Off-street parking requirements boost rents, which would exacerbate Portland’s housing crisis.
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Here in Southeast Portland, many of my neighbors are concerned about parking. In particular, they worry that new residents in the apartment buildings popping up along SE Division and other major corridors will park on the street, taking spots away from neighbors living in single-family homes. When I suggest that the solution to their dilemma is to charge for curb parking, they look at me like I am crazy. The solution, it seems obvious to them, is to make those greedy developers build more parking so those living in single-family homes can keep parking on the street for free, as they have always done. Unfortunately, off-street parking requirements boost rents, which would exacerbate Portland’s housing crisis.

But never fear, neighbors: Portland could open up a spot for you on your block without inflating local housing prices. And you could get money to spend improving your neighborhood. How would this work? Read on….

What can Portland do about parking?!

Renowned parking expert Donald Shoup recommends cities follow a three-part plan for managing parking:

Portland has already implemented step three. Compared to most American cities, Portland requires far fewer off-street parking spots in new apartment buildings near transit lines. Predictably, renters in these new buildings avail themselves of free street parking (why not? it’s free!), enraging some neighbors.

But as Shoup explained in the Oregonian, the problem is not a lack of off-street parking in apartment buildings, but rather a lack of on-street parking management for curb spots. Now Portland may be making progress towards managing on-street parking and sharing the revenue with neighborhoods: a Stakeholder Advisory Committee recently unanimously recommended the city implement a new residential parking program that would allow neighborhoods to opt in and receive some revenue.

What does this Shoup guy mean by “the right price for on-street parking”?

The right price for curb parking is the one that creates an available spot on every block. No one ever circles your block looking for a spot. You can always park on the block where you live or the block of the store or restaurant you are visiting.

For metered spots, cities can ensure an open spot on every block by adjusting meter prices dynamically by block and by time of day, as San Francisco and Seattle do. Before implementing dynamic pricing, San Francisco charged flat rates for parking spots, so some blocks were jam-packed while others were relative ghost towns. Using occupancy sensors and remotely programmable meters, the city slowly raised rates on crowded blocks and reduced rates on less popular blocks until a spot opened up on every block. Parking rates on some blocks went up by as much as $1 per hour, and on others, they went down by as much as $1.25 per hour. But on average, meter rates dropped by 4 percent, and drivers saved an average of 5 minutes every time they looked for a place to park.

What's the hidden reason behind skyrocketing housing costs? (Hint: parking rules.)

OMG, Portland is going to install parking meters in my neighborhood?!

No. For residential neighborhoods, Portland would offer the option of a residential parking permit program. To ensure curb spots are available in each neighborhood, the Stakeholder Committee recommended the city only sell a limited number of permits in each neighborhood—maybe only as many permits as there are on-street spaces. This would be a stunning departure from Portland’s existing permit programs that sell as many permits as residents want to buy, sometimes 20 percent more permits than there are curb spots.

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  • Limiting permits by neighborhood is a simpler tool than San Francisco’s technologically enabled dynamic price adjustments by block and by time of day, so we could end up with crowded blocks in one part of a neighborhood and open spots in another part of the neighborhood. But neighborhood zones will be pretty small—roughly 5 blocks square or bigger—so residents with a permit won’t have to go too far to find a spot.

    Is the city forcing us to buy residential parking permits?

    No. If Portland adopts the stakeholder’s recommendations, each neighborhood would be able to choose whether to use residential permits and how much money to collect. If you and your neighbors around SE Division are sick of cars cruising the neighborhoods looking for parking, you could choose to opt into the residential permit program. Laurelhurst neighbors might not need permits, so they wouldn’t have to do anything.

    How much would permits cost?

    Depends on what your neighborhood wants. The minimum permit price would need to cover the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s (PBOT) administrative costs (about $5 per month for existing permit programs) plus a charge to pay for programs that improve Portlander’s mobility, such as low-income discounts on car share programs or bus passes. Neighborhoods could choose to add a neighborhood charge to the price of the permit and spend the collected revenue on neighborhood improvements like crossing beacons, curb cuts, curb extensions (also called bulb-outs), crosswalks, and other improvements.

    A household’s first permit would cost less, the second would cost more, and the neighborhood might choose to charge nonresidents even more. Let’s say PBOT ends up charging $10 for administrative costs plus mobility programs, and your neighborhood decides to charge an additional $10 per month for each household’s first permit, $25 additional for the second permit, and $50 additional for nonresidents. So,

    • households with no car would pay nothing,
    • households with one car would pay $20 per month,
    • households with two cars would pay $55 per month, and
    • nonresidents with one car would pay $60 per month to park in the neighborhood.

    But remember: your neighborhood could choose whatever prices it wants to add on to the base PBOT charge.

    What about this neighborhood improvement money you talked about?

    Imagine that a 10-block square neighborhood zone with 500 curb spots decided to charge the above prices and sold one permit to 250 households, two permits to 100 households , and 50 permits to nonresidents.

    Do the math, and that neighborhood would get $102,000 per year to spend and could soon become the best place in town for kids, seniors, and everyone to safely get around. It could install, for example, five flashing beacons at crosswalks ($10,000 each), two curb extensions ($13,000 each), two raised crosswalks ($8,000 each), ten wheelchair curb ramps ($800 each), and six stop or yield signs ($300 each). Every year. Or maybe my neighborhood could use some of the cash to spruce up the Sunnyside sunflower.

    How can my neighborhood sign up?

    If PBOT adopts the Stakeholder Committee’s recommendations, neighborhoods could start the process of opting into the program with a letter of support from the Neighborhood Association or a signed petition from 50 percent of residents. (The latter seems like a very high bar just to express interest, considering that only about 26 percent of residents [33 percent of registered voters] in Multnomah County voted in last November’s election, much less voted for the same thing.)

    Once a neighborhood has expressed interest, PBOT would send a ballot to every resident. If at least 50 percent of residents vote and a majority of those who vote say “yes,” the Neighborhood Association would appoint two to five people to an Area Parking Committee to decide how many permits to issue and how much to charge for them.

    What if there aren’t enough permits to go around?

    Not sure. Your neighborhoods would sell permits in two rounds: Round 1 would be open only to residents, and Round 2 would be open to both residents and nonresidents. Your neighborhood might choose to let households buy only one permit in Round 1 to make sure all residents get at least one. If it turned out that more people wanted a permit than got one, you might consider increasing the price the next year to bring demand in line with supply.

    Tell me again why I should want to pay to park in my own neighborhood?

    So you can be sure of finding a parking spot near your house. So you can invest in making your neighborhood safer. And so Portland can continue to be a thriving green city without letting nonsensical parking policies contribute to housing price increases.

    Like this article? Read about how parking rules have misshaped our communities here.