Guest Post on Parking Policy – Parking Management

The following post is the second 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!

Parking Management – Managing the automobile parking spaces we currently have is more affordable, attractive and desirable for our neighborhoods and communities than overbuilding our parking supply.

Yesterday I wrote about how ongoing updates to Portland’s Comprehensive Plan can be written to ensure the continued quality of life and livability of our neighborhoods by discouraging the construction and expenditure on large, expensive automobile parking structures. As discussed, decoupling onerous automobile parking requirements from the construction of new apartments and condominiums allows more housing options for current and future Portlanders, many of whom may choose to or need to live car-free lifestyles, to live in existing neighborhoods with access to transit, jobs and amenities.

Today, we’re shifting gears; instead of talking about the long-term consequences of parking requirements and regulations on new residential development, today we’ll discuss policy mechanisms that PBOT can implement immediately that will help us better manage the on-street parking spaces that we already have to help make our neighborhoods more livable and help the city of Portland to meet the lofty goals for bicycle mode travel.

The City of Portland is known nationally for our history of thoughtful, prudent urban planning that balances all modes of transportation. The 1975 Downtown Parking and Circulation Policy, written to  improving the Central City’s air quality and encourage transit use, eliminated parking minimums and instituted parking maximums in downtown Portland and created a “ceiling” on the total number of off-street automobile parking spaces allowed.

The City of Portland revised downtown’s parking regulations in 1990 to encourage more residential development and to more closely monitor commuter parking; these innovative policies played no small role in helping create downtown’s vibrant streetscape by providing incentives for transportation alternatives and allowing more space for residential, commercial and office development. Unsurprisingly, Portland’s City Center and the surrounding neighborhoods with parking restrictions boast the highest non-automotive mode split both among commuters and residents.

What does parking management look like?

There are numerous new ideas that could be used by the city of Portland to play a role in managing our parking supply to better meet existing demand; these proposals also bring about a variety of corollary benefits, such as promoting active transportation, decreasing automobile traffic on busy streets, helping nearby businesses and making our neighborhoods better places to live. By harnessing market forces to existing parking supply more effectively, we can avoid costly investments in new public parking structures, encourage more folks to use alternative modes, and

PERMIT PARKING: Portland currently has permit parking districts in Northwest Portland and the Central Eastside; in this program, residents within a busy neighborhood district pay a yearly fee for a permit that prioritizes on-street automobile parking for these residents. This yearly fee covers the costs of enforcement, which ensure that automobiles without permits don’t utilize all of the neighborhood’s supply of parking. This revenue-neutral program provides opportunities for neighbors to ensure their access to nearby on-street parking, regulations to curb the amount of parking taken up by neighborhood guests, and incentives for residents and visitors alike to consider using a bus or a bike to get around town.

PBOT should explore implementing parking permit districts around busy corridors such as SE Hawthorne, NE Alberta and N Mississippi; this program can help ensure existing and future residents have the option to ensure the availability of nearby parking while also providing incentives for existing and future residents (as well as neighborhood visitors) to use other modes. PBOT and BPS could explore the possibility of allowing new developments to subsidize these permits for existing homeowners in exchange for waivers on construction of new parking minimums.

VARIBLE RATE PARKING: An exciting new idea out of San Francisco uses intelligent parking meters to charge different hourly rates for parking to ensure the availability of a minimum number of automobile parking spaces nearby. This idea, championed by UCLA Professor Donald Shoup, variable-rate parking smart-meter technology to market-forces to keep a minimum of on-street parking available. Seattle, Washington DC and San Francisco have implemented pilot project’s using Donald Shoup’s variable-pricing ideas in highly trafficked neighborhoods; this reduction in traffic makes for more attractive urban environments more conducive (and more safe!) for active transportation. Last year, Portland implemented a variable-rate parking pilot project in Goose Hollow, in which the city increased hourly-rates in metered parking spots surrounding Jeld-Wen Field for Portland Timbers matches.

By charging market-rates for valuable, high-demand parking spots, PBOT received over $80,000 in additional parking revenue throughout the seasons’ twenty matches. This pilot project demonstrates that variable-rate parking can both encourage attendees to carpool, bike or take transit to the match while also raising much-needed revenue for a cash-strapped transportation bureau. Dynamic pricing of automobile parking spots also makes it easier for customers to access businesses by ensuring that nearby parking is always available. Urbanist think-tank Sightline reported that downtown Seattle’s restaurants experienced a 5.3% increase in receipts when the city implemented a variable-rate parking pilot project in surrounding areas.

MARKET RATE : PBOT’s Financial Task Force Report, released in December 2012, firmly states that the Bureau “lacks sufficient funding to meet its mission,” declaring that PBOT needs a “phased implementation of new revenue mechanisms that will provide funding adequacy and resilience consistent with the city’s policy goals.” PBOT is currently cutting another $4.5m from their budget for the next fiscal year, having already trimmed $17m from their budget in 2011. This decrease in PBOT operating funds stems largely from a decrease in state-directed gas-tax revenues as Oregonians continue to drive shorter distances, less often, and continue to purchase more fuel-efficient automobiles. The largest source of PBOT’s revenue will continue to dwindle at a time when road maintenance is backlogged and our needs for new, safe, cost-effective infrastructure couldn’t be higher.

With funding scarce, it is imperative that the city receives adequate cost-recovery revenue for the services it provides; during times of uncertain funding, it is crucial that the city finds the most cost-effective ways to provide transportation options for all Portlanders.  In the fiscal year 2012-2013, PBOT received $20.5 million in revenue from parking in the 8,622 metered parking spaces in downtown Portland. This is equal to $14.86 received per square foot of public parking, which is only 54% of the $27.16 per square foot yearly rental average of Class A office space in downtown Portland (and only 71% of the $20.42 yearly rent for a square foot of downtown retail). The city only keeps roughly 50% of this revenue for other services, as half of this revenue is spent on enforcing parking policies and meter maintenance.

With space in Portland’s downtown core at a premium, and with so many other ways to use this valuable space it is clear that the city is currently heavily subsidizing the provision of space for automotive parking in downtown Portland, to say nothing of the acres and acres of free parking space available along many of Portland’s highly trafficked neighborhood corridors. With parking so heavily subsidized, it’s little wonder that downtown parking spaces are so scarce.

We are firmly committed to the vision articulated in the Portland 2030 Bicycle Plan and the 2009 Climate Action Plan, which includes the lofty and inspired goals for 25% of Portland’s trips to be made by bicycle by 2030 and for a 30% reduction in automobile miles travelled . There is an opportunity for PBOT to price automobile parking in high-activity areas accordingly to spur an increase of the bicycle mode share. Research from around the country suggests that increasing the price for off-street automobile parking will encourage people to use alternative modes. Research shows that creating financial incentives to drive fewer miles in dense urban areas across America leads to an increased number of trips taken by bicycle, transit, and walking.

Metro’s Climate Smart Communities, studying opportunities to reduce transportation-related carbon emissions, has compiled a literature review demonstrating the relationship between the cost and availability of parking and the usage of active transportation and transit; A recent study of metropolitan Seattle complied by WsDOT showed that an increase of parking rates from $.28 to $1.19 an hour reduced vehicle miles travelled by 11%. Locally, As of 2012, only 21% of students at Portland State University drive an automobile alone as their primary method of getting to campus; PSU’s internal research suggests that the scarcity and cost of parking, as well as access to both transit and bicycle facilities, play a role in encouraging students to walk, bus, or bike.


  • Municipal parking management policies can help make Portland’s neighborhoods more livable by ensuring residents access to on-street parking, ensuring businesses access to customers, and providing a slight incentive for people to take active transportation for trips around town.
  • On-street automobile parking is heavily subsidized; Portland only charges 54% of what a downtown office would charge per square foot.
  • Despite the heavy subsidies for parking spaces, PBOT is currently drastically cutting programs important for maintenance of existing roads and infrastructure, as PBOT’s receipts from the state gas-tax continue to decrease.
  • Setting automobile parking rates closer to market price will help encourage the usage of active transportation to our downtown and centers; instituting market-rate car parking may be necessary to help the City of Portland reach 2030 goals for active transportation mode split.


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