Editorial: Even if more garages were a good idea, they’re pointless without permits

Editorial: Even if more garages were a good idea, they’re pointless without permits

empty lower garage

The empty apartment garage at NE 12th and Ankeny.
(Photo: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

At the risk of overloading BikePortland with one subject (we’ll also be covering the outcome of this afternoon’s hearing about parking vs. housing in northwest Portland), one pretty simple fact seems to be getting lost in the city’s big transportation debate of the moment.

More or bigger parking garages will do nothing to reduce curbside parking unless people have some new reason to use them.

Right now, in Portland’s Northwest District, a parking space in a garage or lot costs about $1,800 per year. A city permit to hunt for space on the public curb costs $60 per year.

So what on earth is going to motivate anyone to park their car in the bigger garages that the city’s law would mandate? There’s only one answer: It would have to remain extremely annoying to find street parking in the Northwest District.

So if the only way this policy works is if the curbs of the Northwest District remain crowded, what is the point of mandatory garages in the first place?

The city is sitting on a proposal that would actually work

morehead with centers corridors committee

Portland Bureau of Transportation planner Grant Morehead discusses parking policies with the city’s Centers and Corridors parking stakeholder committee in January 2015.
(Photos: M.Andersen and J.Maus/BikePortland)

Fortunately for people who need or want to use cars in the Northwest District, there is a possible city policy that could help solve this problem.

It’d be to change the city’s parking permit rules, either by making permits more expensive, by issuing fewer of them, or both.

Even more fortunately, a huge committee of relevant stakeholders spent most of last year developing such a policy. We’ve covered it extensively. The city council has discussed it favorably, with Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick leading the charge and seemingly winning most of his colleagues over without any votes being taken.

Under the recommendation passed by consensus of the volunteer committee, the city would give neighborhoods the right to create a new overnight parking permit system in their areas, approved by popular vote. They could work with city staff to set the price and number of permits available. The permits would apply only in residential zones and people who live in residential zones would have first crack at the permits, but neighborhoods could opt to sell them to people who live elsewhere.

It’s not a perfect proposal — a simple change to make the permits transferable would let individuals set a fair price for street parking spaces rather than forcing neighborhoods to guess the right one in advance — but it would work.

Neighborhoods would basically get to self-regulate developers in their areas. If a development wasn’t building enough parking for its residents, developers would need to either attract car-free people, build sufficiently large garages, or buy street permits at a price set by the neighborhood.

That’s called a win-win.

What happened to letting neighborhoods self-regulate their parking?

Nobody disagrees that space is valuable.
(Photos: M.Andersen and J.Maus/BikePortland)

The odd thing is that sometime in the last few months, the proposal has seemed to vanish. Friday afternoon, in an email exchange about the Northwest District policy, I asked Novick what had caused the delay and when permit reform was likely to return to council. He hasn’t replied since. I honestly have no idea what’s going on here.

Nobody likes the price to go up for something they use. So no matter what, some Portlanders will reach for every available scapegoat — developers, politicians, maybe even bicyclists somehow — to explain to themselves why more new or more expensive parking permits are unnecessary.

But the fact is that anyone who thinks about this issue for more than a minute at a time will realize that more garages are pointless without changing the permit rules, and that if you had different permit rules then developers would be building adequate garages without a mandate.

Mandating parking garages instead of reforming parking permits, as the city council is debating this afternoon, only reinforces the idea that developers or politicians or anyone else has the power to get someone to move into a garage when the public is already offering a cheaper option on the curb.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

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