Minimum Effect

Portland's Incoming Parking Requirements Won't Solve Its Problems


And yet, it seems this common sense measure certainly can do no harm.
I live in Richmond. Everyone in Richmond has a driveway. Many have garages. And yet they have this entitlement to the space in front of their house. That is public right of way! And really, I'd like to see it all metered and generating revenue for the city. Want to park for free? Park on your own property. Want to park on public space? Pay a fair fee. Done.
Thank you Mercury! I can't believe that RNRG can now sway development policy for the entire city. This is such bad policy, and I'm shocked to watch the city council roll over on this (Nick Fish, I'm looking at you). This will raise housing costs for everyone, aesthetically ruin these neighborhoods, and encourage car ownership while increasing traffic. Upending decades of planning efforts because some whiny nimbys live in a popular neighborhood? Boo hoo. Plenty of quiet, boring cul de sacs in Gresham with oodles of parking. Please, find them. Stop trying to turn Portland into Nashville. What's that? Nashville just did away with parking minimums?! You don't say...
Guess it's time to start my own activist group - RNRG:STFU
^^Once again. If you can't agree with how I think NW (or SE, insert Portland neighborhood here) should be and aren't just like me you should MOVE TO GRESHAM (OR BEAVERTON OR VANCOUVER BLAH BLAH BLAH)
If you have money to live in a desirable neighborhood, or especially if you have money to move into a brand-new condominium / apartment building, you have money to own a car. And you likely will, because while you shop at New Seasons, separate your recycling, and vote for feel-good ballot measures (arts tax! it's for the kiiiiiiiiids!), you're not going to commit to this "car free lifestyle" we all keep hearing about so much. Nah, that seems pretty inconvenient. Even though you don't have kids and you work three miles from your front door... man, what a hassle that would be come skiing season!

Sure, you own a bike, maybe three (can't leave that $8k carbon race bike locked up in front of the gastro-pub, no!) but do you actually use one to commute? Sorta. Maybe 20% of the year, if the weather's nice and you're feeling especially concerned about your appearance. Otherwise the bikes get loaded onto your car's bike rack and driven to the path, trailhead or ironic "Michael Jackson vs. Hitler" theme ride during Pud-apalooza.

Tri-met takes soooo long to get you to work, and the last time you tried that, a black teenager made eye contact with you and it was awkward. Can't see yourself dealing with that sort of thing every day, oh no! Plus it's the dumb old bus, not one of the cool transit modes like the streetcar or aerial tram. "Why can't they put an aerial tram in *my* neighborhood?", you whine.

But it's fine because you can just circle the block 20 times when you need a spot. "Oh, those homeowners and their entitlement to public space! How dare they use the same thing I want to use for the exact same purpose."
^^Noooo, Chunty McHutchence, you don't understand me at all-- I drive *a HYBRID*
Is it a Pious?
Here is the problem, Ben--there is a very long history and implicit arrangement between homeowners and the City over what you deem "public space". For decades, the City has allowed homeowners quasi-property rights over those spaces and imposed requirements. And now, a dramatic change in the way that space is treated is being proposed as if this is just a minor change.

Do you realize, for instance, that I am obligated to keep my sidewalk repaired even though it's supposedly city owned? I have to mow the space between the sidewalk and the street, maintain the trees (including getting a permit to trim the tree), and either clean up or pay to have cleaned up the street in front of my house--what you call "public space"--even though the City ostensibly owns the trees? This all for a "public space" that has not had a single amount of maintenance in the 13 years we've lived on it.

I think this is a discussion the City has to have, but am suspicious of out of town developers here for a quick buck and others who have a particular vision of urban life telling us what our vision is or ought to be without really engaging ALL the stakeholder in this very unique city.

I think you can make a strong argument that many of the things you and I celebrate about Portland--our neighborhood character, our vital retail sectors, our laid back lifestyle--is because we have sometimes ignored some (not all but some) planning mandates and have retained our low density, homeowner centered structure. But that's just the structure that is under pressure.

A decade ago, Richard Florida told us if we just attracted the young and restless we'd be the economic cat's meow. It hasn't happened--we have stubborn high unemployment. Five years ago, we were told that we were in "peak oil", within a few years we'd all be paying $10 a gallon, and that we needed to radically change our lifestyle. Didn't happen. Now we are being told that cities of the future will look just so... but the same planning community was the root of the suburban evils a generation ago.

How did we get so good at predicting the future now when we've had such mixed success in the past? I think these are conversations we need to have, and I'm supportive of permitting and focusing dense developments in certain corridors. But I remain very skeptical that today's planners have omniscience. And as a resident of the City for 13 years with a family that's been here for 35 years, I think there is a community of Portlanders that seems to have little voice in this discussion. Those are the folks who are coming out of the woodworks now.
Until owning and driving individual cars is less convenient than other, more sustainable forms of transportation, people will continue to use cars, and not just as a sign of privilege - but because our time on this earth is limited, and is itself worth a lot. Limiting accommodation for vehicles is only one step, though - we need transportation projects in the pipeline along with it to make car-free living an attractive *long-term* prospect. I've lived it both ways, off and on for years at a time, and not being able to get out of town sends me back to the cheap car ads every time I can afford one.

It's true that planning for individual automotive travel in the central city is irresponsible, because the limit to how much traffic can be accommodated is already in place, and that limit is eventually reached. While you can build parking into the buildings, you can't add lanes to existing roads. At that point, instead of complaining only about a lack of parking, people will complain about lack of parking *and* about the congestion, traffic, and pollution - that are the logical result of building parking for every dwelling unit and just expecting that people will drive. Of course they'll drive, if it's the simplest solution to the problem and if that's what we plan for. But it's only that way if that's what we build. Portland was designed as a streetcar city; if anything, we should be re-building the streetcars, not increasing the parking spaces. Now is not the time to dig in on cars, it's time to look for reasons *why* over 70% of the central city population still feels like we need one, at the same time 27% are going without. What will it take to entice more people to join that growing minority?

I'll make myself an example, since I've lived here for 20 years, without a car for many of them, on and off, and I happen to have one now. I have gone without for years at a time, enjoying the freedom immensely. Cars are expensive, and my time is worth a lot to me, and having a transit system that can get me where I want to go makes the biggest difference in whether I can live without a car and still have some kind of life outside my own neighborhood. I can do without very easily in my daily routine by bus, bike, walking, or a combination of these, but eventually I get bored of the places I can go without a car and want to get out more. If like me you're not into shopping, and you have a dog, your options for going where you want to go by other means are really limited. The light-rail, commuter line, and bike-racks on buses have changed the game for the better, along with the cycle tracks and bike culture, yet the getting out of town (and dog-transport) problems remain.

We're doing a lot of things right, and we're made great strides in the right direction. Already we have multiple trains per day going the north and south, and even daily service going east - and it's possible to take bikes along, which is huge. There are even Zipcars and car2go vehicles in Seattle now, so pieces of the puzzle are fitting together more and more to connect family and friends up and down the populated areas of the west coast. Light rail to the airport (even though it doesn't start early enough to run late enough for all flights) is amazing for the size city we are, and connects downtown easily with anywhere PDX can fly - which with connections is nearly anywhere. Getting *way* out of town (or arriving in town) without a car is a problem we've mostly solved. But what about just going on a day trip close to home?

Having efficient, reasonably-priced (I dream also of pet-friendly) public transportation to places like Timberline to the east and Cannon Beach to the west, that is the crucial next step I see in making a car-free lifestyle more attractive to a broader demographic. Sure, there are hard-core (and very fit) cyclists who camp by bike, and I'd love to be one of them, but the roads outside the city terrify me: they are full of distracted suburban drivers lacking basic awareness of cyclists. This driver profile comes with a record of fatal collisions, and even without distractions and cycle ignorance, the problem would remain: the roads are narrow and shoulders are unaccommodating/full of hazards *and they are all designed only for automotive traffic*. It's frankly too dangerous. Some road warriors get out there and do it anyway, but not many would put the kids in a Burley or the dog on a leash alongside and make a family trip out of it.

I'd love a Springwater Trail-like bikeway to the beach (and to Hood), with bike-friendly businesses sprinkled along the route, like the Elderberry Inn once served people in cars who bothered to stop between Portland and the coast. The funds for this project would be a miniscule fraction of what we'll spend on the useless and bloated CRC, and would attract tourism - and therefore tourism dollars - from literally around the world. Event planners would find it irresistable. Better than the Tour de France, we'd have a built-in magnet for tourism and events and family-friendly cycle culture *year round*. (Anyone interested? I'd love to be on the design team.) Families could load up kids, gear, and dogs and make a week's vacation trip out of it - if there were enough services available to support a more leisurely pace of travel than going titanium-framed mach-3 in spandex with your tail feathers on fire (which is fine too if you can do it, and enjoy it).

Zipcars work all right for anyone with a credit card - though they're more expensive than owning a car if you use them regularly - and financially punishing to use if you want to drive only a short distance but park for a number of days to stay somewhere, or if your plans include going outside the 180-mile prepaid mileage range. For these reasons and more (like lack of pet-friendly-ness) they and their cousins (e.g. car2go) are really just part of a stopgap solution between the *potential market for* other forms of transportation to go on day trips (or weekend trips), and the *available alternatives*.

I don't doubt that there are more people in the central city than just 27% who like me, would like to be free of cars altogether, and where it is literally less of a pain to do errands by bike in my neighborhood than it is to drive - yet as things are, I personally prefer the freedom, flexibility, and dog-friendly nature of personal automotive transportation to go places for recreation. In the long run, it's cheaper and more flexible than what else is out there now, and I know I'm only one among many who prefers to enjoy the natural wonders surrounding Portland on as many weekends as possible. So at least for my family, it turns out that keeping an old, inexpensive, gas-efficient wagon around is the best overall solution to this problem for now, even as we approach $4 a gallon, because while we don't need or use the car for commuting, we need more than work and errands in our lives and seizing the weekend is tough when you're competing with your whole neighborhood for the one cheap day-rate zipcar nearby.

Honestly, I'd love to be the railroad robber-baron who builds the light-rail line (with bike corridor alongside) to the coast, but I don't have the money or the friends in high places to do it. Hopefully someone who does have money has that vision with me, because I know a lot of people would use it - especially if bike and pet policies allowed families like mine to travel together and enjoy both the freedom from car ownership and the convenience of bicycling at our destination. The tourism explosion would shock the whole tri-state area and bring millions in tax revenue. We could stop blaming slacking liberal-arts majors for ruining the tax base (good one, Oregonian! that was good for a laugh).

Oh for the Waterfront-park vision days, when we didn't just have grand, visionary, seemingly impossible plans, but we executed them in spite of the opposition.

Development fees can fund a portion of the needed changes, bonds could make up the difference, tourism dollars would pay us back. Development fees are unpopular (with developers), but we should expect that contribution in exchange for the freedom the developers enjoy from having to build, pay for, and maintain parking that people will need if we neglect to build the alternative transportation we have already demonstrated (with our Zipcar memberships, 27% car-freedom, and dwindling gas tax revenue) that we really do want.
Much of the Richmond area is single-family homes. It should be a consideration that there's large apartments going up in their neighborhood that are out of scale, not only with the neighborhood's historic character, but as well as the historic (height/density) character of the neighborhood commercial corridor.

People wanting no density and no parking requirements in these areas, mostly on the Eastside would readily admit this would not look good next to a single family home in Richmond, or anywhere else:

With that said, I don't disagree with no-parking units, or buildings that are under a certain unit number (the number 40 gets thrown around a lot from the articles I've read...I think that's reasonable).

Density is good, for the environment and the economy; but we should mostly be concentrating building large, no-parking apartments Downtown, Old Town, Pearl, NW, and Central Eastside. There's too many parking lots downtown; how about the city get off its heels and streamline permits and give development incentives to take the pressure off other areas?

Putting these on the Eastside next to single-family neighborhoods needs to proceed with much caution. As does wrecking historic homes and cramming in ugly, higher density units next to single family homes—but that's another story and another city zoning caused problem.