Car Use Versus Car Ownership

On Tuesday, wearing my Planning and Sustainability Commissioner hat, I’m going to hear from neighbors concerned that the development of new apartment buildings without on-site parking is impacting livability in their neighborhoods.

In fact, I think parking is the tip of the iceberg here. Portland’s growth strategy anticipates a lot of residential growth to occur on transit corridors and the key issues include not just parking, but also design standards, building mass, setbacks and height, all of which impact neighborhood character.

But for the discussion here, I’d like to focus on one interesting tidbit from the research that has been conducted about residents of recently built apartments: they use cars a lot less than the average citizen, at least for commute trips. Only 36% said they commute by single occupancy vehicle. That compares to 59% city-wide.

But 72% of these households are NOT car-free, which says they are owning cars for purposes other than commuting.

That’s an interesting policy problem, as car storage (parking) may impact neighborhood livability as much or more than actual car use.

What kind of policies might keep car ownership more in line with (commuting) car use? ZipCar, Car2Go and GetAround, where are you?


34 Responses to Car Use Versus Car Ownership

  1. Andrew
    November 11, 2012 at 9:40 pm Link

    My husband and I would like a car but cannot afford it. We would be more than happy to do without, though, if there are car sharing programs like ZipCar and Car2Go. That is a nice way to compromise so that we have a car when we need it but not when we don’t. I should point out, though, it only works in fairly walkable and transit-oriented neighborhoods like the one we live in. We can do so much already by foot and by bus that a car is not necessary for the majority of what we do now. A set of wheels would make some things easier, though — but then, better bus service would fix some of that, I can assure you.

    Car use for us would be preferable for trips out of town, late night events (like seeing late movies or seeing our friends band without needing a ride, something late night or 24-hour service would fix), grocery shopping in some cases, and going to work (suburban jobs are not easy to get to on transit but that could also be fixed with better transit), and trips where we have to haul something that’s difficult to transport on the bus. Better transit would fix most of this quite well, leaving the car needed for only occasional trips. That’s my two cents.

  2. Joseph E
    November 11, 2012 at 11:14 pm Link

    We sold our car when we moved to NE Portland. But we do sometimes need to rent a car to get around the state outside of the local area. Long-distance passenger service is only good in the Cascades corridor from Eugene to Seattle; if you want get to the coast, the mountains, or southern Oregon a rental car is often the only reasonable choice. I expect many people choose to own a car for weekend trips.

    However, I’m not sure I agree when you say “car storage (parking) may impact neighborhood livability as much or more than actual car use”

    Parking your car on-street is negative in 3 ways: 1) it uses up valuable land that could, in theory, have been used for something else; 2) It takes up a parking space from other people (visitors, etc); 3) It may look ugly to have many cars parke don the street. But reason 2 is only a problem for people who own cars, and reason 3 is pretty subjective.

    Since we already have enormous amounts of underused on-street parking spaces, why not fill them up with rarely-used cars? I actually think the parked cars can improve livability, by slowing down traffic speeds and providing a buffer between the sidewalk and traffic, on streets that are otherwise overly wide. And if the cars just sit there 6 days out of 7, the amount of traffic will hardly increase.

    The real, growing problem is a lack of affordable rental housing in inner Portland, look at our crazy low rental vacancy rate. The place we rented this August had a dozen people look during a 2 hour open house – this for a $1300 a month 2 bd with no parking. We need all the new apartments we can get.

  3. Eric
    November 12, 2012 at 4:22 am Link

    If a two-adult household has one car, then 50% of the household commutes by transit/bike/walking, but 0% of the household is car-free… perhaps that explains much of the discrepancy?

  4. EngineerScotty
    November 12, 2012 at 10:08 am Link

    A good thing to consider is the driver/car ratio, as Eric mentions. (Another thing to consider is mileage used–while a lightly-driven automobile will consume the same amount of parking space as one that is frequently used; it will pollute less if it is parked during the week, and only used for weekend jaunts to the coast or wherever).

  5. Chris Smith
    November 12, 2012 at 10:23 am Link

    Ratios are not a bad way to look at it. Car share vehicles offer both a high # drivers/vehicle and high # miles/vehicle ratio!

  6. Lenny Anderson
    November 12, 2012 at 2:26 pm Link

    The whinning about parking gets a little tiring.
    The City greenlighted higher density development along busy transit lines in exchange for low density zoning in 90% of residential areas. Its that or pave the rest of the Tualatin Valley.
    Commercial streets and successful transit need customers and riders respectively. Apartment development gets you both. With plenty of parking in adjacent low density residential areas, why imposed the costs of parking on those who choose to live without a car and live and shop along commercial streets? If a parking shortage develops, then manage it with meters and permits. Portland’s old streetcar commercial districts are still littered with parking lots and otherwise under-utilized property. Every one of those could be a six story apartment and/or condo, and we would have a real thriving neighborhoods and even less need to get in a car.

  7. Cora Potter
    November 12, 2012 at 2:52 pm Link

    I don’t think it’s so much an either-or on where the density goes Lenny. What I think needs to happen is a thoughtful, phased approach to removing minimum parking standards.

    Start in areas with high density zoning and multiple high frequency transit options – like existing station areas where at least one high frequency transit line intersects with rail. The areas in or near freeway alignments are even better for this because the residential areas tend to grow up/turn more commercial as you approach the freeway. So, one only needs to worry about building step downs moving in one direction. For example, the 2-3 blocks deep between Foster Road and Powell / I-205 and SE 92nd could be developed at pretty high density with minimal effect on single family home areas west of 92nd – and the only “neighbor” to the west would be the freeway if the area builds up completely. This concept also applies to the east side of 205 and either side of I-84 (with attention to context, of course).

    Once that land supply is exhausted, then move on to allowing less restrictive parking minimums in bus only corridors.

    But removing parking minimums next to any old bus line that has a couple of runs during peak that technically qualify as frequent is really to broad and takes away a valuable tool we have for attracting developers to less tony areas where we have already made large investments in improved transit.

  8. was carless
    November 12, 2012 at 7:23 pm Link

    Damned if you do, damned if you don’t:

    This is a short list of things NIMBYS hate:

    -increased population in Portland
    -increased and new businesses in Portland
    -cutting trees down in the city
    -planting new trees
    -people taking transit or bicycling
    -new residents in their neighborhood
    -residents in other neighborhoods
    -anti-pollution laws
    -highway construction
    -mass transit & transit expansion
    -long-distance commuters
    -people who have jobs
    -bums who don’t have jobs
    -apartment dwellers
    -crowded rental houses
    -new apartment construction
    -developers who build things
    -cars parked on the street that aren’t their own
    -new parks
    -new schools
    -earthquake retrofits

    …in fact, about the only thing that the landed classes of NIMBYS do NOT hate are ever-increasing property values. By purposefully dragging out any changes to the city, particularly those that improve the general populations ability to do business, transport themselves around, or improve their quality of lives, they make all of our lives more miserable. Therefore, I completely ignore what the NIMBYS say, as it is extraordinarily counterproductive.

  9. was carless
    November 12, 2012 at 7:29 pm Link


    CORA: they did. If you actually took the time to look at a zoning map, density is zoned where it is most appropriate: in commercial corridors.

    However, your idea of packing people in next to highways is borderline criminal, as you will literally expose thousands of residents to vastly increased levels of pollution as compared to a residential neighborhood. How many babies would you like to kill today? You do realize that asthma is directly correlated to how close you grow up to a highway, right?

    Living next to a freeway should not be allowed.

  10. Jeremy
    November 12, 2012 at 9:33 pm Link

    It’s actually very common in big cities for people to own cars that they don’t use every day. In Boston, the vast majority of cars parked in residential neighborhoods are moved temporarily during street sweeping and then put back in the same place.

    If you had any doubt, this phenomenon proves that car parking is such a waste of space. Think of all the other things we could be doing with that public space.

  11. Alexis
    November 13, 2012 at 8:48 am Link

    Reliable all-day, anywhere-to-anywhere transit seven days a week in the metro area, reliable and frequent intercity and destination transit (coast, Hood, Gorge), more car share (there aren’t a ton of Zipcars in the residential areas), and pricing parking are most likely to make a difference, in my view. Better bike access for 8-80 (main street cycletracks and improved greenways and NS routes) would be next. Then things like grocery delivery service that make carfree life easier in small ways.

    I would love to see some innovative work on form-based code done in these areas. If neighbors are really concerned about form and scale (and not just being NIMBYs, which is what I think is going on, though I didn’t say so in my letter to the commission :) then that would help allay their concerns.

  12. devlyn
    November 13, 2012 at 8:50 am Link

    The problem with Car2Go, Zipcar, etc. is that day trips and weekend trips get very expensive. Though it may be less expensive than owning a car, the up-front charge is obvious and, well, painful. I still hold out hope for train service to the coast, especially if it allows dogs to ride-along (or at least come along with a crate or similar). We just bought a house near the MAX line, which was a major push for the area – I tend to get nauseated on buses (which is increasing as I get older, somehow), so being able to commute via train was a huge upgrade to quality of life. My husband and I own a car, as he has an “opposite commute”, working in Vancouver. Having the car is very handy for us, as we end up using it often for transportation of other peoples’ children (family members), as well as carpooling to areas in the city where the public transportation option would take too long (i.e. NoPo to SE, or even a lot of NE). It’s likely that those new apartment dwellers are using their cars in similar ways.

  13. Lenny Anderson
    November 13, 2012 at 8:56 am Link

    The higher density zoning and reduced parking requirement are only along Frequent Service bus lines and rail. Unfortunately most MAX lines are next to freeways where no one would choose to live if it wasn’t usually more affordable. Commercial streets like SE Hawthorne, SE Belmont, N. Williams, SE Division, N. Lombard, NE Broadway, even NE Fremont @42nd…(lousy bus service on the street but just a few blocks from the 75 line)NEED more residents to grow and thrive and not depend merely on customers from across town who drive over for cute stuff. If parking becomes a real issue, and that’s a big if, then manage it. If demand exceeds supply, then put a price on it. Don’t penalize folks who are making just the choice we want them to make…living a low car lifestyle in close in neighborhoods…by requiring parking.

  14. Bob R.
    November 13, 2012 at 9:12 am Link

    “How many babies would you like to kill today? You do realize that asthma is directly correlated to how close you grow up to a highway, right?”

    This is your moderator speaking: It is absolutely unnecessary to make your point by going to that extreme and getting that personal.

    There’s plenty of ways to point out health effects and reasons why you think residences should be zoned away from freeways for health reasons without impugning someone’s motives.

    Please see the rules before posting again.

  15. Cora Potter
    November 13, 2012 at 9:26 am Link

    was carless: Then we should immediately be evacuating the neighborhoods in North Portland along the I-5 Corridor (including Mississippi and Boise-Eliot etc) and all of the neighborhoods along I-205 and paying to relocate and house these families in “safe” neighborhoods!

    Believe it or not, there have been significant advances in building homes to have clean healthy air and air flow, even when they’re next to freeways. In fact, what’s criminal is that we’re preventing the old, deteriorated housing stock along the I-205 corridor to remain for generations of poor families to buy as their only affordable option. We should be replacing these homes with newer, denser construction with quality air filtration and exchange systems.

    We also should be focusing on creating housing choice and equitably dispersing people of all income throughout the cities for the purpose of creating more neighborhoods that are complete – no matter where you live, so you don’t have to drive across town to access the complete neighborhoods (Lenny). The last decade more and more subsidized housing in East Portland and North Portland, near freeways because the land prices are being driven up in inner neighborhoods and there is very little room (physically and mentally) for truly affordable housing in areas of opportunity. The approach to solving this issue needs to be twofold – we need to create truly affordable (not just holding rents at their current level in neighborhoods where low income individuals and families are already priced out by high rents and lack of supply of appropriately sized rental product) housing in opportunity/complete neighborhoods, and we need to be bringing amenities to areas that actually have equal density to the residential densities near tony commercial corridors like Hawthorne, Division and Mississippi, but where their commercial areas lack amenities and businesses because of negative stereotyping and the refusal to acknowledge the purchasing power of low income families.

  16. dwainedibbly
    November 13, 2012 at 9:30 am Link

    Here’s my big gripe about housing without parking: We have established that some of those people are going to have cars. By forcing them to park on the street, you make it harder to covert that public space into bicycling infrastructure.

    Build rental housing with parking. If the residents don’t use all of it, the building owners can lease some of it to non-residents or to residents who own more cars than they have spaces. Condo owners in buildings with on-site parking do that all the time.

    I’m not arguing for a particular ratio of parking to living units. The ideal might be somewhere less than 1:1.

  17. Cora Potter
    November 13, 2012 at 9:45 am Link

    was carless: I should also point out that I’m a land-use chair in a neighborhood that has a freeway running through the middle of it, has two metro designated main streets and a metro regional town center (next to the freeway!) in it. I spend a hell of a lot of time looking at zoning maps, comparing neighborhood development patterns and zoning approaches.

    The reality is, our city has 5 freeways dissecting it and people are already well settled around them in large numbers – in RESIDENTIAL settings. We can’t just ignore freeways and their context with the rest of the built environment.

  18. Cora Potter
    November 13, 2012 at 10:14 am Link

    Since we’re “actually” looking at zoning maps – here’s a map of where parking-less apartments are allowed. About 1/2 of the areas are in single family residential neighborhoods, not commercial corridors.

  19. Cora Potter
    November 13, 2012 at 10:16 am Link

    Also note: frequent service transit is not a requirement for the removal of parking minimums in the “C” zones. So, it’s very possible to build apartments without parking in areas with no frequent transit.

  20. Michael Miller
    November 13, 2012 at 10:20 am Link

    Lenny, actually the elimination (not reduction) of parking requirements is *not* applicable, as you said, “only along Frequent Service bus lines and rail.” The code language says nothing about “Frequent Service” lines: elimination of parking is allowed for “sites located less than 500 feet from a transit street with 20-minute peak hour service.” “Peak hour” isn’t defined, and nothing is said about mid-day, evening or weekend service.

    That’s a broad definition, and is probably fine for small commercial projects. But “20-minute peak hour service” is hardly service conducive to car-free living. Division, of course, has much better service than that. But it, like everywhere else in the system, has seen reduced service, not increased, as the street has redeveloped. And the cluster of projects around 32nd and 33rd are a long walk from a north-south cross line.

    I want to see fewer cars, more compact development on commercial corridors, more transit use, more bike use, etc. I don’t think we should scrap the minimum-parking exemption. But now that the exemption is being applied to multiple housing projects in a small area, I think we are finding out that it is too vague and broad for these types of projects.

  21. Michael Miller
    November 13, 2012 at 10:36 am Link

    The map that Cora linked to confirms my fears about how loosely the minimum-parking exemption can be applied: it is clear from the map (which is only a week old) that the exemption applies, for example, to sites within 500 feet of streets served by the 10! The 10 makes 36 trips each weekday, runs at 30-minute intervals for much of the day, the last run leaves downtown at 7.56 pm, and it no longer has any service on Saturday or Sunday. But for a couple of hours each in the a.m. and p.m. it hits 20-minute frequency, so a developer can use it to justify not providing parking, by-right, to whatever number of housing units are allowed on the site in question. And nobody can say anything about it.

    I think the exemption needs a revision to incorporate a more nuanced recognition of its impacts. It should still be possible, even easy, to build a no-parking project, but there also need to be provisions to encourage (enforce?) lower rates of car-ownership among residents of the projects benefiting from the exemption.

  22. JHB
    November 13, 2012 at 11:04 am Link

    Under current City law, it is illegal to park your vehicle on the street for more than 24-hours without moving it.

    See here:

    I think a great deal of the problem with on-street parking would go away if the City enforced this law rigorously. Many of the car-light families would probably find legal, off-street, paid parking lots for their pleasure vehicles if they were required to move them daily.

    It would be in the interest of the owners of any paid parking lots to lobby the City to start enforcing this law.

    However, simply enforcing the existing law would probably annoy many of the NIMBYs who are pushing to stop the new apartment development and enjoy using the street for extended vehicle storage.

  23. Lenny Anderson
    November 13, 2012 at 11:16 am Link

    Just think how much better all Portland’s neighborhoods would be with the freeways ending at the City line…just like in Vancouver BC, a dying city if there ever was one!
    Probably more that half of low-car apartment dwellers are bikers rather than transit riders, so transit frequency is not so critical. There is still just tons of parking available in many neighborhoods. This is just another “Density is the work of the Devil” dust up.

  24. al m
    November 13, 2012 at 11:20 am Link

    In fact, I think parking is the tip of the iceberg here. Portland’s growth strategy anticipates a lot of residential growth to occur on transit corridors and the key issues include not just parking, but also design standards, building mass, setbacks and height, all of which impact neighborhood character.

    ~~~>My experience is this, Portland planning is absolutely ruining the quality of life in Portland’s alphabet district. Portland’s never ending obsession with tax increase are making Portland unlivable for people with out plenty of wealth.
    I see it simply, another take over by the rich over the poor and Portland’s crony class washed in ‘green’ and ‘bicycles’ raking in millions while Joe Shmo gets forced out of Portland.

    This is the best example of social engineering that I have ever seen and I am somebody who does not like it, AT ALL

  25. Cora Potter
    November 13, 2012 at 11:27 am Link

    Lenny, Vancouver is on a peninsula. There’s no point in a freeway going all the way through it (highway 1 does, though) because it would just dead end at the straight of Georgia.

    The reality in Portland is that commerce and travelers pass through our city to destinations to the North and South.

  26. dave
    November 13, 2012 at 1:00 pm Link

    Just think how much better all Portland’s neighborhoods would be with the freeways ending at the City line…just like in Vancouver BC, a dying city if there ever was one!

    Reality is that without freeways, Portland would probably be no bigger than Bend. Most of the employers wouldn’t be here and most of us wouldn’t be here either since we couldn’t find work. Freeways aren’t evil, they just need to be designed and situated well.

  27. Lenny Anderson
    November 13, 2012 at 4:07 pm Link

    Portland was here long before the freeways, and will be here after they are removed. Their placement in the 50’s and 60’s destroyed or compromised half a dozen close in neighborhoods that were too poor to defend themselves. Ask yourself why I-205 does not go through Lake Oswego to link up with 217. Lents may recover from I-205 but it will be a long haul; N. Portland is only recovering from I-5 in the last 10 years. A freeway along the River in the heart of the City condemns Portland to 2nd class status.

  28. al m
    November 13, 2012 at 5:45 pm Link

    The freeways will never be removed Lenny, no matter how hard you wish it to be true. Magical thinking DOES NOT WORK

  29. Bob R.
    November 13, 2012 at 6:03 pm Link

    Advocacy has to start somewhere, Al. They will never, ever, ever be removed unless people advocate in that direction.

    “Magical Thinking”, as far as I’m concerned, means wishing for something, thinking it will happen, without actually getting involved. But Lenny has been actively involved in a number of areas relating to Portland transportation.

  30. MAX
    November 13, 2012 at 6:15 pm Link

    Yeah! Get rid of the damn freeways! It works well in Vancouver and it can work here,too.
    My small input regarding making density work is a suggestion to make “transit” work: to replace a car with a train or bus, these things have to go where I want, and I have to be able to go there with my family. This excludes weekend trips (coast, mountains) but it should include Forest Park, Kelly Point, Sauvie Island, Powell Butte, etc, and it should not be a big deal to take my dog, or a small cart (to get stuff from IKEA or COSCTO home!) Right now, the system we have is basically just for commuters, and does not serve the rest of people’s lives.

  31. al m
    November 13, 2012 at 7:21 pm Link

    Well Bob it aint gonna happen until peak oil, and even then they won’t be ‘removed’.

    But we do know for a fact that the ‘minority’ is holding public policy decisions and the ‘majority’ does not like it.

    Look at this last Portland election, what a farce.

    A complete set up for Hales so this privileged minority can continue shoving this stuff down our throats.

    Hales will bring us nothing but the same, which of course was intended all along by our masters (goldschimdt)

  32. Chris I
    November 15, 2012 at 8:17 am Link


    A freeway running through Vancouver north to south would have “benefits”. Have you ever tried to drive up to Whistler? I always make an overnight stop in Vancouver, but I can imagine the pain if someone were trying to get through quickly. But that’s just the point; our city should not be interested in moving people through quickly. Our infrastructure should enhance the city, and encourage people to see it as a destination, not just a pretty sight as they drive by.

    And regarding the freeway pollution issue: this is very near and dear to my heart, as I currently live about a block off of I-84. It was one of the major compromises when I bought my house, and I hate that I have to deal with the pollution every day. I don’t know if we need to remove the freeways, but the city should really look at an aggressive plan to bury the ones that we have. A large increase in the gas tax to fund capping projects for I-405, I-84, and I-5 through the city would do incredible things for livability in our region. Imagine parks, or even tax-generating property in place of the current rivers of pollution…

  33. EngineerScotty
    November 15, 2012 at 9:59 am Link

    Don’t know if you have been to Vancouver BC lately, Chris, but the Sea-To-Sky highway is now a freeway (at least the southern part–it was upgraded for the 2010 Winter Games). However, within the city of Vancouver itself, BC99 is still a surface street, all the way from Richmond up to North Van.

  34. EngineerScotty
    November 15, 2012 at 10:00 am Link

    Don’t know if you have been to Vancouver BC lately, Chris, but the Sea-To-Sky highway is now a freeway (at least the southern part–it was upgraded for the 2010 Winter Games). However, within the city of Vancouver itself, BC99 is still a surface street, all the way from Richmond up to North Van.

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