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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.

Your Questions For Neil, “Round 5”, Part 4 – Potpourri

And now, the final segment of our video interview with TriMet’s Neil McFarlane. This episode, “Potpourri”, featuring a variety of your questions.

Topics include:

  • Bikes on MAX cars – are there ways to add capacity?
  • Bike parking and bikeshare at MAX stations
  • TriMet’s take on carbon emissions – what will it take to get to net zero emissions?
  • Hybrid buses, past present and future, and electric buses
  • Weight of buses, number of wheels, and damage to roads
  • The new e-fare system (announced officially just before we recorded the interview)
  • Equity in the fare payment system, especially for cash-only users

Thanks once again to the Portland Opera for tolerating the mayhem of our intrepid video crew in their conference room.

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Your Questions For Neil, “Round 5”, Part 3 – Service Planning

Here is Part 3 of our recent interview with TriMet’s Neil McFarlane, based on your questions. This segment is shorter than the others and deals solely with the topic of service planning, especially in suburban areas and more densely-populated areas currently lacking in comprehensive transit service.

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Have a look and let us know what you think, in the comments.

Your Questions For Neil, “Round 5″, Part 2 – Ridership / Operations / Budget

Yesterday, we posted the first in a series of videos featuring Portland Transport’s interview with TriMet’s Neil McFarlane, based on your questions.
Today, here’s Part 2…

Today’s topics are Ridership, Operations and Budget:

  • Recent press about transit at historically high levels, but TriMet’s has not fully recovered to pre-2009.
  • Some service has recently been restored, how much is based on local economic recovery and how much is based on TriMet’s demands for the ATU contract?
  • How do TriMet’s unfunded liabilities factor in to how much service can be funded?
  • TriMet has recently put an agency focus on reliability, particularly with regard to MAX. What are the results?

Special thanks again to the Portland Opera for providing the venue with the great views.

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Your Questions For Neil, “Round 5”, Part 1 – High-Capacity Projects

Last Wednesday, Chris sat down with TriMet’s Neil McFarlane for a discussion focused on your questions. This has become a sort of annual tradition for Portland Transport, and this year we were very pleased to be hosted by the Portland Opera – the Opera headquarters is located on the east bank of the Willamette just inches (48 to be specific) from the new transit/bike/ped bridge currently under construction.

The interview session is divided into four videos. We’ll be posting one a day this week – here’s Part 1:

Part 1 is mainly about high-capacity projects, now and in the future. Here’s some of the questions addressed:

  • Will the new bridge be open for bikes and peds before transit operations begin?
  • How will the “Orange Line” be operated? Will it interline with the Yellow Line?
  • What is the fate of high capacity to Clark County now that the CRC is officially dead?
  • How does the vote in Tigard affect SW Corridor planning? What’s TriMet’s view on what the ballot measure means?
  • Is a transit tunnel serving OHSU still on the table
  • Is the Powell/Division corridor being positioned to leapfrog the SW Corridor project?
  • Does TriMet have a strong modal preference (BRT, LRT) for the Powell/Division project?

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Check out Neil’s responses in the video and give us your take in the comments.