permits (the second, per driver, costs more than the first) keeps Jay Leno from parking 100s of cars on the street. Revenue from the permit surcharge funds the innovative Transportation Wallet program, bike parking, and more.
Prices might go up, a little bit
The NW Parking SAC decided against increasing the surcharge for permits (the base charge in 2018 was $60 + $120 surcharge) but the city has upped the base fee to $75. It’s unclear if permit rates will go up $15 to $195/year to cover the increase.
In contrast, the Central Eastside Industrial District has raised permit fees every year and Zone G residential permits are now $370 per year. Committing to a schedule for several years of performance-based increases would be a good next step for the NW Parking SAC.
Accounting for off-street parking
One of two proposed changes for 2019-2020 is that buildings/households with available off-street parking will lose permit availability proportional to that off-street supply. In an example given by PBOT, if a household has two vehicles registered and one off-street parking space, then the household can purchase only one permit.
Restricting business permits
Another proposed change is to limit the amount of permits available to businesses. There are 6 employers in NW Portland with more than 50 permits allocated to their employees. The proposed changes would limit the allowable permits to any business to 50. PBOT is considering making more subsidized transportation wallets available to employers to mitigate the impact of this change.
If you are a NW resident or worker, try to show up at the Open House on May 7th from 5pm – 7pm at the Eleanor Event Space (1605 NW Everett St) and share your input on permit changes coming to Zone M this September!
Opportunities to influence parking reforms on a national level are very, very rare, but one such window is open until 11:59PM EST on February 22nd and a bunch of smart comments could have a big impact.
As reported by Michael Andersen from Sightline Institute, Trump put a huge tax on parking lots, maybe by mistake, and the IRS is seeking guidance on the extremely important details of a seemingly esoteric change to the way our tax law subsidizes commuter parking benefits. Basically, corporations will now have to pay taxes on “commuting benefits” as if they were corporate profits.
It’s a weird law. But if it falls equally on parking and transit benefits, it could be a huge incentive for employers to replace universal free employee parking with a more equitable benefit.
Previously an employer paying $250 a month for an employee’s parking space (or bus pass) could deduct that cost from their income, but now that $250 will actually be taxed as if it were money made and kept by the company.
The IRS is in the process of writing rules about how this actually goes into effect, and they are considering effectively exempting employers with their own employee parking lots (like Nike), as well as large big-box retailers with huge surface lots (like Walmart) from the parking tax. Even worse, the tax would still apply fully to transit benefits from those same employers.
This would be a step in the very wrong direction. Ideally, employers would have to pay taxes on parking and not on transit. Barring that, Congress could ditch commuter fringe benefits and employers could voluntarily give a cash allowance for employees to get to work.
36 Hours To Make A Difference
So you have about 36 hours from when this article is published to submit a comment to the IRS asking for them to tax parking fairly.
Last month a majority of voters in a Northeast Portland neighborhood supported a new parking permit zone, but because of ridiculous rules from 1981, the City of Portland says the proposal failed.
The permit election, in the Eliot Neighborhood, had a 53% turnout. For comparison, the 2018 primary, in which voters renewed the Children’s Levy and re-elected Commissioner Nick Fish, had a turnout of roughly 30%.
If City Commissioners and the Mayor had to meet the same electoral thresholds as a new parking permit zone, council might have a different makeup.
Of the ballots returned in Eliot, 54% were in favor of the permit proposal, a simple majority that would be sufficient in almost any other election. In total, 28.9% of all eligible ballots were mailed in (postage not included) to support on-street car parking management, but since city code requires a 60% supermajority for a parking permit, a minimum of 30% of all eligible households must vote yes to charge less than $7 a month for parking. Mayor Ted Wheeler was elected in 2016 with yes votes from only 27.9% of registered Portland voters.
Petitioning For Relief
New Portland parking permit districts can be initiated in two ways. In the first way, the neighborhood or business association can request that PBOT look into parking occupancy in an impacted area. The neighborhood associations in Portland are generally run by volunteers elected to the board by a minuscule percentage of eligible residents (it’s not uncommon for 20 people in a neighborhood of 7000+ to be the only voters).
In the second method, neighbors must circulate a petition and collect signatures from 50% of addresses in their proposed boundaries. Brad Baker, an Eliot neighborhood resident who helped organize six canvasses “in groups ranging from 4-6 people,” and reports they “were told to not include large buildings that you can’t access the addresses from the street [in the proposed permit area] because if you can’t get in the building, you can’t get them to sign on to your petition.”
Baker says this petition requirement “makes it practically infeasible to include large buildings, so the areas that would probably benefit most from managing parking are not included.” Furthermore, Baker suspects the process insures “only those wealthy enough to be in single family homes can benefit from an improved parking management.” Indeed, in some neighborhoods, permit boundaries have been drawn to exclude larger multi-family buildings, thereby excluding tenants of those buildings from access to cheap on-street parking that homeowners enjoy.
Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who was most recently re-elected with 31.7% of the registered vote, worried at the 12/15/2016 council session that allowing tenants of apartments to participate in neighborhood parking politics might dilute the power of single-family homeowners. If apartment dwellers get a vote and “the multi-family building has a lot of people in it, then it could be really lopsided as to who wants the parking permit system and who doesn’t.”
A Hurdle Too High
When all was said and done and the ballots were counted, only a simple majority of voters had agreed to on-street parking management. More canvassing may have helped; however, due to the supermajority requirement, organizers would have to turn out 3 pro-permit votes out of every 5 to tread water.
Similar turnout and results for the permit vote and most recent mayoral election.
In 2014, a large Stakeholder Advisory Committee (more than 20 members) was convened and met 10 times. The Centers + Corridors Parking Study SAC developed, and unanimously endorsed, a parking management toolkit and a new residential parking permit program. Although among the suggested improvements was a reduction of the required majority to a more commonly accepted 50%+1 threshold for a ballot success, the minimum turnout requirement remained in the proposal.
When Portland City Council considered the new permit policy on December 15, 2016, Commissioner Amanda Fritz felt that common democratic practices wouldn’t suffice for parking permits. “I’m concerned,” Fritz comments at 34:13 into the hearing video, “about only 50% of the residents and only 51% can vote for it so 26% of the area residents and including if the multi-family building has a lot of people in it, then it could be really lopsided as to who wants the parking permit system and who doesn’t.”
The primary innovation of that proposed parking policy was to remove parking decisions from the political tug-of-war engaged in at City Council. On-street parking is one of the most valuable city assets and management of that asset is one of the most effective transportation demand levers. Portland has hired many smart professionals to work for PBOT who should be empowered to make simple, data-driven decisions about parking, so long as they adhere to city goals and equity policies.
Will future generations look back and wonder why Portland City Council maintained a higher democratic bar to protect access to free parking for homeowners than the commissioners themselves had to clear to be elected? The clock is ticking on climate action. How many more years will we waste attempting to conduct pilots to convince City Council that their own transportation professionals are competent and educated enough to do the jobs they were hired for?
The Everett House is actually a complex of several large homes in a neighborhood bordered by restaurants and shops on NE 29th to the west, more restaurants and shops (and a bus line) on NE Glisan to the north, and more commerce (and a 24 hour bus line) on E Burnside to the south.
For the last 36 years, the business has operated under a conditional use permit that allows the commercial activity in the residentially zoned neighborhood. That agreement, negotiated in June of 1982, requires the facility to provide 30 off-street car parking stalls within 300 feet of the spa for patrons. In the past, the business has contracted with nearby owners of parking to meet the requirements, but recently the lot they leased was closed to be redeveloped into 118 apartments with no on-site parking, and as a result a new conditional use permit, without parking requirements, was sought.
These requirements themselves “lacked evidentiary and legal reasoning” according to the Hearings Officer in the current case. In fact, a previous conditional use from 1981 required only 20 car parking stalls and 10 bicycle parking stalls.
More evidence that many existing parking requirements are completely arbitrary.
Nearby residents of the complex have, apparently, considered the business a nuisance for decades. A comment, purportedly from neighbor Fred King, on the Willamette Week’s coverage of the story, says “the real problem was that management has constantly tried to expand the business … the opposite of what the conditional use permit required.”
Ultimately, it is the expansion of services, specifically a desire to host up to 12 events per year at the facility attracting approximately 95 patrons, that the Hearings Officer felt did not meet the conditions of approval. Estimated peak occupancy of 65 members at the facility was shown by occupancy studies to not unduly congest parking. An additional 30 visitors two dozen nights a year, and particularly the cars they might drive to the neighborhood for those events, was enough to sink the petition to continue operations without off-site parking.
Parking is an unfortunate proxy for “livability”
A business operating in a residential neighborhood under a conditional use may be a bad neighbor. Neighbors of Everett House have cited noise, unauthorized structures, and other problems with the business. But parking is a proverbial “ace in the hole” when it comes to concerns about livability in a neighborhood. Because parking concerns are nearly always taken seriously and met with sympathy from other people who drive (including nearly every elected official), raising concerns about car parking is an excellent strategy for slowing down or killing a project (or business) that one doesn’t like.
This case highlights the general problem with parking requirements and a reliance on parking generation and parking demand worksheets. The transportation study provided in the application justified the removal of the parking requirement via several lines of argument and evidence. Transit access to the facility and strategies to implement better transportation demand management were mentioned, but the crux of the report depended on parking generation and demand calculations combined with observed parking occupancy.
Peak hour occupancy near the facility was shown to max out at 81%, less than the 85% the city considers congested. The engineer makes the very valid point that if the facility is operating and peak occupancy is below 85%, then the area is clearly able to absorb the demand from the spa.
But because the general assumption is that parking demand should be accommodated with off-street parking, the business is required to prove that special events will not cause parking congestion when calculated demand from those events is added to the current conditions observed at the site. Current conditions likely include “hide-and-ride” commuters who park and take transit, rarely used second or third vehicles owned by residents, and employees of nearby businesses (including the Everett House) who are, rationally, taking advantage of free and convenient parking.
A better approach would be to put the onus on the city to manage the public parking supply with demand based permits, metering, time stays, and other restrictions. A neighborhood permit system could allow much more efficient use of the public resource, potentially raising revenue that could be used to subsidize the transit costs for low-income residents and make capital improvements for pedestrians and cyclists.
Such a system could allow patrons to buy virtual permits for their visit to the spa. Residents of the upcoming 118 unit apartment building would have an opportunity to pay market rates for parking, if they need it, just like anyone else in the neighborhood. All may park, all must pay (with proceeds going to subsidize transportation for the poor).
Time for a complete shift in thinking
Car culture brought with it an expectation of cheap and ample parking in our cities. As society faces threats from climate change, traffic carnage, and wealth inequality, this expectation stands in the way of progressive policy. As long as parking complaints are assumed to be legitimate livability concerns, cities will continue to implement backwards policies. In the worst cases cities will maintain parking requirements, but even in cities without parking requirements, pandering to parking demand will hinder effective action.
Car parking is not a community benefit. It leads to traffic that pollutes the air and endangers pedestrians. Car parking takes up space that could be used for housing, transit, parks, and more. Developers who want to build parking should be the ones defending themselves to Hearing Officers for conditional uses. Developers who provide parking should be the ones providing transportation demand management, planting trees, and providing additional affordable homes.
We’ve had things backwards for a long time, it’s time to deweaponize parking and get on with the serious business of solving our problems.
A building that would likely be the city’s tallest to have no on-site parking went before the Portland Design Commission on January 3rd. The meeting was reported to be packed with residents, many of whom opposed the development’s height and impact on traffic. But others in the neighborhood, including the Pearl District Neighborhood Association (PDNA), were more supportive of the project with some reservations.
The 250 foot tall building would provide roughly 170 hotel rooms on 11 floors and another 110 apartments on 11 more floors as well as ground level retail, all parking would be provided by off-site valet services.
Rendering of proposed building containing 170 hotel rooms, 110 apartments, and no parking.
The location, on NW 12th and NW Flanders, has been owned since 2016 by Vibrant Cities, a Seattle-based development firm. In June, the Oregonian reported that the developer had initially planned to build an apartment tower on the site, but shifted the focus to a hotel use after the city of Portland passed inclusionary housing requirements. Additional height allowed by the 2035 Comprehensive Plan, seems to have enabled a reimagining of the project to provide both a hotel and apartments, including the required affordable homes.
In September, the PDNA submitted a letter to the design commission which was particularly forward-thinking regarding the developer’s choice to forgo building expensive on-site parking, recognizing that “parking garages are the most expensive part of new developments” and building less parking can “[increase] housing affordability and [provide] more options for renters that do not own vehicles.”
This project will likely face further opposition from neighbors who will insist on lower heights and on-site parking. Ironically, on-site parking would cause additional traffic and conflicts with pedestrians and cyclists; the very issues opponents claim the current configuration will bring. Proponents of multi-modal transportation will be needed to point out what should be obvious, more parking brings more congestion.
While many smaller parking-free projects have been developed in the last decade, this is, hopefully, a sign that larger buildings with no parking will be able to secure funding in the future. As the PDNA points out, “the Pearl is an ideal location to live and work car-free, especially at this particular site where numerous amenities and tens of thousands of jobs are located in reasonable walking distance.”
Northwest Portland has been the site of a PBOT parking management pilot for serveral years and the city is looking to apply what it has learned in that pilot to other parking management districts.
On Wednesday, December 19th, City Council will receive a report from PBOT on the activities and results of parking management strategies in the NW District. Council will then be asked to approve a list of “Parking Permit Surcharge Revenue Allocation Guidelines” which define what programs and projects are eligible for funding from permit surcharge revenues.
NW PDX is trailblazing on permits
The report on Zone M parking permits and management is a case study for modern residential parking management. Since council denied demands for residential parking requirements in 2016, the NW Parking Stakeholder Advisory Committee (SAC) has recommended increases in parking permits prices ($180 per year for a first permit with a discount for low income residents available) and progressive pricing for multiple permits ($360/year for the second permit and $540/year for each permit thereafter).
The process hasn’t been without pitfalls, however, A recommendation by the SAC to limit permits available to residents of apartment buildings was jettisoned due to being unfair to residents of older buildings. The current policy does limit the number of permits available to residents of buildings permitted since 2013.
Permit restrictions are in place for residents of newer buildings
Where does the money go?
The big decision for City Council is whether to approve the surcharge revenue allocation guidelines.
To that end, the eligible project examples given in the guidelines lean heavily toward subsidizing transit and cycling via universal transit passes and transportation wallets. Capital projects are included as well, but similarly the eligible projects are focused on making walking, cycling, scooting, and riding transit more safe, comfortable, and convenient.
Projects eligible for funding from permit surcharges are, mostly, meant to reduce parking demand by incentivizing and promoting other modes.
More work to be done
The results of the NW parking pilot are encouraging, but there is a lot more that could be done. By eliminating guest permits and placing more stringent restrictions and higher prices on employee permits, the total number of permits sold in 2017 was 1,574 fewer than in 2016, but resudent permits sold increased by 6%.
This doesn’t mean the policy isn’t working, given the amount of housing coming online in the permit zone, an increase of only 188 resident permits is good, but higher annual fees are probably needed to really have an impact on parking demand. At $180 a year, the city is renting some of the most valuable property it owns for $1 per square foot a year, or $0.50 per stall per day, or $15 per stall per month. No matter how you look at it, it’s a steal.
Another improvement to NW parking management would be to extend the hours of enforcement at parking meters later into the evening. Such a move is justified by occupancy rates in the evening dining/entertainment hours and it would have a number of beneficial impacts. Residents would have an easier time finding parking in meter zones if enforcement were extended and businesses in the area, particularly restaurants, would benefit from an additional wave of patrons as parking stalls would turn over an additional time in the early evening.
Such a change was, in fact, recommended by the SAC and was slated to come before council for approval on Wednesday, but it was pulled and delayed until later next year.
City council could approve a backdoor plan to spend public money on parking garages in the Central Eastside and it’s cynically tied to a long awaited project to reduce car trips in the central city.
City Council needs to hear from YOU about this secret parking policy. When you’re done reading, send an email to email@example.com before Thursday November 15 (put Agenda Item 1184: CCIM Parking Strategy in the subject). Tell City Council to cut out any new publicly funded parking supply from the CCIM Parking Strategy Report. Tell Council to stay the course with Transportation Demand Management and don’t undermine the great projects in the Central City In Motion Plan.
Central City In Motion (CCIM) is a plan to keep the central city of Portland moving. It’s made up of 18 great projects that will make streets safer for walking, more comfortable for cycling, and faster for transit and, sometimes, freight.
After many years and thousands of public comments and meetings the project is finally scheduled to come before city council this week, on November 15th at 2pm.
But Central City In Motion has acquired a companion report and it’s not so good.
Over the last 5 years, Portland has overhauled it’s parking policy, and it’s getting pretty good. This has taken countless volunteer hours, open houses, and hearings. There have been at least four stakeholder committees to review our parking policies, covering everything from loading zone signage to residential parking permits. At every step of the way, advocacy groups, the public, and business interests have been at the table to shape these policies.
Stakeholders Only Included Business Interests And Land Holders
But the CCIM Parking Supply and Demand Management Report was developed internally with input mostly from business interests like the Central Eastside Industrial Council and the Portland Business Alliance. Other groups consulted are primarily large land holders or managers of existing off-street parking supply that the city proposes to open up for public use.
It does not appear that any community groups, transportation advocacy organizations, or neighborhood groups were brought into the process.
And the report’s findings reflect that lack of any countervailing viewpoint among the stakeholders.
A Path Forward To Build A New Garage
The Central Eastside Industrial Council has been angling for new publicly funded parking for years, but new publicly funded parking is among the lowest priorities for PBOT. Thwarted thus far, the CEIC has supported some good parking policy instead. The area has many metered streets and the parking permit program charges almost $25 a month for residential and commuter permits.
The CEIC would seemingly prefer to apply that cash-flow toward new parking supply, perhaps by partnering with Prosper Portland, the city’s development fund that has pursued commuter parking projects in recent years. But, so far, there hasn’t been a policy that provides a path to building more parking.
Enter “Strategy 8” the “Off-Street Parking Investment Fund.”
$50,000/stall is optimistic. Convention Center Hotel parking is costing more than $60,000/stall
If City Council approves this project, CEIC will perceive this strategy as an endorsement of the desire to apply revenue from on-street parking to this investment fund. While the strategy claims the strategy of buying parking in new developments would reduce risk, this is a stretch. It seems very similar to an attempted deal between Prosper Portland and a prospective developer in Old Town/Chinatown. Under that deal, the developer would build to their maximum allowable parking allotment (they were planning to build only 1/2 of their allowed stalls) and after construction, Prosper Portland proposed to buy ALL the underground parking from the developer and lease back the stalls to the developer for use by residents in the building. Far from minimizing risk to public funds, this type of deal puts all the risk of long-term parking onto the city.
Worse Than Risky
Investing in parking garages in 2018 or beyond is a bad bet. Construction costs are sky high, parking demand is declining at many destinations, transportation is changing rapidly, and the city is working hard to reduce automobile trips. But even if it wasn’t a bad fiscal play, building new parking will undermine our ability to reduce car trips, reduce emissions, and make our streets safer.
The amount of parking in our city center is, effectively, the minimum number of car trips that are accommodated by our built environment. Most (if not all) of the time, the city has excess parking supply in the City Center. It might not be exactly in front of the restaurant someone is going to, but it is there. The fewer stalls that exist in the central city, the more inconvenient and expensive it will be to park. If there are more stalls, then it is easier to make the choice to drive to the central city rather than to take transit, bike, or walk.
CCIM and associated projects are designed to reduce the number of car trips to the city center. Reallocating on-street parking to other modes is a very effective way to do so, it makes driving less convenient and makes other modes more convenient. Replacing that lost parking supply undermines the goal. It invites more cars into the central city on one hand, while the other hand is trying to discourage them.
Isn’t Traffic Bad Enough Already?
The amount of parking in the Central Eastside is already supporting unacceptable congestion. Traffic congestion is consistently among the most cited complaints of Portlanders. But would the CCIM projects even actually reduce the parking supply in the Central Eastside? Not if new private parking is considered.
A project under construction right now at SE Stark and SE Water Ave, contains 6 floors of commercial parking. A few blocks away at 525 SE MLK, another building under construction includes underground parking. We still aren’t heading in the right direction in regards to parking supply in the Central Eastside, to meet our mode split goals we cannot add any more car trips to the central city, regardless of expected population and job growth.
New Parking Under Construction At SE 7 Stark Ave
What Should We Do?
The CCIM Parking Strategy and Demand Management Report isn’t all bad. There is one very, very good strategy mentioned. It’s also the one already being implemented, it’s proven to be successful, and it’s relatively cheap.
The Transportation Wallet
The first strategy mentioned is to increase funding for transportation demand management (TDM). The city is currently running a program to provide discounted, or in some cases free, Transportation Wallets to residents and workers in areas with parking meters and permits. Money from the meters and permits is used to subsidize a package of alternative transportation options. Right now, that package includes $100 on a TriMet Hop Card, a Portland Streetcar pass, and an annual BIKETOWN membership. The CCIM parking report suggests that people who opt-out of parking permits could be provided with an annual TriMet pass and providing deeper discounts for low income workers.
The city could go even further. Right now the CEIC is paying $250,000 a year to operate a sparingly used parking lot circulator shuttle. A bold TDM strategy would be to scrap the shuttle (which is near both the streetcar and the Eastbank Esplanade) and provide 2,500 Central Eastside workers with free transportation wallets.
The city is looking at expanding the options provided in the wallet as well. Car share and e-scooters are two mobility options that could be added to the wallet soon.
A Proven Strategy
Transportation Demand Management works. On the same day the city finally published the parking strategy report, Sarah Goforth from PBOT presented a lecture at PSU’s Transportation Research and Education Center (TREC).
Goforth detailed how a combination of on-street parking management and the transportation wallet are leading to real reductions in parking demand. You can watch her presentation here.
Let The Current Policy Work
The most recent parking policy to go through a full stakeholder process, including representatives from the CEIC and PBA, was the Performance Based Parking Management project. This policy will lead to performance-based price adjustments in areas with parking meters, like the Central Eastside. The first adjustments will happen next year.
Additionally, several years ago, the city completed and passed a Central City Parking Policy Update (incidentally, the PBA and CEIC were represented on that committee as well). Among other things, the policy relaxed rules about shared-parking. This relaxation meant that parking which was built for one purpose, say residential use, could be used for commercial parking as well.
These policies were developed in the normal public process. They are hard fought policies that will produce results. We should not undermine our goals by passing a backdoor plan to build more parking garages and rent private parking spaces for public use.
A Call To Action
City Council needs to hear from YOU about this secret parking policy. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org before Thursday November 15 (put Agenda Item 1184: CCIM Parking Strategy in the subject). Tell City Council to cut out any new publicly funded parking supply from the CCIM Parking Strategy Report. Tell Council to stay the course with Transportation Demand Management and don’t undermine the great projects in the Central City In Motion Plan.
Testify In Person
There is a hearing scheduled on Thursday November 15 at 2 p.m. City Council Chambers: 1221 SW 4th Avenue, Portland.
We encourage you to support the Central City In Motion project, but please tell city council to cut new publicly funded parking strategies from the CCIM Parking Strategy Report.
CALL TO ACTION: City Council needs to hear from YOU about your support for Performance-based Parking Management. Send an email to email@example.com before Wednesday July 25 (put Performance-based Parking Management in the subject). Tell City Council why you think it’s time to get politics out of parking prices by using a data-driven approach to parking management.
Should a prime, convenient, and coveted parking spot, right in front of a busy storefront cost the same rate as a, relatively, crummy spot near I-405?
A month ago, on June 13, council heard a presentation and testimony on this policy, but concerns from various commissioners led to a delaying a second hearing. Some commissioners were, reportedly, worried that adjusting prices based on demand would make downtown Portland less accessible to people with lower incomes.
But a look at preliminary data from the city shows that there are many areas of downtown and the central city which would likely see rates decrease under the new policy. Furthermore, many of the blocks likely to see increases are near city-owned Smart Park garages, a lower-cost and longer-stay alternative to prime street parking.
Most areas likely to see increases are near Smart Park garages, many areas will likely see decreases. Image courtesy of Sightline Institute.
PBOT has returned with a new resolution and ordinance that should, hopefully, clear up some other concerns that commissioners had about the proposal in June.
Concerns about the impact of a policy like this on low-income people are valid and important, but too often those worries manifest in policy that provides a subsidy to all car-drivers, the majority of whom are not low income. Meanwhile, transit dependent people are stuck paying ever-increasing rates to sit in buses, idling in traffic caused by single-occupancy commuters. Performance-based Parking Management is just one of many strategic policies the city can use to reduce traffic, save people time, and encourage other modes. The most promising option for a sustainable and equitable solution to Portland’s transportation problems is to prioritize transit above other modes via enhanced transit corridors and bus/freight only lanes.
After years of work, seemingly countless committee meetings, and several false starts, Portland seems ready to join San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Seattle, and many other cities and apply simple market economics to on-street parking. Will City Council finally take that step?
CALL TO ACTION: City Council needs to hear from YOU about your support for Performance-based Parking Management. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org before Wednesday July 25(put Performance-based Parking Management in the subject). Tell City Council why you think it’s time to get politics out of parking prices by using a data-driven approach to parking management.
ACTION ALERT: send a quick email to email@example.com with subject Agenda Item 652: Parking Management Manual. Let City Council know that this is LONG overdue and that you support data-driven parking management for a safer, cleaner, and more prosperous city.
Price on-street parking so that there is always a space available per block
Use parking meter revenue in a way that benefits the locality in which it’s collected
Portland meter rates since 1970
Portland is slowly, but surely, reducing and eliminating minimum parking requirements throughout the city, but parking meter rate setting is still a lengthy and political process. Currently, to get a meter rate increase downtown, a stakeholder committee must be convened and city council must approve any rate increases. This was last done in 2016 and the process is so cumbersome that meter rates downtown have only been adjusted 8 times in the last 50 years!
Because of this antiquated and political process, some parking downtown is underpriced, and completely full at peak hours, while other areas have overpriced parking, leading to lower than ideal utilization.
The new process will use a data driven approach to adjust meter rates annually. Observed occupancy in a parking zone of above 85% will trigger a rate increase, while occupancy below 65% will trigger a rate decrease. The rate adjustment will be ±$0.20-$0.60 depending on how congested (or vacant) the parking zone is. The proposal would cap maximum rates at $5.00/hour and set a minimum rate of $1.00/hour in metered areas.
Observed excess parking congestion or vacancy will trigger meter rate adjustments.
In practice, the average price for an on-street stall downtown will likely decrease. There are many areas in downtown where the current $2.00 rate is too high. This policy will allow cost-sensitive visitors to downtown to seek cheaper parking, perhaps a few blocks away from their destination, or incentivize parking in Smart Park garages. The areas with very high parking demand will see rate increases, but visitors to those areas who choose to pay the higher rate will find their costs offset by greater convenience and less time (and money) spent cruising for parking.
But That’s Not All
Performance-based pricing is the most critical policy outlined in the manual, but there are several other important topics addressed.
Creating New Parking Districts
The manual spells out how new parking districts can be requested and how they will be implemented. Getting meters installed would be a multi-step process starting with time-stays and ensuring multiple opportunities for stakeholders to give input.
Net Meter Revenue Allocation
Charging for on-street parking should not be a tax or a money grab by City Hall. Meter rates should be set to help create functioning and safe commercial districts and to signal that the city values its right-of-way as an essential public resource. The PBPM recommends “a majority of net meter revenue should go to services and programs within the meter district in which they were generated.” In addition, the committee recommended that PBOT review revenue allocation for downtown meter revenue, currently all downtown and Pearl District revenue goes to the general fund.
Time Limits and Loading Zones
The PBPM clarifies and standardizes how time limits and loading zones are determined and adjusted. The city currently has over 40 types of loading zones, the PBPM condenses them to five types.
The manual recommends a data-driven rate schedule for event districts (currently there is one event district, near Providence Park and in-force on Timber’s game days. Rates near the stadium during these hours would be adjusted ±$1.00-$3.00 depending on demand, with a cap at $10/hour.
A HUGE Step In a Great Direction
Overall, this is a comprehensive and well thought out manual. The stakeholder committee included representatives from the Portland Business Alliance, Venture Portland, Portlanders for Parking Reform [Disclosure: the author of this post served on the committee], freight interests, and several downtown neighborhoods. The committee supported the manual unanimously.
Certainly, improvements could be made to the manual. In particular, it may take several years of adjustments for some of the most congested downtown parking zones to see prices that provide relief from congestion. Ultimately, however, the most important policy objective is to depoliticize parking meter rates, and this proposal delivers.
If you agree, send a quick email to firstname.lastname@example.org with subject Agenda Item 652: Parking Management Manual. Let City Council know that this is LONG overdue and that you support data-driven parking management for a safer, cleaner, and more prosperous city.