Pok Pok Parking & Yogi Berra’s Lament

Andy Ricker, the mastermind behind some of the best chicken wings you’ll ever taste, caused quite a stir this week when he opined that allowing development along SE Division Street without accordingly requiring creation of new parking was, “a really stupid idea.”

This is not an uncommon sentiment among people who own retail-based businesses in the city. In fact, a portion of my professional practice (albeit a small one) focuses on helping entrepreneurs find creative solutions to precisely this problem. Parking spaces equal customers, the thinking goes, and so an undersupply of available parking is tantamount to a hard cap on one’s potential customer base.

You can see how this line of thought misses the forest for the trees, however. When we start asking the hard questions around increasing parking supply—Where will we put this new parking? Who will pay the real costs of building and maintaining it? And what opportunity cost does it represent?—it becomes clear that what folks actually pine for isn’t a real neighborhood with ample parking—that’d be an unlivable mess—but the fairytale neighborhoods embodied by the latest installment of the SimCity game where all the parking you could ever want is both free and invisible.

In this fantasy, cars simply disappear altogether when not in use, so we are free to ignore the consequences in travelling predominantly in 15-foot by 7-foot metal boxes that sit idle 95% of the time. But in the real world, of course, we do not have abracadabra parking, so we must carefully consider the various trade-offs involved in decisions around increasing parking supply. Luckily, we’ve got any number of examples to look to for insights about how various parking decisions affect other aspects of urban life and vibrancy. The close-in neighborhoods of Portland, parking headaches and all, are home to far too many amazing eateries, breweries, and shops to count. If a lack of parking were such a restricting factor, wouldn’t we see more of these sorts of attractions springing to life in areas where parking supply is not at issue? Yet suburban strip malls continue to be dominated by Panda Expresses and Subways, while all the cool stuff springs up in parts of the city where it’s impossible to park. Why is that?

As usual, Donald Shoup summarizes the answer neatly [pdf], earning bonus points by quoting Jane Jacobs in the process. In describing the benefits of a long walk to parking (or indeed, of not driving at all), Shoup observes:

The presence of open shops and people on the street encourages other people to be out as well. People want to be on streets with other people, and they avoid streets that are empty, because empty streets are eerie and menacing. Although the absence of parking requirements does not guarantee a vibrant area, their presence certainly inhibits it. “The more downtown is broken up and interspersed with parking lots and garages,” Jane Jacobs argued in 1961, “the duller and deader it becomes … and there is nothing more repellent than a dead downtown.”

In other words, providing an abundant supply of parking is a detriment to precisely the sort of sidewalk life that inspires innovative businesses like Pok Pok, and attracts the customer bases that make them so successful. The demand for the parking that is not supplied likely would have never materialized in the first place if not for the very dearth of parking at issue.

It’s no surprise, then, that the business owners most loudly lamenting the lack of parking are some of the most successful ones that Portland has produced. The problem they perceive is the one that Yogi Berra once cited as the reason he no longer dined at St. Louis icon Rigazzi’s: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

We can and should look at better ways to manage the existing parking supply along the SE Division corridor and our other fast-growing neighborhoods. But threatening the character of a neighborhood so that one might solve Yogi Berra’s lament would be, if I may say so, a really stupid idea.

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22 responses to “Pok Pok Parking & Yogi Berra’s Lament”

  1. Many rich people think everyone arrives by car, because they do. However that isn’t how it works. I think that several commercial districts should get meters all at once to lessen the perceived blow of unfairness. Now would be a good time to start for Miss, Alberta, Division, Belmont/Hawthorne, 28th, Burnside, NW 23rd and a few others.

    Obviously there would be an adjustment period but I think it would solve some problems in within a year

    • “The reason Pok pok – and perhaps much of portlands food scene for that matter – is so successful is because so many portlanders prefer to walk, bike and take transit. Sheesh.”

      Fallacious thinking, I am afraid.

      First of all, the patrons circling the block for parking are not arriving on bikes or on foot. Same with the lines outside Salt n Straw. The patrons are obviously driving there and blocking driveways or we wouldn’t have this conversation.

      Your idea that the presence of bike commuters somehow made Pok-Pok famous is
      odd. No real connection between transportation choices and Andy Ricker’s famous abilities at the grill.

      What is happening is that a large faction of Portland is rebelling against the policies advocated in this blog and BP. Hales dropped out of the race because the electorate is angry at his ties to developers and the traffic and road problems.

      If there was a vote today on whether SE Division is a blessing or a curse, I am pretty sure the average Portlander would vote “curse.” That’s why we have mainstream media looking at the issue- it is a big issue for regular folks.

      Does any regular contributor to this blog think the political tide is turning in favor of Shoup’s ideas and more density without design controls?

      • Who gives a rat’s ass what “the average Portlander” thinks about SE Division, as if you knew anyway? What matters is what the people flocking there think; they’re the only ones who matter. They haven’t yet adopted Yogi’s supposed “solution”.

        What do you mean by “design controls”, Kamerade?

        • “Who gives a rat’s ass what “the average Portlander” thinks about SE Division, as if you knew anyway?

          Andakos, what do you think the average Portlander thinks about SE Division and why doesn’t public opinion matter?

          I have a long-standing concern that the planning community is not comfortable with democracy at the city and neighborhood level.

          If the average Porllander loves Shoup and density so much, how come my friends and I prevailed on parking minimums? Why has Hales been
          scared into not running?

          The tide is turning. Mayor Wheeler and Novick-replacement Loretta Smith are going to piss off the Shoupistas and I am going to laugh.

          • Given that in 2013 you were confidently predicting that in 2015 the apartment vacancy rate would be 6%, the market would be oversaturated with undesirable rental units, and interest rates would be rising, I think we can take your predictions with a grain of salt.

            • You are right that I jumped the gun on the tech bubble exploding. Unlike some folks, I will occasionally admit when m,y predictions are off.

            • Are your predictions off occasionally or do you occasionally deign to admit it when they are? Inquiring minds want to know.

          • My bet is that Hales has a skeleton in his closet and enemies have smelled it. Going quietly is less painful that having it raked over the coals publicly. What great outcry for his scalp is sweeping the city?

            You have a long standing concern that the planning community doesn’t want to do what benefits you. What you call “democracy at the neighborhood level” is mostly strutting fat boys who can yell the loudest at public involvement meetings. If the congestion on Division were a real economic threat you’d see businesses closing, not queuing up to open there.

            And finally, who are “Shoupistas”? People who like to walk? Did you misspell “Shoepistas”?

          • “The tide is turning. Mayor Wheeler and Novick-replacement Loretta Smith are going to piss off the Shoupistas and I am going to laugh.”

            What makes you say that? With regard to required parking for apartments, the changes City Council made in 2013 were a hard-fought compromise between two sides with widely divergent opinions. I will be surprised if you can cite a statement by Mr. Wheeler that places him firmly on either side of the issue.

  2. Has the commenter ever received income from the city? I work at a hardware store, and I have sold things to the city, so I guess I’ve received income from the city.

  3. Do any of the rest of us get paid for working at jobs in the city? Most of us indirectly receive income from the city. The question is a red herring, and a smelly one.

  4. I wonder if Ricker realizes that if his vision for more parking was the reality he would still be a struggling chef with an unknown restaurant. The reason Pok pok – and perhaps much of portlands food scene for that matter – is so successful is because so many portlanders prefer to walk, bike and take transit. Sheesh.

    • Yes, if he needs more parking, there’s lots of it at 130th and Burnside. He can run a double-blind test: move to the same size place out there during January, taking his full kitchen set-up with him and then compare the “takings” for February through December next year.

      All those customers circling the block, clogging up the driveways and finally turning away in disgusted resignation will SURELY flock to his new location.

      OR, he could buy a run-down lot a within a block or so of his restaurant and build a parking garage on it with an exit gate that only opens with a card he gives his diners.

      IOW, put your money where your mouth is, Dude. Don’t whine and ask the City to build you a garage or make the developers in buildings yet to come include them so your competitors have to pay higher lease fees.

  5. My household spends a significant fraction of our discretionary spending on Division and we always walk or bike. I’ve found that its very hard to convince small business owners that many of their customers do not drive. Better data that could speak to their bottom line would be helpful.

    Ricker helped fund his restaurant by flipping homes during the terminal phase of the housing bubble. I’m not sure concern for a more livable city is at the top of his list of priorities.

    • Bingo. Let the suburbanites circle for parking and overpay for mediocre Thai food. I’ll continue to get my food from a real Thai family at their hole in the wall spot in outer-east Portland. Pok Pok is overrated, and the owner should not be supported.

  6. Spot on Brian. Locally sourced food for the neighborhood is the new model. There is no going back to vacant lots and abandoned gas stations on Division. Wonder where most of the money saved by low car Portlanders goes? I guessing food and drink at places like Pok Pok. Time for more bike parking and free transit rides home with your receipt at Pok Pok and other Division Street joints! And maybe specials for new residents! And of course meters on busy commercial streets with two hour limits in adjacent neighborhoods.

  7. I can’t tell from the quote, is Ricker saying the city should have required him to secure adequate parking for his business as a condition of permitting? I wonder if he’d have opened his restaurant at all if that were so.

    If not, who is he to complain that the city didn’t require it of others?

  8. Ask him which would he/his customers prefer: parking that’s free but unavailable because the supply isn’t being rationed, or parking that requires a modest payment but is usually not ~100% full?

    Would he prefer that spaces get used by residents/employees/etc, especially on a long-term basis, and are not available to his customers at all because without requiring payment any time limits that might exist are harder to enforce, and there’s no incentive for those people to choose an alternative and let his customers have the spots?

    I could understand if the goal of charging for parking was to extract money from his customers, but we’re at the level where the goal is to just moderate demand and not make money itself.

    Also, it would be good if parking payment wasn’t so customer hostile. Users are forced to decide up front how long they’re going to stay parked, are limited to staying an arbitrary amount of time, punished if they stay just a little bit over those amounts, and have deal with the machines and paper slips. Instead, you should be able to just enter a payment card and space number on arrival and then check out on departure, and be able to do that from a phone app. Rate increases in later hours (e.g. staying 1 hour is $1 but 5 hours costs $10) would replace time limits, and staying, say, 15 minutes could be made free.

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