Liberals, Markets and Parking

On Wednesday, as City Council voted to impose parking minimums on larger residential buildings on transit corridors, Commissioner Fritz made a comment to the effect that she had never heard so many Portland liberals argue for using markets.

I was one of the folks arguing for leveraging market forces. In the prior week’s hearing, Commissioner Fish asked my explicitly why I wanted to use a market. The answer I chose was about the ability of markets to expose pricing. We cross-subsidize parking in so many ways (required parking minimums is one way!) that people seldom directly pay the actual price of the parking they use. Making the price apparent is one way to make people think carefully about their mobility choices.

Another answer I could have given is that markets drive efficiency. A true market in parking would make sure that the parking that is demanded will be provided in the lowest cost way. If that means a structure down the street from an apartment building, rather than in the building itself – great. But our zoning system generally makes that illegal. In residential zones, parking can only be accessory to uses on the same site (and Council rejected the Planning and Sustainability Commission recommendation to change that in this circumstance). You can’t sell or rent any excess capacity to your neighbors. I hope we’ll fix that in the Comp Plan update.

While I am more likely to describe myself as progressive rather than liberal, I have no compunctions about using regulations where useful for good policy. But I also understand that markets are very powerful things, and I’m not hesitant to use market forces when they align with good public policy!

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