The Cost of Parking

Transportation advocates have long known that free parking has a high cost: it encourages drive-alone trips, ties up valuable land in acres of impermeable, pedestrian-unfriendly parking lots, and creates business districts lacking in “life on the street.” This fantastic article takes a closer look at the high price of free parking in our cities, including Portland:

The central city districts that have done really well in recent years aren’t the ones that have provided the most parking; they’re the ones that have provided the least. Portland, Oregon, instead of expanding its downtown parking capacity, has spent the past 30 years restricting it. There was less parking per capita in downtown Portland in the 1990s than there was in the 1970s. And Portland, as any visitor notices at once, has one of the most successful downtowns in America.

It’s not hard to do the math and figure out that if every person in your office block drives their own car to work, it’s going to eat up a LOT of land to store their empty cars during the day. Some cities now devote more land to parking in downtown than to all other uses combined! Parking reduction is one of the best tools we have to get people out of their cars, benefiting the environment, public safety, and local businesses, not to mention freeing up land for development.
As the author quotes,

automobile dependency resembles addiction to smoking, and free parking is like free cigarettes…it will take decades for cities to recover from the damage.

9 responses to “The Cost of Parking”

  1. Great post. I’ve been thinking about how successful Mississippi Street has been and it dawned on me: there’s almost zero parking lots on the entire street! The only one I can think of is the bike parking structure in front of Fresh Pot.

    Sooner or later cities will realize that cars just don’t make sense in dense, urban environments. I think London has been successful with their “congestion tax”…I wonder which U.S. city will be first to try that?

  2. Just like to make the point that sooner or later we are all pedestrians. As a frequent prectitioner of the walking art, I note that Portland is not a very pedestrian-friendly city.

    Yes, the major problem relates to the auto-human interface, but tolleys, MAX and bikes to their share of damage too. As you plan our regional trasnportation future, please remember the full-span of transportaiton modality and don’t put your planning pencils down until you’ve at least considered pedestrian safety.

    And kudos for the Park Blocks and the waterfront.

  3. Clyde, in what way do you find Portland not pedestrian-friendly? I love walking in Portland, and I feel like we’ve devoted a lot more attention to making sure our city, especially in downtown, is good for people and not just cars. Our Pedestrian Design Guide is award-winning and is the source for the wide sidewalks, human-scale street elements (like street lights), and other amenities we enjoy downtown and elsewhere.

    If you’re talking about the eastside, it’s true that for historical reasons many of the older neighborhoods have substandard sidewalk widths and missing or inadequate curb cuts, and the sidewalks on Belmont and Hawthorne in particular are woefully inadequate. But eastside sidewalks are gradually being improved through infill and redevelopment. Good examples to my mind are the residential curb cut project that just went in along SE Salmon, as well as the curb extensions, pedestrian refuge islands, and other pedestrian streetscape amenities that went into improving SE Tacoma and NE Alberta in recent projects. The Green Division project is also cooking up some major improvements for pedestrians on SE Division.

    The City of Portland has a good pedestrian program page, where you can view or order the following walking maps: SE Portland Walking Map, North Portland Walking Map, and SW Portland Walking Map. That’s also the page where you can find out about how to request curb ramp installation and sidewalk maintenance and how to take part in guided walking tours of Portland. There’s also a group called the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition working to improve walking conditions in Portland.

  4. This is hilarious.

    “And Portland, as any visitor notices at once, has one of the most successful downtowns in America.”

    Ha! Jobs are down, taxes are up, kids are out, and the city has a property crime rate to rival much larger cities. That’s just the tip of an iceberg of problems.

    If this is success, how would the author define failure?

  5. And actually, parking in Downtown Portland for short term purposes is surprisingly straightforward and easy, and fairly cheap. They have the right idea by taking out the daily commuters and letting people park for the short term errands that one sometimes can only run Downtown.

  6. In developing his ideas, one of the thing Donald Shoup had to confront was businesses that were afraid that customers would stop shopping in their stores if meters were installed and go out to suburban malls instead. What he did was get the meter revenues dedicated to fixing up the area – in this case Old Pasadena. Rick Williams made the same thing happen in the Lloyd District. You can read Shoup’s article about it in a link at:

  7. Tim,

    If Portland is doing so poorly, why is our projections and actual population rising because of net positive migration. Read today’s Portland Tribune, 07-08-05. I agree with you that some jobs/businesses are leaving. But you are not mentioning the companies that take their place. The biggest problem I see, and Metro sees it too is the lack of job creation east of the river.

    I’ve been involved in Springwater out in Gresham. Bascially getting 1,000 arces planned and zoned for companies (go to Greshams webpage for more). It really is going to be a special part of our region. Hopefully, with Springwater and Damamcus/Boring coming online too, alot of us who need to cross over to Washington County can stay closer to home, family, and the part of Portland that is Home.

    Ray Whitford

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