We’re going to call it: No city in the Northwest, and few cities in North America, are doing parking policy better than Portland.
With a unanimous vote last week, its city council dropped two crucial pieces into place. First, they agreed to adjust parking-meter prices up or down each year based on the number of people using them, aiming for an average occupancy rate between 65 and 85 percent—one to three open spaces on each block.
Second, Portland enshrined a longtime practice into official policy: at least half the net revenue from new meter districts will be earmarked for reinvestment in that district. Specifically, the money will go to public transit discounts, sidewalk improvements, bike infrastructure and other ways to reduce the need to drive in that district.
Portland is the first Cascadian city with a parking policy rule like this. A similar idea was considered by Seattle officials, but a proposed pilot seems to be on ice for the moment.
These are two of the three signature policies behind the modern parking reform movement. The third—ending mandatory auto parking in new buildings—already applies to all Portland residential buildings within 500 feet of a good transit line.
Find this article interesting? Support more research like this with a gift!
Taken together, these policies build cities that will no longer hide the costs of driving inside the price of every apartment, every latte, every carton of raspberries. They build cities that lock up less wealth in usually-empty parking spaces, and they open the door to entrepreneurs who find creative ways to make car ownership increasingly optional.
That’s why we’ve been pushing all of them for the last 10 years, working whenever possible to support local advocates like Portlanders for Parking Reform and its ally groups, who were essential to this sheaf of victories.
Portland’s work continues, of course. New meter districts in commercial nodes will work better if the city has created overnight residential permit districts that prevent shoppers from parking just outside the metered area. And though permits are the only effective solution to curbside parking shortages, this is a difficult fact to get most people to accept. Earning residents’ support for permit districts is going to take a lot of careful political work.
The great thing about parking policy reform is that every improvement points the way to the next. The maddening thing about parking reform is that every improvement points the way to the next.
I wonder if that includes net revenue from parking citations in those districts? It seems to me that the next best thing is a sliding scale citation based on income level. The city seems to think that your average Portlander can afford $150 ticket for going 5 minutes over your meter. Isn’t there a way we could access a penalty better without such a heavy burden?
Good question. I’ve never looked into this, but I’d be a little surprised if there is much net revenue from parking citations, given the costs of collection on top of enforcement.
I agree, a sliding-scale citation would probably be fairer (and probably also more likely to be revenue-positive). Another tactic would be to make it easier to check and re-up one’s meter remotely … which happily is what Portland now does with the Parking Kitty app launched last year.
Yes, the city does make a lot of money on citations! I avoid parking meters like the plague.
Here are a couple useful documents:
The city brings in ~$8m from parking citations annually, and spends ~$7 million on parking enforcement (presumably that means on-street since there’s a separate line item for garage program expenses).
The much larger source of public revenue is the $52m in direct revenue from parking meters, garages and permits … which is appropriate, IMO, since road space is the main public asset managed by PBOT and it’s worth billions of dollars.
Makes a lot of sense to me to aim for a revenue-neutral enforcement program while reinvesting the direct parking revenue in things that reduce auto dependence.
Portland parking meters, fees, fines assure one certain thing from my point of view. I will do everything I can to shop and park far away from downtown Portland. So for the most part I head south or west of Portland for my needs.
If I want to go into a store for a two minute transaction and purchase something it is way too expensive and tedious to do so.
I agree, the annoyance of making the transaction is a big deal, probably bigger than the actual parking cost for a short hop like that.
The city’s Parking Kitty app (mentioned in another reply) helps with that a bit, but not a ton.
Another thing to do might be for downtown stores to go in together on dedicated spaces near their storefronts that would be free for up to 4 minutes (or something like that). This is an idea from the owner of underU4men, who I interviewed about parking for a previous piece and who’s very savvy. One of the neat things about demand-priced parking spaces (like Portland will soon have during daytime hours) is that they allow cities to do things like this in the knowledge that they aren’t accidentally subsidizing the store owners’ businesses.
One of the many ways demand-based pricing makes other possible parking reforms better.
That doesn’t make any sense to me… You’re not required to pay for hours of parking at a time. Pay for the smallest amount of time you need, then.
And I understand the hassle argument, but is it less hassle or a time savings to drive somewhere else instead of paying for those few minutes of parking?
Tallinn, Estonia already has done this (for years – at least since the early 2000s). You can park free for 15 minutes (with a paper clock in your window). I’m not sure how well this works in practice, but there is an existing model in practice.
@sam Certainly, you’re not the only person to feel this way.
Two things to consider, here. First, when it comes to on-street parking, would you rather drive in circles for ten minutes searching for available parking, or spend 30 seconds making a small payment using your smartphone? This policy assumes that a majority of potential downtown users would prefer “easily find parking and pay for it” over “hope to find parking and drive in endless circles.” There will be, of course, some who would rather shop in the suburbs than pay (directly) for parking, but the gamble is that pricing is less of a deterant than uncertainty and the agony of “circling” for parking.
Second, nothing in this policy prohibits or limits the ability of private retailers to build private parking for free use by their customers. Downtown retailers remain free to construct and provide parking if the retailer fears it will lose customers to retailers with “free” parking in the suburbs.
Always remember that mass transit or biking doesn’t work for everyone. I love what Portland is doing inside the city but not everyone can afford to buy a house downtown. In fact most people can’t…. and downtown apartments aren’t exactly great for families and pets. Of course these are life decisions but I live five miles from work just past the tunnel and a walk/bus would take 47 minutes. There are no bike options.
True, and always remember that driving doesn’t work for everyone either! More than 20 percent of the U.S. population doesn’t.
We should be making sure that space in cities that’s set aside for car parking is going mostly to people who actually need to drive to get there. Part of doing that is by reducing the number of people driving to an area who don’t need to.
What happens to the information collected by the Parking Kitty app? Is it being kept private, or shared?
Good question – I’m not sure. It’s a locally branded instance of this software.
The third—ending mandatory auto parking in new buildings—already applies to all Portland residential buildings within 500 feet of a good transit line.
This does not do what you think it does. When implemented, it simply takes the cars that would have been parked at the building and simply dumps them on the residential streets around the apartment building. Those residences were already changed for, and implemented, off street parking at their homes so they have been forced to pay for off street parking which the developer does not pay for. Of course, the developer has no requirement to actually charge less for their apartments, they can simply bank the extra fees. This would only have worked if the residents of the building were contractually required to be car free. As it is, they can certainly use the transit to get to work, but outside of that time, they use their cars. Classic free rider problem.
Please visit inner SE division street some time, there are a number of these new apartments without parking (more in progress now) and it has seriously impacted the exiting residential homes.
I agree this is a free rider problem, but mandatory garages wouldn’t change it … as discussed here, if we require garages but don’t institute permits, then people in new buildings will just park in the street for free until it becomes super annoying to do so, at which point we’ve solved nothing.
That’s why we need permit districts: to force new development to pay the cost of however much additional parking it needs to exist, but no more. This also gives more creative developers and landlords an incentive to take steps that actually reduce auto ownership in their buildings.
You have heard me say it before, Portland should consider dedicating new parking to participatory budgeting process in the districts as Vancouver started this year with new West Endparking fees:
Want to build a constituency for fully pricing parking? Give ordinary people power on how to spend the revenue in making improvements in their community!
The community discussion has already started in Portland . The question is what will be the source of new funds? Vancouer BC has pointed the way by connecting the dots between pricing parking and people power!
Parking policies, traffic management to promote biking, and building codes allowing for apartment buildings with insufficient or no parking have created large swaths of established residential neighborhoods that impose unreasonable hardships for long-term, aging residents and those with disabilities from living in or even visiting local residents. Elderly with mobility limitations who need to carry groceries home & up stairs are often forced to park more than a block away from their homes. And if you have friends with disabilities and children, forget it…they simply cannot visit your home, much less live in the neighborhood This is de facto discriminatory, favoring the young and the able who ride bikes in the inner city, and it is infuriating.
I bet there are solutions that reserve parking for people who really need it, that provide transit or other service-oriented solutions that address the problem you raise without perpetuating the many problems from over-building our cities so thoroughly around the single occupant vehicles. This status quo is working for anyone, including elderly people who use transit at higher rates than the general population and who are more the vulnerable to extreme summer temperatures exacerbated by unnecessary paving (e.g. surface parking lots). Regardless, these problems and even the ones you raise are not created with parking policies, traffic demand management and more accessible biking. In fact these are among the tools that can make it easier for people to drive who really need to drive (and park) by giving options to people who don’t need to drive (and park).
Rather this status quo is NOT working for anyone.
Thanks Jim, the participatory budgeting does sound like the way to go! Can you relink the Portland discussions around this issue?
I am not from Portland but have a question. Does Portland allow the rental of apartments and parking places in the same building separately, i.e. can one rent an apartment without being forced to rent a parking space one would not use?
Yes, it allows this sort of rental contract (I think almost all cities do) and many (most?) apartment buildings, especially newer ones, offer renters this option. Portland doesn’t require the parking to be paid for separately, though.
Well, although it might be true that in the Northwest, Portland has the smartest policy, but I guess, when you actually implement smart-city initiatives like this, it’s better to aim for the stars. London and Singapore are without a doubt the most advanced Smart cities in the world.
The City of London has especially invvested a substantial ammount of resources into its per-spot smart parking sensors and LPWAN IoT infrastructure to maintain the policies.