Time to Rethink How We Zone Parking?

Sarah Mirk has an interesting piece in this week’s Mercury in which she talks about the proposed parking plan for the Central Eastside (including some metering, which of course, everyone loves).

But the fascinating part is the amount of parking that exists in the district. She documents 400+ parking lots with 14,000+ spaces. Only 8% of that is open to the public, and 40% of it is vacant at peak hours. What a wasted resource! And then we fight over the available on-street parking.

Some of this is a function of a societal attitude that parking (which is VERY expensive to build, and chews up a tremendous amount of valuable real estate) must be free. Any time we take an expensive commodity and treat it like it doesn’t cost anything, there are bound to be negative effects.

But some of this is the result of zoning. The zoning code defines parking in a lot of zones to be ‘accessory’ to the main use – i.e., I can park in the medical office parking lot if I’m going to the medical office, but they are NOT free to rent spaces (even if they have an excess) to a neighboring business.

In part that’s to regulate nuisances (I wouldn’t like it if the apartment building next to my house rented their extra spaces to the restaurant around the corner that’s open until 3am – I don’t want the light and noise when I’m trying to sleep – on the other hand my partner would love it if they could rent her a space). But in a primarily commercial/industrial district like the Central East Side, nuisances should be very manageable.

Since I sit on the Planning and Sustainability Commission and actually have the opportunity to do something about this as we update the Comprehensive Plan, how should we start thinking about parking? What kind of policies should we pursue in shaping our “Healthy Connected City” (that’s a Portland Plan reference for those of you who left your copy in your other briefcase)?

22 Responses to Time to Rethink How We Zone Parking?