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Public symposium will look at advances in other cities



Portland transportation commissioner Steve Novick says he gets more complaints about parking than any other transportation issue, including street repairs and bicycle improvements.

Of course he does, says Jeff Tumlin, the keynote speaker at Monday’s Portland symposium on the future of parking. When you’re in your car hunting down a space, parking isn’t just about parking, says Tumlin, a national parking consultant based in San Francisco.

“Parking is oftentimes a proxy for deeper concerns and anxiety about place,” Tumlin says. “Parking becomes a flashpoint, the thing that people can focus on when they’re having a hard time figuring out what the underlying problem is.”

Road rage has entered the public consciousness, but parking rage is just as real, according to Tumlin. There have been murders committed over parking spaces, he says.

“Parking does something that sparks the reptilian centers of the brain,” Tumlin says.

The battle over parking spaces is really a fight for social status and territory, according to Tumlin. Next time you’re at the movies, he says, notice how the star of the film always gets a parking space right in front of the building he or she needs to enter. Status. In many companies, he adds, the employee of the month doesn’t get a raise, he or she gets a prized parking space by the front door. We care about parking in front of our homes because it’s an extension of our personal territory, he adds.

Which explains why parking policy is rarely rational.

“We’re perfectly OK with every other commodity in society — food, clothing, housing, airline tickets — using the free market to balance either supply or demand. Except for parking and driving,” Tumlin says.

He added that building more parking garages will only encourage more driving. Soon, he insists, driverless cars talking to each other will be getting about 30 percent more cars in each lot by playing Tetris with all the lot’s vehicles, eliminating the need for most of the lot’s driving corridors.

Tumlin’s vision of the future? “Owning a car in the city will be like owning a boat or a plane,” he says. He’s talking 10 years out.

But beware the law of unintended consequence. Imagine a future where driverless cars have become popular, Tumlin says, and parking spots become expensive. Your car drops you off at a shop. Does it park itself and pay?

“Why would driverless vehicles ever park?” Tumlin asks. “People would have them drive around in circles.”

Still, very little progress is going to be made until people begin to think about parking rationally. That won’t be easy.

“I’m a (parking) consultant. I have an hourly billing rate. I know the value of my time. But even I find myself driving around in circles looking for that free space,” Tumlin says.

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