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Council pulls parking mandate after affordability advocates pile into hearing

Council pulls parking mandate after affordability advocates pile into hearing

Portland City Council

Portland City Council: Steve Novick, Amanda Fritz, Charlie Hales, Dan Saltzman and Nick Fish.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Five days after the city council seemed headed for a vote to mandate garages in larger transit-oriented apartment buildings in the Northwest District, it’s put the proposal on hold.

The decision came after opponents of mandatory parking organized a letter-writing campaign and then outnumbered supporters nearly three to one at the council’s Wednesday hearing.

“We’re going to keep coming up against these choices: do we want a city for people or a city for cars?” said one opponent of the mandate, Rachel Shadoan. “I want a city for people.”

She contrasted Portland with her childhood home of Oklahoma.

“My memories of Oklahoma are of endless driving and miles and miles of parking lots,” she said.

Council says permit changes might better block parking spillover

There were also dissenting voices Wednesday, as well as a general agreement that northwest Portland parking policy needs changes. Among the options discussed were higher street parking permit prices, a cap on the number of total permits issued, some sort of restriction on which buildings could be issued permits or a mandate that applied only to market-rate units.

“As long as parking is cheaper on the street than parking off street, people are going to park on the street.”
— Chris Rall

“As long as parking is cheaper on the street than parking off street, people are going to park on the street,” said Chris Rall, one of many who said parking minimums should be used only as a last resort after other measures are taken.

Four of the five council members seemed responsive to that combination of ideas. Only Commissioner Amanda Fritz said she supported parking minimums for new buildings in the district. But she withdrew that proposal without a vote after it became clear that no other commissioners were eager to endorse it.

“I’ve learned today that there’s a lot of tools at the disposal of NW that we haven’t really explored,” said Commissioner Dan Saltzman. “I don’t want to see this disappear into the ether. I think there’s a sense of urgency, at least in my mind, anyway. I think we owe people in NW one way or the other a decision very soon.”

“This hearing has caused each of us to think about this problem in new and different ways,” said Commissioner Nick Fish. “I love the suggestion that there may be a new and hybrid idea out there that’s worth exploring. I love the idea of looking for a different way of rationing and pricing.”

“Parking minimums are extremely problematic,” Commissioner Steve Novick said. “If you increase the cost of something, you increase the cost of something. There is no way that requiring parking to be built does not drive up the cost.”

Novick said it might be possible to use Northwest to “pilot” new parking permit policies.

Today, the city’s parking permit policy doesn’t cap the number of permits in a given zone. In Northwest Portland, that means a $60-per-year parking permit is sometimes referred to as a “hunting license.” Once it completes a planned expansion, Northwest District’s will have 4,700 spaces available to Zone M permit holders. The city has issued more than 9,000 Zone M parking permits.

As part of Wednesday’s action, the council agreed to make it legal to let institutions like Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital rent out their unused spaces during off-peak hours. That could free up “hundreds” of new parking stalls, a Legacy executive said.

Developer: each parking stall adds $50,000 to building cost

nw portland new units

Each bar represents one building; the vertical axis shows the number of units in each. Buildings marked in orange would have been illegal under the proposed new rule.
(Data: Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. Chart: BikePortland.)

As we reported Tuesday, city data show that most new buildings in the Northwest District over the last eight years that have at least 10 units are being built with more than they would have be required to under the proposed rules.

But a few projects, accounting for 23 percent of the area’s new housing supply over that period, have less. One large project, the Tess O’Brien Apartments that start pre-leasing 124 studios of about 330 square feet next week, has no on-site parking at all.

Some people, such as Northwest District resident Iain MacKenzie, said mandatory parking rules would block such niche projects that cater to lower and medium-income people, most of them without cars. MacKenzie, who covers the development industry on his site, predicted that on-site parking would force developers to build projects with smaller numbers of higher-end units.

The one developer who showed up to testify Wednesday said that if the rules were passed, his firm would simply stop building anything with more than 30 units in order to avoid building any new parking.

“The cost of the parking stalls — they’re around $50,000,” said Frank Stock, vice president at MDC Construction. “If you just do the simple math, that’s decades to recover that cost.”

Others testifying in opposition to the minimums included Sarah Iannarone, who finished third in May’s mayoral primary; Margot Black, an organizer of Portland Tenants United who was speaking for herself; and Tony Jordan of Portlanders for Parking Reform, who had worked for weeks to organize opposition to the proposal.

“Northwest Portland has a toolbox full of parking management strategies at its disposal,” Jordan said. “Expanded permit zones, new meters, the recommended shared parking that we’re asking for — and pretty soon we should have better permit programs available as well. So I think there’s much less risk right now in waiting to see how these more flexible and equitable policies play out and then adjust them to work better, rather than applying a policy that might not work very much and certainly would exacerbate the housing crisis.”

Resident: Garages are needed so children can live in Northwest

117 NW Trinity 1912
117 NW Trinity Place, built in 1912, is one of many Northwest District buildings with no on-site parking.

Most of the handful of people who testified Wednesday in support of mandatory parking said they share the civic goals of those on the other side.

“Of course we need more housing,” said Wendy Chung. “Of course we need less cars.”

But Chung predicted that 330-square-foot studios with no on-site parking would become filled with “single professionals.” If all new buildings were required to have on-site parking, she said, then more people with children or disabilities would be able to live in the area because those people, she said, need to own cars.

Chung noted that apartments in MacKenzie’s 89-year-old building, which has no on-site parking, are renting for several hundred dollars less than smaller apartments in the new Tess O’Brien building. She said she wished that new market-rate units like Tess O’Brien weren’t allowed in her neighborhood at all — only buildings that would offer below-market rents.

Many of those backing the mandate, including three members of the Northwest Parking Stakeholder Committee, emphasized that they were asking only to be treated like the rest of the city. In 2013, the city began requiring most buildings with 30 or more units to have parking, even if they’re next to a frequent transit line.

“I see the parking minimums as a little bit of a tourniquet to stop the intense bleeding,” said Karen Karllson, a member of the committee which had voted unanimously to back the plan with new minimums included.

“I don’t remember that kind of unanimity in our past discussions,” Commissioner Fritz noted.

Novick: Citywide permit option might come to council within months

Street fee press conference-1

Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick.

Commissioner Fish, for his part, reminded the room Wednesday that the 2013 citywide mandate was “never meant to be the final product” and tweaks might be appropriate.

“We called it an interim solution,” he said. “We’re long overdue, actually, to take a look at it. … It appears to be creating incentives to smaller-scale development, which is quite contrary to our development plan.”

One possible solution before the city is to move on a proposal that a team at the Portland Bureau of Transportation spent most of last year developing: a new residential parking permit system that would enforce parking overnight, cap the total number of permits, and could charge more than $60 per year.

Commissioner Novick said Wednesday that he had been holding back the permit policy in order to do public outreach on its thorniest question: how to decide who gets to be first in line for the limited supply of street permits. He said he expected it to come to council “within the next few months.”

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 –

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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 –

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City weighs parking rule for NW that could block a fifth of new homes

City weighs parking rule for NW that could block a fifth of new homes

~1950 Pettygrove.

The Tess O’Brien Apartments on NW 19th and Pettygrove, built with no on-site parking, are the largest project that would have been illegal under a proposal going before city council tomorrow.
(Photo: Ted Timmons)

Portland’s City Council will meet Wednesday to consider a new mandatory parking requirement that, if it had existed for the last eight years, would have illegalized 23 percent of the new housing supply in northwest Portland during the period.

The Tess O’Brien Apartments, a 126-unit project that starts pre-leasing next week and will offer some of the cheapest new market-rate housing in northwest Portland, couldn’t have been built if they’d been required to have 42 on-site parking spaces, its developer said in an interview.

“Do the math,” Martin Kehoe of Portland LEEDS Living said Friday. “The apartments at the Tess O’Brien are between $1250 and $1400 a month. If we were required to build parking, you’d be between $1800 and $2000 a month. … It probably just wouldn’t have been built. And then what’s that going to do to the existing project that’s out there and has been built? It’s just going to drive the rents of those up.”

Kehoe said the Tess O’Brien units, which average 330 square feet, are intended for people who don’t own cars.

“We’ve got free bike parking rooms, you’re a block off the bus, you’re a block off streetcar, you’ve got access to Uber whenever you want it,” he said. “People who move into these apartments … they don’t have cars.”

The proposal up for debate on Wednesday would apply the same rule to the Northwest District, immediately west of Interstate 405, that applies in other neighborhoods outside the central city: buildings with 31 to 40 homes would need at least one parking space for every five units. Buildings with 41 to 50 homes would need one space for every four units. Buildings with 51 or more homes would need one space for every three units.

Mandatory parking minimums would have driven up the construction cost of 305 new homes built in northwest Portland since 2008.

Including the Tess O’Brien Apartments, those mandatory parking minimums would have driven up the construction cost of 305 new homes built in northwest Portland since 2008, city data show, potentially by enough to kill the five new buildings in question. That’s 23 percent of the 1,339 units that were added to northwest by buildings of 10 or more units.

For comparison’s sake, if those 305 new no-parking homes were in a single building, it would have been the sixth largest built in Portland since at least 2000. The largest new building in the Lloyd District, for example, added 337 units to the city’s housing supply.

But most new homes in northwest Portland are in buildings where developers opted to build more than the minimum amount of parking, usually much more, suggesting that new no-parking buildings are a niche market in the Northwest District.

‘We certainly should have the option of no parking’

nw portland new units

Buildings marked in orange would have been illegal under the proposed new rule.
(Data: Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. Chart: BikePortland.)

Portland rental vacancy rates have been below 5 percent since 2008. Last year, monthly rent in the average apartment rose $100, with hikes concentrated mostly in older units. In April, the local Barry Apartment Construction Report saw housing supply finally keeping up with demand (a trend confirmed by May Census figures) but still not increasing fast enough for a significant rise in vacancies.

Local home purchase prices, too, have been rising at the fastest rates in the nation.

“It won’t end until we have more balance between supply and demand in the housing market,” University of Oregon economist Tim Duy told The Oregonian last week.

“Demand is severely outpacing supply,” the news report said.

Margot Black, an organizer for the advocacy group Portland Tenants United speaking for herself, said in an interview Monday that she’d spoken with Portland Commissioner Steve Novick last week to oppose new parking minimums in northwest.

“Right now, we should not be doing anything that restricts supply and increases prices,” said Black. “We certainly should have the option of no parking if that means we could have more units at a lower price.”

Parking advisory committee: Every building brings more cars

2018 nw everett 1910 9-20

2018 NW Everett Street.
(Photos: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

The proposal to bring parking minimums to the Northwest District comes from the volunteer Northwest Portland Parking Stakeholder Advisory Committee.

“At least half of our committee did not use to support parking minimums,” said Rick Michaelson, who chairs that committee and supports minimums. “We see that the transit system has not expanded rapidly.”

Michaelson said that even in the Footprint apartments, another 50-unit microapartment building in northwest, 16 units have signed up for street parking permits.

“We’re going to see a minimum of 30 percent even for these microapartments,” he said. “We think it’s a fairness issue. We think we need as many opportunities to get the system in balance and make sure that everybody contributes to the parking infrastructure.”

“9700 parking permits have been issued that are competing for the 4100 spaces.”
— Karen Karlsson, NW Portland Parking Stakeholder Advisory Committee

Michaelson predicted that city rates for street parking will go up, which will lead to more demand for off-street parking in the future. He also said a project similar to Tess O’Brien might have penciled out even with 42 on-site parking spaces.

“Some developers are choosing to have parking without affecting the bottom line,” he said.

Michaelson said his committee had discussed other ideas for affordability such as not counting below-market-rate units toward a building’s total, or exempting buildings that offer free TriMet passes to residents.

Karen Karlsson, who also serves on the committee, said her “bottom line” is that “9700 parking permits have been issued that are competing for the 4100 spaces.”

“We really need to find a way to help balance the supply and reduce the demand,” she said. “We need every tool that we can get.”

Council will hold hearing Wednesday and may vote

Portland City Council

Portland City Council: Steve Novick, Amanda Fritz, Charlie Hales, Dan Saltzman and Nick Fish.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Portland Commissioner Steve Novick said Friday that because he assumes “markets operate like markets,” requiring on-site parking in buildings in transit-oriented neighborhoods does tend to drive up housing costs by reducing the supply of new housing.

But Novick said he is considering support for a new parking minimum anyway, at least in the short term, because minimums already exist in most of the city.

“I generally am not excited about constructing lots of new parking,” Novick said. “I don’t think we should continue to build society around the car if we are going to take our climate goals seriously. [But] I am much more sympathetic when folks come from a neighborhood that has meters, has a permit system, has a fair amount of density, and say ‘Hey, we want to be treated the way other folks are treated.’”

The central city, which includes the Pearl District in inner northwest, doesn’t have parking minimums. As in northwest, developers there usually opt to include on-site parking as an amenity for residents who choose to pay extra for it.

Most of the buildings that define northwest Portland were built before the city’s first parking requirements.

But many older apartments and condos in northwest Portland, maybe even most of them, have zero on-site parking. That’s because most of the buildings that define northwest Portland were built before the city’s first parking requirements, which probably date to the 1950s.

In fact, one older apartment building in the district without on-site parking belongs to Michaelson’s real estate company.

For the second half of the 20th century, most new apartment and condo buildings in Portland had garages or parking lots attached. In 2000 the city council, led by then-Commissioner Charlie Hales, eliminated parking minimums for units close to frequent-service transit lines. Starting in 2008, as Portland’s rents began their recent climb, some developers began to secure loans for buildings without on-site parking.

In most of those buildings around Portland’s east side, half or more of households in the no-parking buildings owned at least one car. That meant parking spillover, which led to a backlash from some neighbors.

In 2013, Hales (newly elected as mayor) led approval of what he described as a stopgap measure to require parking at most new buildings of 30 units or more, even if they were within a block of a frequent transit line. But there was one exception: the Northwest District, which was already in the midst of a parking reform program.

Demand-based parking group organizing opposition to rule

park avenue west

Parking excavation beneath the future Park Avenue West tower downtown.

In the three years when many apartment buildings in Portland were being constructed without parking, from 2011 through 2013, average construction costs per apartment fell even though construction costs for other units didn’t.

Then, after parking minimums were reinstated for most transit-oriented buildings in 2013, average construction costs per apartment shot back up even though construction costs for other units didn’t.

Tony Jordan of the group PDX Shoupistas, which advocates for demand-based parking policy, found that the number of buildings going up in Portland with exactly 30 units — the maximum size a transit-oriented building can be in most of the city without triggering parking minimums — is apparently about to soar. There are currently 14 such buildings in development, he calculated last week.

According to city permit data obtained by BikePortland under state open records rules, that compares to eight such buildings over the last 15 years.

Jordan is organizing people to contact the city council Tuesday and/or testify on Wednesday to oppose new minimums.

“In times like this, proposals which curtail the supply of new housing and increase rents should be dead on arrival,” Jordan wrote Monday. “A vote for minimum parking requirements is a vote to make the housing crisis worse.”

Novick says citywide reform is an option, but not yet


New homes on Southeast Ankeny Street, built with an on-site garage.
(Photos: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

In an interview Friday, Joan Frederiksen of the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability said the city staff does not see a “tradeoff” between space for parking and space for people.

“I wouldn’t use the word tradeoff,” she said. “I think it’s more about balancing. … With this project we are echoing the direction council provided back in 2013, finding that balance between parking and affordability.”

Matt Grumm, a senior policy manager for Housing Commissioner Dan Saltzman, put things differently.

“There’s no doubt that these are tradeoffs,” he said. “Parking minimums potentially increase the cost of that housing.”

Grumm said his boss would “wait for the hearing” before deciding how to vote but suggested that maybe developers who opt to include below-market-rate units in their buildings should get a break on parking requirements.

“It’ll be interesting to see if that gets any traction,” he said.

In an email last week, Hales spokeswoman Sara Hottman said the mayor supports the proposal to “extend the City’s minimum parking requirements to the Northwest Plan district.”

There are two other votes on the council: Nick Fish, who proposed the 2013 parking minimums that were passed into code, and Amanda Fritz.

Both Novick and Frederiksen suggested that the city might consider amending its citywide parking minimums at some point in the future.

“Even if we wind up applying parking minimums in northwest next week, I’m really encouraged that I’ve been hearing people opposing parking minimums,” Novick said. “Once we have those new tools available, one option is to revisit the parking minimum requirements throughout the city.”

Novick didn’t respond to a question about when the council is likely to consider his proposal that would let neighborhoods create their own parking permit districts.

Eudaly: “We must start decreasing our reliance on the personal automobile”

NW Portland Week - Day 5-24.jpg

Parking outside the Clearing Cafe on NW Thurman.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Chloe Eudaly, who is running on a housing-affordability platform to replace Novick on the city council, said in an email Monday that she opposes new minimums:

Portland is going through growing pains right now and traffic congestion and parking are high on the list of concerns, but what’s even higher is housing affordability. So when we’re talking about a policy that would increase the cost of housing and decrease the number of units built, such as minimum parking standards for new multi-family developments, we need to consider our options and their impacts very carefully.

I respect the work of the NW Parking SAC, as an almost 20-year former resident of NW Portland I know what a headache parking has become in the area, but I don’t support their proposal of a blanket minimum parking standard for all new multi-dwelling developments of more than 30 units. Knowing that these spaces are likely to be underutilized in many developments and that we must start decreasing our reliance on the personal automobile, I believe we can and must come up with a more nuanced approach, especially in a neighborhood that is so central, dense, and transit-friendly (many NW residents live within 10 blocks of the street car, Max, AND a bus line).

Instead of requiring more parking space, Eudaly suggested requiring developers to offer bus passes, bike-share or car-share memberships, creating shared parking options, and raising on-street permit prices “to more closely reflect the actual cost of providing street parking.”

Other options she suggested included shared parking garages and a “live where you work” program. She, too, suggested a parking exemption for developers that include below-market-rate units.

Black, the tenants organizer, said Portland is facing a difficult transition away from a “small town” where most trips happen by car and most homes have private yards, driveways and “a picket fence.”

“It’s great if you got it, but it’s mathematically impossible for all of us to have it,” she said. “I see Portland really struggling to make this shift into a city from this small-town feel. … We need to shepherd Portland through that paradigm shift.”

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – The Real Estate Beat is a regular column. You can sign up to get an email of Real Estate Beat posts (and nothing else) here, or read past installments here.

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Wonk Night recap: Finding a space for parking reform

Wonk Night recap: Finding a space for parking reform


Fuel for change.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Wonk Night is sponsored and hosted by Lancaster Engineering. Drinks for this month’s event were provided by Widmer Brothers Brewing, makers of Omission Beer.

On Tuesday night we brought together some of Portland’s most dedicated and whip-smart parking reformers for our monthly Wonk Night. It was a sincere pleasure to be in a lively room of about 50 people who all want Portland to do a better job using auto parking as a tool for good instead of evil.


Gwen Shaw (L), John Russell, and Rebecca
Hamilton helping us thank our sponsor.

We made auto parking reform the theme of Wonk Night because how we deal with this issue is directly related to bicycling in more ways than you might think. We all know that coveted curb lane people park cars in is prime real-estate that could be used for much more useful things like safe and protected bikeways; but parking policy goes way beyond cycling. It directly influences how our city grows and who the winners and losers are when it comes to street access. This conversation is also about the negative impact automobiles have on our public spaces. As we grow, we can either manage these spaces more effectively or we’ll continue to face higher housing prices, a lower quality of life, and the continued overuse of cars that is preventing our city from achieving its climate, transportation, and growth goals.

To help us wade through this topic, we invited four experts to join us:

– Chris Smith: Portland Planning Commissioner and veteran urban policy activist. Smith was invited to help us understand the city planning context of the issue.
– Tony Jordan: Founder of Portland Shoupistas, a grassroots community group organizing for progressive parking policy in Portland. Jordan was invited to help us see the issue from an activists perspective.
– Joe Cortright: President and principal economist at Impresa Consulting and contributor to City Observatory. Cortright was there to share his insights from a numbers and data perspective.
– Brian Davis: Senior transportation analyst at Lancaster Engineering and director of that firm’s Streetlab. Davis was invited to share his perspective on what it’s like on the front lines of executing a city’s parking policy as a paid consultant.

Before we get into the recap, here are a few photos of the faces in the crowd:


Transportation planner/project manager with CH2M Sumi Malik and a gentleman whose name I can’t recall.

Chris Smith (L) and Joe Cortright.

Ben Schonberger makes a point while Gail Curtis looks on.


Brian Davis, engineer and “bullshit detector” for transportation agencies.

We were fortunate to have PBOT’s Parking Operations Division Manager Malisa McCreedy in the room.

We started off with an overview of where parking reform stands in Portland.

The City of Portland is in the midst of their Citywide Parking Strategy project. It’s the first major parking policy overhaul since 1996. With so much change in the past 20 years and with so much at stake in the future it’s imperative for transportation reform activists — especially those who think our city will work better with fewer cars — now is the time to learn more about this topic and get involved with these discussions.

For about a year now, the city has been having committee meetings and doing analysis on several different fronts with the hope of integrating the results into their update of the Comprehensive Plan. The work boils down to two parts: a revamp of policies in the Central City; and a new approach to parking in and around “centers and corridors,” areas like the 28th Avenue commercial district, St. Johns, Hollywood, and the Mississippi district.

“Parking is a fertility drug for cars.”
— Chris Smith, City of Portland Planning Commissioner

Chris Smith started us off by recounting his recent victory against parking minimums in Northwest Portland. Smith made his stance on the issue very clear with the quote of the night: “Parking is a fertility drug for cars.” With that in mind he persuaded fellow commissioners to deny a request from northwest residents to institute a requirement for parking minimums similar to the policy passed by Mayor Charlie Hales and city council in 2013. That decision is seen by parking reformers as a huge mistake and early data shows it might have led to higher housing costs because housing developers either passed along the cost of the parking spaces to tenants or they built fewer than 30 units (thus limiting supply) in order to not trigger the parking requirement.

Smith said PBOT Commissioner Steve Novick and Director Leah Treat are now reviewing all the input and information gleaned in the process so far to prep for a presentation at City Council in June. As to how council members stand on the issue, “They want to do the right thing,” Chris Smith said, “but they have to balance that with other issues.”

Those “other issues” are things like outcry from some Portlanders who want more parking because they feel new development is gobbling up all the parking in their neighborhood. That issue is what got Tony Jordan interested in parking policy six years ago when his neighborhood around inner SE Division Street saw a massive apartment and condo boom. When people started fighting the increased density largely due to parking concerns, Jordan became an advocate for progressive parking policy. He now runs the Shoupistas and sits on several of the city’s parking advisory committees.

“[It’s] Better to give lower-income people a choice to pay rather than force them to pay by default.”
— Rebecca Hamilton

For the urban economist Joe Cortright, this is all the result of an increase in demand for cities. “The demand for urban living is increasing faster that we can create supply,” he said. If we have to include a parking space as we create that supply, Cortright said it adds on average $200-250 a month to the price of an apartment — whether you own a car or not. He said Oregon’s “inclusionary zoning for cars” is creating demand for car use. “We have traffic james in the U.S. for the same reason we had bread lines in Russia,” he said, making a point about the impacts of not pricing parking at what it actually costs society.

We talked a lot on Tuesday night about how parking policy impacts lower-income people. If you make parking spots more expensive (a position strongly favored by reformers) poor people won’t have a place a park. “How do you respond to that argument?” someone asked. There seemed to be a consensus around the room that higher-priced parking is better than the current scenario where everyone pays to subsidize parking whether they use it or not. Rebecca Hamilton said that it’s “Better to give lower-income people a choice to pay rather than force them to pay by default.”

Everone also seemed to agree that parking revenues should be spent on things like public transit and other system-wide improvements that have broad social benefits. Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz recently argued against raising parking prices downtown because she said poor service workers often need to drive after-hours when transit isn’t running. Iain Mackenzie said the best response to that is to use the extra parking revenue to fund a “night-owl” bus service. Tony Jordan added that during his time on the meter hike subcommittee he encountered a rep from the Service Employees International Union who was against higher rates. Jordan asked how many of their members didn’t own cars and she didn’t know the answer. The SEIU rep then shared an anecdote about a downtown work sho got off shift at 3:00 am and waiting at Subway until 5:00 am to take a bus home. “This anecdote led me to propose,” Jordan wrote us in an email follow-up after Wonk Night, “when I gave testimony to council supporting the increase, that they use the money for reduced income bus fare.”

Underscoring Jordan’s point, Zef Wagner with the City of Portland said when it comes to understanding how parking prices might impact low-income people, it’s always best to ask them directly instead of speculating about their needs and desires with other planners and activists.

Brian Davis, the engineer whose firm PBOT hired to analyze parking usage in northwest Portland said, “I get to be the bullshit detector for agencies.” One of the takeaways of his work was that parking spots have the highest turnover in places with the highest mix of nearby land-uses. The data he collected showed that there was no need for many of the two-hour parking spots in northwest. And it just so happened that PBOT’s Parking Operations Division Manager Malisa McCreedy was in the room too. “Brian’s analysis,” she shared, “informed our policy and we’ve removed many of the two-hour minimum spaces.”

Another topic someone brought up was how persuade the non-believers that parking should be more expensive. Davis said instead of focusing on how much parking costs will increase, “We need to rephrase it to, ‘How much would you pay to have a space?’” This framing jibes with Chris Smith’s advice that the argument will be lost if the focus is on using parking policy to discourage driving. Rather, he says, the focus should be on how better policy will make parking more available to those who really need it and — more importantly — are willing to pay a fair price for it.

Thanks to everyone who came to Wonk Night. Please share your takeaways in the comments and stay tuned for more coverage of this topic.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 –

BikePortland can’t survive without subscribers. It’s just $10 per month and you can sign up in a few minutes.

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Average apartment building costs fell sharply during no-parking apartment boom

Average apartment building costs fell sharply during no-parking apartment boom


Southeast Ankeny Street.
(Photos: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

In 2013, when the Portland City Council began requiring most new apartment buildings of 30 or more units to include on-site parking garages, housing watchdogs warned that this would drive up the prices of newly built apartments.

Because the city still lets anyone park for free on public streets, they predicted, landlords wouldn’t be able to charge car owners for the actual cost of building parking spaces, which can come to $100 to $200 per month. So the cost of the garages would be built into the price of every new bedroom instead, further skewing new construction toward luxury units.

Three years later, rough data suggests that this could be exactly what happened.

To be sure, this would be only one factor in many that have driven up Portland housing costs. Rents have been rising faster among old units than new ones. But as the city council nears what looks like a tight vote on whether to impose similar mandatory-parking rules in Northwest Portland, affordable-density advocates warn that the story could repeat itself.

Portland affordability advocate Brian Cefola got in touch with us last month to share the numbers he’d crunched using local building permit data published by the U.S. Census.

It turned out, Cefola discovered, that the average cost of building a home in a Portland multi-family building dropped 24 percent between 2011, when Portland’s first wave of no-parking apartments began to open, and 2013, when the new city rule took effect.

At that point, the average price returned to its previous levels.

parking costs

Buildings with 5+ units only. Data source: Census, via Brian Cefola. Chart: BikePortland.

The housing boom and collapse surely play a role in this data, though the exact role isn’t obvious. The international recession and subsequent job collapse began in late 2008; job losses peaked in January 2009. By 2010 — before the price drop Cefola identified — Portland’s economy had become relatively stronger than the national economy, and migration to Portland was accelerating further.

In an effort to correct for changes in labor and other construction costs, Cefola (an insurance analyst in his day job) also crunched the numbers further. Using the cost of building homes in small buildings (one to four units), he created an index of what you’d “expect” units in large buildings to cost if the rules for large buildings hadn’t changed.

That adjusted measure revealed a large, brief spike in per-unit construction costs in 2008, when the recession hit.

Something else it revealed: during the 2011-2013 no-parking boom, the average new Portland apartment cost 17 percent less to build than would have been “expected.” Then it returned to normal.

construction index

Data too noisy to draw firm conclusions from, experts agree

Even local experts who oppose parking minimums cautioned that Cefola’s numbers aren’t precise enough to draw solid conclusions from.

“I think it’s really, really hard to draw any strong inferences about the role of parking requirements on building costs based on such aggregate data,” said Joe Cortright, a Portland-based economist who often writes for City Observatory about the unintended costs of overbuilding parking. “The average per unit costs are highly sensitive to what we call composition effects: sometimes developers build expensive stuff in the Pearl (larger units, nicer finishes) and sometimes its spartan studios. So the per unit cost can fluctuate depending on the mix (composition) of the units being built in any particular year. I think that’s clearly what’s going on in 2008–where you see a big spike in the average cost per unit. When the market went south, the only thing that was moving forward, apparently, was pretty high end stuff.”

“This is, alas, only circumstantial evidence,” Cortright wrote.

empty lower garage

Linden at SE 12th and Burnside tries to recoup the costs of its on-site garage by charging tenants for parking, but street parking is free.

Chris Smith, a Northwest Portland resident who this month led a successful vote by the Planning and Sustainability Commission against new parking minimums, agreed.

“I would guess that a variety of construction cost factors rising would make it hard to point to parking specifically as a cost driver in the data set we have,” he said.

Cefola doesn’t argue otherwise.

“It’s an indication, and I think indications can be wrong,” he said.

But Cefola, who serves as president of the Grant Park Neighborhood Association in his spare time, said the data lines up with logic.

“Many people warned that it would have an impact on affordability and the kind of construction that would be put up,” Cefola said. “It added this fixed cost per unit. I think people, myself included, warned that it would incentivize larger units, higher-end units.”

A rendering of the proposed Overlook Park Apartments. After the city’s parking requirements took effect, it added an extra story, 17-20 auto parking spaces and higher rents.
(Image: TVA Architects)

There might be no better test case in the city than a project (still unfinished) called Overlook Park Apartments. That project was designed with no parking before the code change, then redesigned with parking after the code change.

The second plan for the building had 17 parking spaces, fewer housing units and higher target rents.

Cefola said he thinks his circumstantial evidence is enough reason for professionals at the city to dig deeper.

“I think there’s this question out there that the city really ought to be answering,” Cefola said. “Given the fact that they say there’s a state of emergency on housing, how come they haven’t made any attempt to assess the parking policy they put in four years ago?”

Interested in parking reform? Come to BikePortland’s wonk night Tuesday to help smarter parking rules build a better low-car city.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 –

BikePortland can’t survive without subscribers. It’s just $10 per month and you can sign up in a few minutes.

The Real Estate Beat is a regular column. You can sign up to get an email of Real Estate Beat posts (and nothing else) here, or read past installments here.

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Let’s talk about auto parking: Join us at Wonk Night next Tuesday (3/29)

Let’s talk about auto parking: Join us at Wonk Night next Tuesday (3/29)

For the love of parking lots-1

It’s truly amazing what we sacrifice “for the love of cars” as this advertising mural in downtown Portland says.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Auto parking is in a major state of flux right now. Our city is in the middle of major reform to its parking policies with an eye toward weening people off free and abundant storage of their motor vehicles, while at the same time we are still investing millions into huge parking garages in the central city. For people who care about great cities and quality public spaces, the time is now to get educated and engaged about this issue.

That’s why we’re excited to announce our upcoming Wonk Night. Next Tuesday join local experts and advocates for a night of networking and conversations that will unlock your parking policy achievement badge. Here’s what we’ve got lined up so far:

— We’ll get you updated on the City of Portland Bureau of Transportation’s latest policies, projects and plans (and tell you how you can impact them).

— You’ll hear from citizen activist and Portland Planning Commissioner Chris Smith about his recent work to convince the city to not create parking minimums in northwest.

— We’ll introduce you to the people behind the Portland Shoupistas, a group that’s pushing to make sure PBOT’s adopts the most progressive parking policies possible.

— We’ll hear from urbanist/economist Joe Cortright who just published an illuminating article on parking in City Observatory.

— You’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at how local company (and event sponsor) Lancaster Engineering is revolutionizing parking analysis for cities around the country.

And of course like always we’ll let everyone who shows up share their questions and insights, all while snacking on great bites and drinks from our sponsors Widmer Brothers Brewing and Green Zebra Grocery.

It happens next Tuesday at Lancaster Engineering HQ, 321 SW 4th Ave, 4th Floor. Doors open at 6:00 and we’ll get things started at 6:30. Here’s the event page and it’s on Facebook too. Hope to see you there!

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 –

BikePortland can’t survive without subscribers. It’s just $10 per month and you can sign up in a few minutes.

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Parking meter hike approved Wednesday will mean $4 million a year for local streets

Parking meter hike approved Wednesday will mean $4 million a year for local streets

parking pass

Costs and benefits.
(Photo: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

After a decade of struggling to pay for a street network that is in some parts dangerous and in other parts crumbling, Portland’s city council voted 4-0 Wednesday to do a small something about it.

The $4 million annually that’ll be raised by hiking downtown parking meter rates from $1.60 an hour to $2 is a far cry from the $53 million that might have been raised by last year’s original street fee proposal, and even further from the $100 million that the city would need each of the next 10 years to prevent any of its paved streets from gradually turning to gravel.

But the meter rate hike will mean that it’ll no longer be cheaper to spend three hours parked along a public curb than to take a three-hour bus trip or to spend three hours in one of the city’s off-street garages.

The rate will also push people to vacate valuable parking spots more quickly, making it easier for people to find a parking space downtown. At the midday peak, the city says, 90 percent of downtown parking spaces are full. The city’s target is 85 percent — about one space per block.

midday peak parking

Crowded downtown parking midday. Click to enlarge.

“Today was about a long-overdue update to the rates for on-street parking,” city spokesman Dylan Rivera said. “The first update to our rates in six years.”

Rivera said that raising parking prices to meet the rising demand for downtown parking will “provide the turnover that businesses need and provide the access that residents and businesses expect.”

The Portland Business Alliance, downtown neighborhood association, local transportation advocates and a citizens’ advisory committee all endorsed the rate hike.

To mitigate any impact on the tiny minority of downtown employees who are low-income but drive downtown and park in paid curbside spots, the bureau will also create a new program offering low-income discounts for overnight parking passes in the city’s downtown garages. The passes currently cost $5 to $6 between 5 p.m. and 5 a.m.

The changes take effect Jan. 29. It’ll affect all meters west of the Willamette River except in the Northwest District surrounding NW 21st and 23rd Avenues.

So, where will the money go? The city hasn’t decided. $4 million a year is a 14 percent jump in the city’s parking meter revenue but only a 1.2 percent increase for the transportation bureau’s annual budget. Though the recent rebound in driving is likely to boost transportation budgets in the next few years as gas taxes flow into the system, that’ll be softened as the state’s fleet of cars keeps getting more efficient.

It’s not the only new money that could go to local transportation. This month the city said its rapidly growing economy means at least $11 million to add to various budgets in the 2016-2017 year that will begin in July. Half of new one-time money is supposed to go to capital projects like road maintenance or construction.

The vote was approved unanimously by city council, with Commissioner Nick Fish absent.

The Portland Bureau of Transportation didn’t consider adjusting parking meter enforcement hours. City data shows that downtown parking spaces fill up rapidly right around 7 p.m., when curbside parking becomes free.

Rivera said PBOT felt that issue was among those that should be tackled in a separate conversation.

“Changing enforcement hours is something that came up in this discussion, but it’s not part of this package,” he said. “That’s something that PBOT would need to review on a separate occasion.”

This is the first of three parking reform proposals coming before the city council this winter. In the next few months it’ll consider changes to its parking requirements for downtown development and a new neighborhood parking permit system.

Correction 3:30 p.m.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said that the council had already approved the new downtown development rules.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 –

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Starbucks manager backs parking meter hike, says all his workers bike or walk

Starbucks manager backs parking meter hike, says all his workers bike or walk

Screenshot 2015-12-18 at 9.01.09 AM

Kraig Buesch, Starbucks manager and downtown
retail committee chair.
(Image: City of Portland)

As the Portland City Council debates whether to raise downtown street parking meter prices from $1.60 an hour to $2 and allow paid hours to extend into early evening, there’s been a lot of talk about the costs to a very specific category of person: a low-wage downtown worker who drives to work.

At the council Thursday, Commissioner Amanda Fritz said she was worried about downtown commuters who “have to park there because they can’t get to their job on transit at 5 o’clock in the morning or whatever it might be.”

Those concerns have drawn criticism from others who say, based on Census data and a city-conducted survey, that preserving cheap or free parking downtown would help almost no poor people, because virtually no low-income downtown workers arrive by car.

“Giving away something that wealthier people do more and use more than poor people is a lousy way to address equity,” said Ben Schonberger of the housing-supply group Housing Land Advocates, a member of the city’s parking advisory committee who testified at city hall Tuesday.

As an alternative to rejecting a meter rate increase because of the chance that it would impact a few hundred low-income people, Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick has suggested that the city spend some of the $4 million generated by the meter increase to create a new program that would offer discounts below the current $5 per night for low-income people who use city parking garages.

Others, including parking advisory committee member Tony Jordan of Portland Shoupistas, have suggested that the city spend some of the new money on a program that would discount transit passes or subsidize night-owl bus service.

On Thursday, as the council took its first reading on the measure, there was an interesting exchange about this that didn’t make it into The Oregonian’s coverage: actual testimony from a downtown employee who is, though not low-income himself, the manager of seven low-income workers who sometimes have to arrive before regular TriMet service begins.

Here’s the exchange between Commissioner Fritz and Kraig Buesch, manager of Starbucks at Southwest 9th and Taylor and chair of the Portland Business Alliance’s downtown retail council. It came after Buesch (echoing a Pearl District neighborhood representative and another representative for the PBA) endorsed the rate hike because they said it would reduce congestion, pollution and overcrowded curbside parking.

Buesch: Anecdotally, I’d like to also say that my staff of 10 people, 7 out of the 10 would be considered low-wage earners, and none of the 10 park cars downtown.

Fritz: What hours is your business open?

Buesch: We are there from 4:30 a.m. until 7:45 p.m. If you’re interested, a couple things that Starbucks offers is — we’re testing in other cities and are interested in bringing this to Portland — partnering with services like Lyft and Uber to provide early-hour or late-hour transportation at a discounted or free rate for employees. We also subsidize — if you buy a parking pass or a transit pass, we have a program where you can get pre-tax dollars taken out of your pay statement to buy at a lower rate.

Fritz: How do your 4 a.m. workers get there?

Buesch: They bike or they walk.

As Schonberger said in his testimony, it may make sense for decisions about public resources like curbside parking to be based on “direct observation and supply and demand, and not anecdotes.” But so far in the city’s downtown parking debate, this is the only actual anecdote the city council has heard about how low-income workers use their streets.

Everything else about their needs (other than the city’s data, which showed essentially the same thing) has been hypothetical.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 –

Correction 5:30 pm: An earlier version of this post misspelled Buesch’s name.

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Parking reforms could include paid permit zones in neighborhoods near main streets

Parking reforms could include paid permit zones in neighborhoods near main streets


Parking can be tight on N Michigan, just one block west of the popular commercial district on Mississippi Ave.

People who live on mixed-use corridors might be banned from parking their cars in nearby residential zones under a set of recommendations last week from a citizens’ committee.

After one small change, the committee unanimously approved the city’s proposal.

The committee, which consisted almost entirely of homeowners in residential zones, recommended that the city give its 95 neighborhood associations new powers to regulate curbside parking in their areas.

Neighborhoods would have to opt into the new permit program, and a majority of addresses in the area’s residential zones would have to vote for it. Residents of buildings in adjoining mixed-use zones wouldn’t get to vote.

Because any new permit system would also require anyone who uses overnight street parking within a given zone to buy an annual permit for their car (or a temporary permit for overnight guests), it’s unlikely that more than the handful of neighborhoods that have clear curbside parking shortages will create such systems.

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The rules would only apply inside designated parking-permit zones, which would have to include at least 200 20 contiguous block faces in residential zones — one block deep by five blocks long, for example, or two blocks deep by three blocks long.

The contiguity requirement means that if a permit district were created on the south side of a mixed-use street, a separate action and vote would likely be required to create one on the north side.

Screenshot 2015-12-07 at 11.35.13 AM

An explanation of the divide between commercial and residential zones, from the city.

It’s not yet clear how much the parking permits would cost, but the advisory committee recommended that the second parking permit issued to a given residential address should cost more than the first, and so on.

Five-person committees appointed by neighborhood associations would control various details of the program, such as the total number of permits that could be issued. They would have the option of letting people who don’t live in the area’s residential zones, such as residents of mixed-use corridors or employees of nearby businesses, buy permits. But this would only happen, if it does, after people who live in residential zones had been able to do so, and the total number of permits to sell could be capped.

“Revenue above cost recovery will be used to support transportation demand management and small infrastructure improvements (crosswalks, flashing beacons, etc.).”
— from a city memo describing the proposal

The advisory committee recommended that the city have the option to set permit prices high enough to cover more than the costs of administering and enforcing the permits.

“Revenue above cost recovery will be used to support transportation demand management and small infrastructure improvements (crosswalks, flashing beacons, etc.),” the city wrote in a memo describing the proposal. Transportation demand management refers to any program that reduces the likelihood that people drive, from a bike map to a free bus pass.

The advisory committee’s only change to the city’s proposal was to specify that TDM measures be targeted to people or areas with less money.

The city would not be able to create a parking district of its own accord; that would have to come from local residents.

The process would begin either from a formal request by a neighborhood association or from a petition “representing 50 percent of the addresses within the proposed permit area.”

Once that step is reached, the neighborhood association and city staff would confirm borders of the permit zone and hold a vote to confirm it. Then the local neighborhood association would appoint a committee of between two and five members, with at least one representative of local businesses, to work with the city to create the rules for that district: the number of permits to be issued, the number to allow per address, the specific hours during which the overnight permits would be required, and how many permits if any to issue to people who live or work in nearby mixed-use zones.

The city would mail one ballot to every address in the residential zone. A permit district would be created only if at least half of ballots are returned, and only if a simple majority vote in favor.

After a district is created, nearby blocks could use the same voting process to expand it.

By handing some authority over parking to the neighborhood associations, the city would be giving more quasi-governmental authority to these locally based nonprofits than it has before. Though the city pays for neighborhood coalition staff to support neighborhood associations and regulates some aspects of their governance, neighborhood associations don’t typically have direct policymaking authority.

As described so far, parking permits wouldn’t be transferrable, which means that if you live in a residential zone and don’t park a car in the street, you wouldn’t be able to sell that curbside spot to someone else who wants it.

The plan includes a few measures intended to help low-income people who may have less ability to choose whether or not they live in a parking-scarce area.

Residents of government-recongized “low-income housing” within 250 feet of a permit district would get first priority in the “second round” of permit sales that would let people who don’t live in the permit district buy in.

As for the permit sales, the city says, “Discounts will be offered to individuals with a demonstrated financial hardship.”

There is also a measure for people with disabilities: any vehicle with a Disabled Person Parking Permit wouldn’t count against the cap on the number of permits.

Tony Jordan, who created the Portland Shoupistas group to advocate for more a demand-based parking system in Portland, called it “a very smart recommendation has been passed out of this committee by consensus.”

Jordan highlighted in particular the possibility of charging more than the minimum for parking permits.

Jordan’s hope is that tighter parking permit rules will lead to less neighborhood resistance to new development and less pressure on the city to institute parking minimums.

Correction 12/7: An earlier version of this post overstated the minimum size of a residential parking permit district, and at one point accidentally used “residential street” where “mixed-use street” was intended.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 –

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Very few poor people drive to work downtown

Very few poor people drive to work downtown

The Portland area has invested $4.8 billion in a regional public rail network, and currently spends $313 million a year to hold down ticket prices on the system.

Another several million dollars each year go toward expansions of the region’s biking network.

Despite that investment, at least one Portland city council member has been arguing in the lead-up to a hearing next month that the public should also be subsidizing downtown car trips.

His reasoning: some of the people who drive downtown are poor.

“If we’re charging for parking, we’re taking someone earning nine, ten an hour and we’re making that eight-something an hour.”
Commissioner Dan Saltzman

The issue is coming up as the city discusses possible rate changes for its parking meters and publicly financed Smart Park garages.

One of the questions that’s likely to come up during an upcoming City Hall discussion on Dec. 17: Should the city keep giving away its street parking after 7 p.m., even in areas where street parking consistently fills up at night with people visiting restaurants, theaters, clubs and bars?

In a work session last month, Commissioner Dan Saltzman argued that maybe nighttime meters should remain free in order to subsidize the car commutes of people who work downtown at night, such as janitors and dishwashers.

“It’s a subsidy for low-wage workers to have the meters stop at 7:00 pm, so why can’t we continue that?” Saltzman said. “If we’re charging for parking, we’re taking someone earning nine, ten an hour and we’re making that eight-something an hour.”

“Do you throw a big subsidy at everybody because some people might need it?”
Commissioner Steve Novick

Commissioner Steve Novick, who directly oversees the transportation bureau, disagreed.

“It’s a question of, do you throw a big subsidy at everybody because some people might need it?” Novick said.

A better option for holding down parking prices for nighttime commuters, Novick suggested, might be to create a low-price permit system for the Smart Park garages.

And if the money from a parking meter rate hike were spent on improving non-car transportation, that might come out to a win for low-income workers, both downtown and elsewhere.

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Novick and Saltzman’s disagreement raises a fair question. Is it a good idea for the government to subsidize a particular activity by poor people, even if it also subsidizes the same activity among rich and middle-income people?

Here’s one way to start answering the question: How many poor people actually drive downtown?

The best available data (which is, unfortunately, from 2006-2010) suggests that the central business district (south of Burnside, north of Jefferson) employs about 1,000 workers whose households make less than $15,000 a year. Of those, about 350 drive to work. That’s about 2 percent of the district’s drive-alone workforce.

Here’s a detailed version of the chart at the top of this post.

The stripes to the right represent higher-income households. Mouse over each stripe to see what income they represent, and approximately how many drive-alone commuters to the central business district make that much money. (For this chart, we looked at data for the central business district because it had by far the highest worker volumes and therefore the lowest margins of error. These margins of error are substantial, though, and these shouldn’t be interpreted as precise. You can see the source data here.)

Another 2,500 or so downtown commuters are in households that make $15,000 to $30,000 a year. About 700 of those people drive to work. That’s another 3 percent of the district’s drive alone workforce.

The remaining 95 percent of drive-alone commuters to Portland’s central business district make more than $30,000 — in most cases, much more. As the above chart shows, half of the district’s drive-alone workers are in households that bring in more than $100,000 a year.

Among those richest downtown workers, 59 percent drive alone to work. That compares to about 35 percent of the poorest downtown workers.


Hello subsidy.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

At the council’s Oct. 8 work session, Portland parking plan manager Judith Gray said there’s no question that higher parking prices are a disproportionate burden to the poorest people.

Then again, she added, a system that makes it hard to find a parking space also has a disproportionate burden on the poorest people.

People who are shift workers or low-wage earners, if they’re janitorial or working in restaurants, they have the least flexibility of all. If our system is not well managed, if it’s 99 percent full when they need to work, they don’t have an option. A lot of office workers or daytime workers other workers can be late. I worked in restaurants in Washington DC in the 80s. If you have to replace a daytime shift person, you’ve got to be on time. So a badly managed system is not an equity strategy for them.

Gray said she had an “open mind” for hearing ideas that could prevent poor people from being excessively hurt by parking costs.

Absent that, she suggested, the most broadly equitable strategy might involve the government charging what the market will bear for people who park cars on its land — and then “channeling the revenues to improve the system overall.”

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 –

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