Does Portland really want parking?

Portland is abuzz with concerns over the ever-decreasing supply of parking. New developments around town provide little to no off-street parking, which is raising significant concern from neighborhood residents. If you go to any neighborhood association meeting it is almost guaranteed that this subject will be brought up. The eastside is trembling for fear of becoming another NW 23rd where the city is now having to implement permits and parking meters in order for residents and retail customers to find a place to park.

On the eastside, massive development projects are going in on the Williams/Vancouver corridor in North and Northeast Portland. Division Street is now one of the hottest spots in all of the city, with Clinton not far behind it. The Lloyd Center and Central Eastside has now become the playground for Portland’s hottest developers. Even Foster/Powell is about to get a lot more development activity due to big plans from the city to drop two lanes and focus on neighborhood enhancement.

New bike parking at The Mason Williams mixed-use development on N Williams Ave.

New bike parking at The Mason Williams mixed-use development on N Williams Ave.

With all of the development activity occurring, people cannot seem to understand how parking demands will be met. Without getting into dense zoning and parking code, there are several factors that allow developments to limit parking supply. First is the proximity to transit. If a building is within 500 feet of mass transit that runs every 20 minutes then parking does not need to be required for 30 units or less. If a the building provides transportation alternatives such as bike parking or car share facilities then parking parking requirements can be reduced.

Not to play contrarian on the subject, because I too think that parking can quickly turn into a problem, but is providing parking really the answer? Do we as Portlanders really want to live in a concrete jungle where we have paved over everything just so that we can park our sacred automobiles? Parking mandates can quickly turn into sprawl that can lead into increased congestion and even increased costs of living. Parking garages above and below grade are extremely costly. It now costs approximately $40,000 per space to build an underground parking garage. That’s a huge increased expense that needs to be covered somehow, which means the end users will all but certainly end up paying higher prices.

Rumor has it that there are 7 parking spaces per 1 car in Portland right now. I can’t vouch for the validity of this figure, but it does make me reexamine the entire parking conversation. A limited supply of parking can actually have quite positive effect in promoting denser urban living that increases quality of life factors such as walkability, mass transit availability, and bikeability. Do we really need to continue parking policies that are hangovers from the post-war era that were promulgated under the banner of suburban living and car manufacturers’ desire to have every adult own a car?

Car sharing companies like Car2Go are now notorious around town. Will this be a long term parking solution?

Car sharing companies like Car2Go are now notorious around town. Will this be a long term parking solution?

My mission is not to change your mind about parking, it is simply to provoke your thoughts on the matter. I read an Oregonian article decrying bioswells that are being added to catch storm-water runoff because they are taking up three to five parking spaces (allegedly).We choose to live in this amazing city because it is a beacon of progressive planning and urban living. Should we not at least entertain a new way of living that gets us out of our cars and onto our feet, on our bikes, into the buses, the streetcars, and the MAX? I think we take for granted the availability of car-sharing and public transportation in Portland. Why can this not be the answer instead of paving over our fair city?