The Parking Saga Continues

November 16, 2016
Authors: HFO
Publishers: The Northwest Apartment Investor

Parking meterIf you have driven to downtown Portland lately, chances are you have struggled to find parking! Portland is an extremely bike friendly city that prides itself on a commitment to environmentalism and has been working hard to increase its mass transportation options. Yet for a variety of reasons many people still opt to drive personal vehicles. The fastest and easiest way to get to or from most areas of Portland is still by car, so recent news that a developer is building 11 new buildings on surface lots in downtown Portland is being met with something of an outcry.

The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT)
acknowledges that parking downtown is over capacity. SmartPark garages have been operating at a minimum of 85% occupancy, so the city works to actively discourage downtown parking by raising the price of street parking (it increased to $2 per hour in February). Variable rate parking is being introduced and could prove to be another effective deterrent even with top rates still far below what can be found in cities like Los Angeles.

It’s possible that some public parking may be included as part of the Ankeny Blocks project, but it is unclear how much or whether the city will approve it. Some residents argue that the city is right to discourage parking downtown, especially with public transportation options including buses, MAX lines, and the Portland Streetcar. Recently approved bike share programs may also lessen the need for downtown parking, but businesses are concerned that people driving downtown from Portland’s outer edges and suburbs will be discouraged by a decrease in parking options.

The city has also tried to address parking problems in other crowded parts of the urban core, such as Northwest Portland, by installing parking meters in the area’s new parking zone (Zone M). A total of 6,953 permits have been issued for approximately 5,967 curbside parking spaces, thus overbooking permits—even before including night and weekend visitors. While downtown Portland boasts several bus and MAX lines as well as all 3 streetcar lines, Northwest Portland has very limited public transportation accessibility. Only two bus routes serve the area, and the N-S Streetcar line reaches NW 23rd Avenue—but it only runs every 25 minutes. The Streetcar can take twice as long as travel by car to the South Waterfront.

Last year, the city opted to allow owners of accessory lots (parking lots for tenants, employees, or customers of local buildings) in Northwest Portland to share excess spaces with residents, local employees or valets. One notable participant in this program is Legacy Good Samaritan Medical Center, which offers free parking to local residents in its parking garages on evenings and weekends. A similar program started in January in the Central Eastside has had less luck enticing lot owners. Despite a tight parking situation and an abundance of empty spaces in accessory lots, none of the lot owners have opted to participate in the program. According to the Portland Tribune, the city is wary of making participation in these programs too easy, for fear that developers will build parking lots rather than housing units. City officials also do not want to discourage use of public transportation. Meanwhile, as of press time, both Mayor Hales and Mayor Elect Wheeler have indicated that they intend to roll back the parking requirement for new developments.

While the city still hopes to encourage people moving to and living in Portland to give up their cars, it seems unlikely to happen anytime soon. Recent proposals call for additional bike lanes, Streetcar line extensions, and rapid transit buses, but it’s not yet clear which of these options will become a reality—or how long they will take to implement.

In the meantime, the tide of in-migration to Portland has not yet ebbed, and the people moving to town appear reluctant to leave their cars behind. Stay tuned.