Parking Lament

I spent a significant amount of my time for about three years from 2001-2003 trying to work out a parking plan for my neighborhood in NW Portland, sometimes in partnership with, sometimes in opposition to the business association in the neighborhood.

Tonight Portland City Council will consider a design review appeal on the first parking structure proposed under the plan that resulted. Here’s the letter I will provide Council with as part of my testimony:

Tearing down a house – one with a number of affordable apartments – to build a parking garage at the entrance to a street of single family homes is a tragedy.

But the larger tragedy is that the years of debate about this garage have distracted us from addressing the actual parking issues in Northwest Portland.

Five years ago, a Citizens Advisory Committee labored for a year and a half to produce a parking management plan (PDF, 124K) for Northwest Portland – a plan that recommended a “three legged-stool” of programs: metered parking, a residential permit program and a transportation management association to design and implement programs to reduce demand for auto trips and parking. The CAC report (attached) barely mentioned parking structures, but on a 3-2 vote, parking structures, and the specific parking structure you are reviewing tonight, became the sole focus of the community discussion about parking.

That decision was – and is – out of sync with City policy. Here’s a partial list of what’s happened in the four years since that vote that demonstrates this:

-In 2003 23rd Avenue was suffering from the trough of a recession. Now the economy has improved and there are many new businesses – apparently unhindered by the parking situation – blossoming in the neighborhood..

-A new retail building housing a Williams Sonoma Home store and a Pottery Barn Bed & Bath store has been built and occupied, without adding any new parking to the neighborhood.

-Apple Computer was prepared to locate a store in the neighborhood without any additional parking being.

-The writings of Donald Shoup (“The High Cost of Free Parking”) have gained great currency here in Portland, leading Commissioner Adams to propose paid parking in neighborhood business districts that mirrors closely the 2002 CAC recommendations.

-We have fought a war in Iraq – a war this Council is on record opposing – which at least in part is about oil needed to fuel our cars.

-Global warming has moved in the public consciousness from a nagging concern to an established scientific consensus requiring all of us to reexamine the impact of our mobility on future generations.

-The Portland Peak Oil Task Force produced a report, commissioned by this Council, which includes among other recommendations:

Prevent over-expansion of transportation infrastructure that may not be a good investment with higher fuel prices. Air, long-distance truck and car travel are likely to be reduced in response to peak oil, and land use patterns are likely to become more compact.

Isn’t it time to recognize the parking structure plan as a false start, and return to the recommendations of the CAC which are in much greater alignment with the changing world and the City’s own policies?

Thank you.

Chris Smith
Former NWDA Transportation Chair

4 Responses to Parking Lament