Guest Post on Parking Policy – Introduction and Zoning

The following post is the first in a three part series by BTA’s Parking Policy Intern Aaron Brown. Aaron is a BTA Member and citizen activist living in North Portland who is interested in affordable housing and active transportation. He tweets about bikes, our fair city and the Portland Timbers at @ambrown. As the City of Portland takes up the issues of parking, density, transit, and land use we thought it would be helpful to take a step back to think about the context and goals for our parking programs and how they relate to bicycle policy. Enjoy!

As an organization committed to making bicycling more safe, convenient and accessible, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance is inherently interested in all policy discussion related to the maintenance, design, and finance of our public right-of-way for all modes of getting around. It’s with this mindset that the BTA presents the following series of blog posts for the rest of this week discussing the role that automobile parking related public policy can play in creating the healthy, sustainable, and equitable communities. These goals are outlined in numerous documents including both the Portland Plan and the City of Portland’s 2035 Bicycle Master Plan.

Later this week, we will look at how our city’s public parking policy impacts the livability of our neighborhoods and town centers, how changes in automotive parking policy can lead to more people taking trips by bicycle, and how our current policies currently heavily subsidize automobile usage at the financial expense of other Portlanders who use other modes to get around. Today we will briefly look at the role that parking policy as it relates to zoning in particular, can play in making biking more safe, convenient and accessible in our neighborhoods.


For the BTA to be successful in our mission to make cycling safe, convenient and accessible, it’s crucial that existing and new urban residential and commercial development throughout the city be designed in such a manner that those living a low-car life find it affordable, practical and accessible. The recent announcement that Portland’s apartment vacancy rating is currently the second-lowest in the nation, is testament to the fact that Portland’s inner-city neighborhoods are enjoying a renaissance after the abrupt moratorium on new construction during the recent recession.

This has created a dramatic increase in rental prices in popular inner-neighborhoods with existing density and walkable communities, as they become more attractive to an increased number of residents interested in living a low-car life. We are thrilled to hear that as many as 64% percent of the dwellers in these units use non-single occupancy vehicles for the majority of their trips, and we anticipate the percentage of residents who choose to live in these units without cars (28%) to grow as we continue to build out our Master Bicycle Plan and appropriately the nearby facilities.

Under current Portland policy, developers are not required to build off-street parking for multi-story construction on units within a quarter mile of existing high-frequency transit service; this opportunity encourages economic development by reducing the cost of building places to live and provides more housing in desirable neighborhoods designed specifically for those who want or need to live without the use of a private automobile.

Unfortunately, the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability is currently considering a proposal that will increase the regulations of new parking provided that must be provided by new apartment buildings with more than forty units. (The full proposed changes to zoning policy are available here; an abbreviated, simplified FAQ is available here.)

A recent study commissioned by the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability highlighted that providing underground automobile parking can cost a developer $55,000 per parking space, and this exorbitant cost is inherently passed on to the future renters and owners of the to-be-constructed units. Potential regulation that each unit must include the expensive luxury of a parking spot places a stiff penalty on many families and first-time homeowners who choose to live without an automobile; these stipulations make it more difficult for residents to choose to live in Portland car-free by burdening renters and homeowners with a hefty charge for a parking space they may otherwise not need or decide to do without. Forcing apartment dwellers to live in a unit with an underground parking spot is like regulating that each apartment should have a big-screen television: sure, many people enjoy having a television in their room, but many folks would choose to live in a cheaper unit without a television if it was provided as an option.

As the Bicycle Transportation Alliance is committed to making bicycling a safe, attractive and viable option for transportation trips in the Portland region, we find this proposal could be counterproductive to both affordable housing and active transportation in our rapidly developing neighborhoods. Allowing the construction of dense, multistory housing developments without dedicated automobile parking space on major transportation corridors with nearby transit, bicycling and pedestrian facilities will inherently make units more affordable and provide more options for a new population increasingly interested in living in smaller units in walkable communities.

The BTA encourages developers proposing apartment and condominium units to work with existing neighbors to find ways in which their potential windfall savings from not building parking can be reinvested back into the existing neighborhood, whether through provision of explicitly affordable housing in the new development, implementation of a local parking permit program that rewards existing homeowners, or the creation of a community fund for other projects such as neighborhood murals, street festivals or landscape amenities.

The recent influx of many new bicycle-themed developments, such as the new mixed-use buildings on North Williams and the Lloyd District’s Milano apartments, demonstrates the latent demand for housing that better suits Portland’s burgeoning low-car housing market, and eliminating parking minimums are an excellent way to ensure that walkable, bikeable communities are affordable and available options for all. By allowing Portlanders to move into neighborhoods and avoid paying for automobile infrastructure, we can encourage density and growth in our neighborhoods.

In short:

  • Studies suggest that current car-free apartment projects in the city of Portland are not currently placing a burden on existing neighborhoods’ supply of on-street parking.
  • Mandating that new apartment buildings build parking units inherently makes units more expensive, and makes it more expensive to live in Portland car-free.
  • Allowing developers to build apartment units without parking provides more living arrangement options for Portlanders who want to live without an automobile.
  • There are other ways that developers can help provide assurances to existing neighborhoods that they will maintain a stable supply of on-street parking, such as working to help subsidize a neighborhood parking permit program or providing incentives for residents to use TriMet, carsharing and active transportation for their primary transportation.




Comments (1)

  1. Steve Clark Permalink  | Apr 02, 2013 06:01pm

    Great blog Aaron! Totally agree that requiring off-street parking becomes a subsidy to car-owners at the expense of those who are car-free. We miss you here at Transit for Livable Communities!