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Few bumps in shift to parking permits

Zoning creates spots for NW residents, but some businesses gripe


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Bureau of Transportation inspector John Buechler places an $80 ticket on a car parked too long in Northwest Portlands Zone M. Inspectors are handing out up to 30 citations a day in the newly created zone.Andra Holenstein doesn’t have to pray quite as often.

Holenstein lives in an apartment on Northwest 22nd Avenue just south of Irving Street. For the nine years she’s been living there, finding parking for her 1976 Mercury Montego — yes, she knows it’s a big car for some of those small spaces — has been so difficult that she got in the habit of saying a prayer as she approached her street.

But since the beginning of March, when the city instituted Zone M permit parking in her part of Northwest Portland, Holenstein has been able to find parking spots like never before. She still prays occasionally, she says, but not all the time.

“There are so many more spaces, it’s like Christmas every day,” Holenstein says.

Of course, only in Northwest Portland would someone equate finding on-street parking with Christmas, especially since Holenstein grudgingly bought her Christmas spirit with a $60 annual permit she now considers a worthwhile investment. But that’s how it is in Northwest. Or, has been.

On this sunny Wednesday afternoon, there are at least five open spaces within a block of Holenstein’s apartment, something she says never would have occurred before permit parking was instituted.

For more than a decade, residents and business owners in Northwest Portland have battled over a parking plan that former Mayor Sam Adams decided would begin implementation this spring. Most shop owners objected to the plan, which starts with permit parking between Burnside and Irving Streets and 18th and 24th avenues. The zone will extend north to Lovejoy Street this summer and potentially beyond after that. Parking meters on Northwest 21st and 23rd Avenues are supposed to follow, subject to the recommendation of a neighborhood advisory body that has yet to be formed.

Limits by location

The new zone requires residents and shop employees to display permits in their cars if they want to park on the street longer than posted limits. Shoppers who stay shorter than those limits (90 minutes between Burnside and Everett, three hours between Everett and Irving) don’t need permits, and should find more open spaces, the thinking goes, because those spaces won’t be filled up by commuters who used to drive into Northwest and park their cars all day.

The plan appears to be working, say city transportation officials and a number of neighborhood residents.

So far, 2,654 parking permits have been sold in the new Zone M. More than 1,300 have been bought by residents and 876 by businesses for their employees. Nearly 400 guest passes have been bought by residents who anticipate having daytime visitors who will stay longer than three hours.

The permits would be worthless unless the new program included enforcement. Which is why most days a parking inspector patrols the new zone, placing $80 tickets on the front windows of cars that don’t have permits and have stayed over posted times.

John Buechler is today’s Zone M inspector. He began his enforcement around 10:30 a.m. and by noon had traveled on his parking scooter up and down the streets between 21st and 23rd, Burnside and Irving. He inspected each parked car for a Zone M permit. He punched into his handheld computer the license plates of those without permits. The computer recorded the time.

Ninety minutes later Buechler had punched in 190 plate numbers and was ready for lunch.

By 1:30 p.m., three hours after he had begun, Buechler was ready to repeat his route. This time, as he punched in license plate numbers, the computer told him which ones had been there earlier and warranted tickets. The computer doesn’t care if a driver moved from one spot to another within the zone as a means of staying more than three hours. That’s not allowed.

Walking up Irving Street Buechler notes how many empty spaces he’s seeing. Within 15 minutes of his second trip up Irving he spots a Ford pickup with South Dakota plates and no window permit. His device says he punched in the Ford’s license plate at 10:23 a.m. It is now 1:34 p.m. He writes up the $80 ticket and places it on the windshield.

A few cars up, a Chevy Suburban gets the same treatment. Three cars later a Volvo gets cited as well. After surveying both sides of two blocks Buechler already has issued six tickets. He says he may give out as many as 30 today.

Guest passes available

Julia Bryson, who lives on Irving Street, passes by Buechler and says she’s noticed the abundance of free spaces after people leave for work in the morning. Bryson, who doesn’t own a car, says by the time the 23rd Avenue stores open in the late morning most of the spaces are filled by shoppers.

Bryson has lived in the same Irving Street apartment since 1980 and says the new permit system makes it hard for her to have guests, who might get ticketed. Her solution when guests want to come for a visit?

“I’m going to say, ‘I’ll visit you,’ ” Bryson says. Residents such as Bryson can, however, purchase one-day guest passes in books of 10 for $10.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Parking inspector john Buechler explains the new Northwest Portland permit parking rules to a resident on Northwest Irving Street. Over 2,600 $60 permits have been bought by residents and shop owners in the neighborhood.Professional dog walker Michelle Richards, who lives in the Pearl District, wanders by and notes that until the new permit program went into effect, she was never able to find free parking near Couch Park.

“I’d think, ‘Do any of these people work?’ And then I realized a lot of people who were working downtown were parking here all day,” Richards says. “I love it.”

Not everybody is enamored with the new program. Phil Geffner, who owns Escape From New York Pizza on 23rd Avenue, notes that the empty spaces from Burnside through Irving are still part of a zero-sum parking game. Geffner, incidentally, purchased 12 annual passes for his employees.

“What’s happened is this,” Geffner says. “(Zone M) goes up to Irving. Up to Irving it’s a little easier to park, and past Irving it’s a lot harder to park. There’s no more parking spaces; they’re just moving it around. Wherever it ends that’s where people park.”

Andra Holenstein, whose apartment is about a block from Geffner’s restaurant, disagrees. She doesn’t think all the free spots she’s finding are the result of commuters parking their cars on Johnson, Kearney and Lovejoy Streets, just outside the new pay zone. She says before the new parking zone, there were virtually no free spaces to find on those streets, so there couldn’t be spaces for new cars that moved over.

If city transportation officials and Holenstein are right, a number of commuters from outside the central city have changed their routines. Nobody knows where they might be parking now. Portland Parking Control manager Ramon Corona says the new Zone M does appear to be knocking down at least one other domino in the parking game.

Since Zone M began north of Burnside, 40 to 50 residents in Goose Hollow, which has had permit parking south of Burnside, have purchased permits for their own neighborhood.

Ramon says the working theory is that people who live in Goose Hollow discovered they could no longer avoid paying $60 for permits by parking north of Burnside. So they bought their own.