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?”

  1. I have always thought it would be useful to require businesses to open up their parking lots to alternative use after business hours. For example in Northwest PDX there are several banks or offices which have surface lots along NW 23rd. The banks and offices are closed nights and weekends so the parking lots sit there unused and empty.

    Maybe with a 1 hour window on either side of operating hours. So if a bank was open say, 9am to 6pm, then from 8am to 7pm the parking is restricted to the bank – but after 7pm the parking can be used by anyone.

    The only thing that I think we would need to figure out is liability issues – who is responsible if someone gets hurt in the parking lot?

    I think that the city could draft some kind of laws which would work for this situation, but I am not a lawyer…

  2. Clearly, we need to remove whatever barriers are in place that prevent businesses and individuals from renting their private spaces.

    We also need to get working on a system similar to SFPark, that is better at charging the market rate for parking. Once the street prices are priced appropriately, more and more businesses will realize that they can earn extra income by using this space. This all will help facilitate increasing density in the city, without having to resort to expensive underground lots or parking garages.

  3. Yeah, generally speaking we should make more efficient use of the parking already out there before worrying about adding more.

    I’m also a strong proponent of taxing parking in the core to fund high-frequency streetcar operations, even to the point of restoring the Free Rail Zone with a parking tax.

  4. I had an interesting back and forth with someone who owns a business on the eastside who was very angry that he was having a hard time finding on street parking. He blamed car2go and said they were taking up all the spaces which wasn’t fair to him because he had paid $35 dollars for an annual parking pass. I think step one is still going to have to be people like Sarah taking the time to educate folks that the reason why they aren’t seeing a lot of open spaces is not a handful of smart cars…although it might have something to do with the city only charging less than 3 dollars a month to store your car on the street…

  5. If the Eastside North of 84 is developed to density, there is a great opportunity to share business parking with residents at night. For instance, the Lloyd Mall has a large inventory. They could also be a perfect parking area for a small fee for Rose Quarter events.

    What is the technical capability of our current meters for SF style dynamic parking rates? Understand back end systems would be needed, and of course a mobile app.

  6. Here Here DK , let us tax surface parking lots , and fund the free rail zone. These lots are urban blight at it’s worst. They waste valuable close-in land which could have housing and other dense uses near services , core businesses and rail. As the famous saying sorta goes , ‘we shape cities , and then they shape us’.

  7. Since your first question was “…how should we start thinking about parking?”, it would be appropriate to begin to consider the ramifications of AV’s. Yes, it’s extremely unlikely that we’ll see any significant impact over the next decade, but we can assume that at some point they will be available and will drastically change our parking regimes.

    The good news is that parking lots and on-street spaces can be relatively quickly and cheaply converted to other uses. So there’s little need to overvalue AV-wrought changes when making decisions for current parking requirements.

    The situation is quite different for major transit projects with their decades-long timelines between “need statements” and final bond payments or end-of-commitment-periods. Transit systems will implode with drastic cuts in demand and public support for subsidies. Those in the highest density areas such as SF or NYC should survive easily. The trick will be for other transit operators to retain circulator, peak commute, and other special requirement services without bankruptcy. TriMet’s eagerness to spend so much effort chasing the pot of gold at the end of the “New Starts” rainbow may be its doom.

  8. I look at a lot of surface parking lots as “land banking”, that is, the land is being preserved as a future development opportunity.

    However, to help push things along…

    I propose a citywide parking tax of $1 per day on any surface or garaged parking space beyond the first one for each tax parcel, on all properties.

    This ought to speed up the decision-making process of some landowners who otherwise might be content to sit on all that wasted space (unused parking spaces). If the space is generating revenue, then they can afford the tax; if not, then there is a greater development incentive.

    As for the restrictions on use, I would propose working with neighbors to lift those restrictions as much as possible, so as to let the market decide the highest and best use…

  9. How would the taxes compare on say a 5000sqft parking lot and a 5000sqft single-level building next door? Does the building pay higher taxes? Perhaps we need to move to more of a land tax, rather than a property tax. This would greatly discourage low density, parking lots, and “land banking”.

  10. This is what the guys from strong towns propose. I’m in favor, but ideally there would be some ‘transition period’ so that people don’t get totally screwed in the process. There are a bunch of forces that I think will lead to the Lloyd District growing up quickly in the near to mid term. Fingers crossed

  11. I’d do it as a “developed land tax”. Land left in a natural state, or used for agriculture, shouldn’t be taxed; land which is filled with buildings, parking lots, or even landscaping ought to be.

  12. “For instance, the Lloyd Mall has a large inventory. They could also be a perfect parking area for a small fee for Rose Quarter events.”

    The mall has TONS AND TONS of areas which are not accessible to cars but could be used for bicycles and scooters/motorcycles. All under cover out of the elements. I have wondered why they don’t capitalize on this more.

    They could easily set up some cages and rent annual motorcycle parking to folks who live in the central east side and don’t have garages but want a dry shaded place free of leaves and pine needles to store their motorcycles. Even easily accessible via MAX, bus, and streetcar so it could be used by people from farther away.

    A few controlled access cages, designated spots would be enough but they could also add a few amenities that would be cheap but add immense value. Things like lockers to store helmets and gear, and ring-anchors in the designated spots anchored into the concrete that you could chain a motorcycle to for extra security. Heck, even run some power outlets to allow for batter chargers and an air compressor that runs on quarters for filling tires.

    All of this could be done in areas that they don’t allow car parking because motorcycles, scooters, and bikes could get in and out around the pillars and whatnot.

  13. I’ve always been confused by the argument that having to pay for parking would scare off customers. Sure, if the choices are between comparable, equidistant destinations, one with paid parking and one without, that works. Businesses should have more faith in their neighborhoods than that. Customers are unlikely to say “Oh, darn, I have to pay to park on Hawthorne now. I guess I’ll just go out to Target in Beaverton.”

    Plus, if you have to pay to park everywhere within the city, it helps remove that price comparison.

    Personally, I think parking in Portland is way, way too cheap. By extension, it discounts the value of open space. Not charging at all is like saying we don’t value it. The SFPark model would definitely be a step in the right direction. Even better would be a further tax on all parking to support neighborhood transportation development — street lighting, bioswales, improved crosswalks, Rail Free Zones, etc. Keeping a large portion of it micro-localized further reinforces the idea that parking spaces ARE valuable.

  14. More metering please! With the current plan, the Eastside Streetcar is a gigantic giveaway to property owners in the inner Eastside. Meter fees should at least pay for Streetcar operating costs!

  15. Do whatever you can to get rid of on-street parking so that better bicycling infrastructure can be developed without the risk of dooring.

  16. Private parking lots can be major money generators for land and business owners. Having lived in NW PDX and the Hawthorne area for years, I am well aware of the late night tows and the kickback property owners get. This kind of predatory, low-effort income is likely more appealing than renting individual spaces. Expect a fight if you want to change this arrangement.

  17. Chris first asked about how it might work if a private parking lot owner rented the lot or allowed it to be used for, say, bar or restaurant parking, and late night noise disturbs neighboring sleeping residents. I would propose that private lots be treated as if they are the street with regard to enforcement of noise or disturbances, and that if there were an ongoing noise or altercation on the street that disturbs a resident they address it or contact the local police. If the parking lot is for rent in might be required to post signs with contact numbers for the management company who would be required to patrol and enforce, and to respond to concerns in a timely fashion. Street parking need not be free, for anyone: workers, visitors, residents. Having monies collected from street parking and lot rental go toward funding public transportation is brilliant.

  18. Do whatever you can to get rid of on-street parking so that better bicycling infrastructure can be developed without the risk of dooring.

    I completely disagree. As a pedestrian, I like on-street parking. It’s cutouts through the sidewalk that I can’t stand.

  19. On-street parking is useful both as a traffic calming device (parking cars stop traffic altogether; parked cars adjacent to traffic slow it down) and as a barrier between motorists and other road users.

    WRT bike lanes, the best place for them is OUTSIDE the parking lane (between parking and sidewalk), i.e. a cycletrack; with mid-block access points so bikes who need to turn left can enter the traffic mainline rather than having to attempt a left turn from the cycletrack. Dooring is still possible from the passenger side, but far less likely; simply because passenger-side doors are opened far less often.

  20. “Customers are unlikely to say “Oh, darn, I have to pay to park on Hawthorne now. I guess I’ll just go out to Target in Beaverton.” ”

    Hawthorne does not compete with Target, in Beaverton (except for maybe the Hawthorne Fred Meyer – but I doubt that even, and it has easy parking).

    Hawthorne competes with Bridgeport Village or Streets of Tanasborne (etc etc).

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